Friday 21 October 2016

Kevin McStay: Aidan O'Shea in pole position for player of year

Aidan O'Shea, Mayo
Aidan O'Shea, Mayo
8 August 2015; Kerry players celebrate with the cup following their victory. GAA Football All-Ireland Junior Championship Final. Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

MAYO'S comfortable win over Donegal last weekend, and that is a most suitable description of it I'd suggest, should have put to bed the many downright silly questions that are posed about the current Connacht champions. But of course it won't.

Until the All-Ireland senior championship is won by the men from the west, the questions simply won't go away. Even the daft ones.

It was amusing to read that prior to a ball being kicked, pundits agreed that Donegal were in the Top Four of the six contenders remaining, road tested, former champions, more experienced, better players and particularly with a system that was possibly the best in the country.

And sure, what system does Mayo have anyway, when you get down and dirty and attempt to examine these things?

A few days later, and the consensus is Donegal are a tired, ageing team and certainly well outside the Top Four! Question: what is the Mayo age profile and how long has this team been on the road?

The build-up to the season's most hyped confrontation concentrated on Mayo's defence, especially their full-back line and their propensity for conceding costly goals.

I had argued strongly that this focus was, currently, on the wrong team!

In Donegal's previous two major championship defeats (v Kerry in All-Ireland Final of 2014 and v Mayo in All-Ireland quarter-final of 2013) it was Donegal who conceded the calamitous goals (six in total).

Last Saturday night in Croke Park Mayo showed the GAA public that while they may be third favourites for the title, they have improved from last year, are hungry for championship football and that despite the most difficult run to a title possible (beat Donegal, face Dublin and then Tyrone or Kerry) they look to be ready for this monstrous challenge.


Improvement can be found everywhere. In goal the new Mayo management of joint managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly has decided that David Clarke's size and presence gives greater confidence to his defence even if Rob Hennelly has the better kickouts.

The defence has a better understanding of coverage and helping out when they don't have the ball and protection of the full-back line from the 'D' backwards.

The Mayo midfield of Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons is flying at the moment and up there with the Kerry duo in the engine room of David Moran and Anthony Maher.

Parson's form has allowed for the Aidan O'Shea switch from midfield to full-forward - a move that was obvious after the All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin in September 2013 when Stephen Cluxton exposed Shea's lack of mobility at midfield.

In fairness to the 'Breaffy Bull' his lack of mobility over 70 minutes is just about the only ingredient missing from his locker and he is storming towards Player of the Year if he can hold form.

Of course this is not new territory for him and his chastening experience when last in contention should inform him that the road ahead is long and arduous.

In my book, Kerry's comeback to draw with Cork and their massacre of Kildare, showcasing the sheer brilliance of their movement and execution puts then in pole position. Mayo's total domination of Sligo in the Connacht final and Donegal last Saturday places them second in the rankings.

Dublin remains the only untested team left in the championship and obviously that test is coming fast in the shape of Mayo. In fact it's a season defining test for both of them!


Kerry's junior success highlights power of their positive thinking

Kerry players celebrate with the cup following their victory. GAA Football All-Ireland Junior Championship Final. Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin

LAST weekend Kerry defeated Mayo by 14 points to win yet another All-Ireland title.

This time around it was the Junior championship and while it's no big deal in the grand scheme of things, particularly when you consider the rich history of winning major titles in the Kingdom, the backstory to this win is more than interesting.

It shows once again, that when it comes to being ahead of the posse, it is hard to beat the big picture view of a Kerry man.

For most counties the Junior championship is an inconvenient add-on to the various grades the counties fight for each year; for others, including Roscommon and others, it is an expense that cannot be really justified and so they don't compete.

Over the past few years there was simply not a lot to be gained from entering or doing well in this competition.

Just a nice gentle lap of honour for some and a chance for others to proudly wear their county colours.

But down Kerry way they decided to turn opportunity to advantage and have used the Junior championship for their under-18 to under-23 players that have yet to make it through to the seniors - a gap year (or two!) for those players yet to find their feet and realise the potential shown at minor and under-21 grades.


Of course it is a risk - the physical stakes can be over-whelming and the main advantages of young players - speed and skill, can often be easily neutralised in the wet and windy narrow confines of an away ground.

As ever, Kerry surmounted these challenges and after a close shave against Wexford in the penultimate round, took the title easily last Saturday.

Mayo are unlikely to gain much from the campaign - I recognised only a few of the players and certainly none that had not already been considered for greater things.

For Kerry? Keep an eye on at least four of the star performers: Dan O'Donoghue and Killian Spillane from the 2014 minor champions; Thomas Hickey and Philip O'Connor looked very tasty too.

Cute Kerry then?

Not really - just a county executive and its officers being realistic and sitting down to think about a problem that turned into a challenge and eventually an opportunity.

A decent investment that should realise a dividend downstream.

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