Tuesday 16 January 2018

Aidan O'Shea and Michael Murphy to square off in mouthwatering clash Mayo Donegal clash

O'Shea and Murphy target man roles dominate the Mayo/Donegal script

John Casey
John Casey

It has been billed as a battle of the wrecking ball full-forwards - Aidan O'Shea and Michael Murphy - but John Casey reckons there is so much more to tomorrow's fascinating All-Ireland quarter-final duel between his native Mayo and Donegal.

There is recent rivalry fuelled by Donegal's All-Ireland final triumph in 2012 and Mayo's ruthless quarter-final revenge a year later. There is Mayo's untested status after their latest Connacht waltz, measured against doubts about Donegal's mileage after their gruelling trek to the last-eight.


And yet it's hard to ignore the dominant pre-match debate. How will Donegal handle O'Shea, a midfield colossus now transformed into a marauding full-forward? And how will Mayo's suspect full-back line cope if the roaming Murphy spends more time on square patrol, as he did to stunning effect during the second half against Galway last weekend?

"We have a serious weapon in full-forward now. It takes a lot of pressure off our other big star forward in Cillian O'Connor," notes Casey, adding: "I think Donegal will be equally if not more worried of Aidan O'Shea than Mayo are of Michael Murphy."

During his own playing pomp, the former Mayo ace torched Kerry from the full-forward position in the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final. Yet, this weekend, he's anxious to see signs at the other end of a more clued-in Mayo full-back line - unlike was the case in 2012, when faced by that early Donegal blitzkrieg, or even last month.

"They'll have to offer some form of defensive protection for Ger Cafferkey. I know the team is picked but there's no way they're going to play that way," he ventures.

"Donal Vaughan is not a full-back; I know they're on that his physicality might be able to have a go at Murphy, but Donal Vaughan is an athlete, he'll be getting up and down the field. Then again, Michael Murphy could find himself at half-forward or midfield for long periods of time.

"But if Murphy plays on the edge of the square, Donegal would have been looking at how Mayo conceded 2-11 (against Sligo). Pat Hughes got a very good goal when there were three Mayo defenders around him. (Damien) Comer for Galway also gave our full-back line trouble.

"So of course Donegal are going to try and target that, and we can't leave our men one-on-one. A good forward will sting any good back in a one-on-one, so they're going to have to offer some sort of defensive protection."

That's one Mayo concern. Another is that they're untested and "we haven't a clue how they're going to handle" Donegal's high-pressure game.

Yet Casey, a radio match analyst for both Mid-West and RTÉ, is still backing Mayo. He does so on the following premise: whereas Donegal were "hugely impressive" after the break against Galway, they had looked tired and even "finished" at half-time ... and a more experienced opponent would have killed the game.

"I think Mayo will have that capability," he concludes.

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