Aidan O'Shea: 'This is our greatest challenge'
By John Harrington
Aidan O’Shea has admitted that bouncing back from Saturday’s shock defeat to Galway in the Connacht SFC Semi-Final will be this Mayo team’s greatest ever challenge.
They were hot favourites going into the match and looked set for victory when they led by 0-11 to 0-7 midway through the second-half, but then suffered a total collapse. Galway deserve huge credit for the manner which they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and stormed to victory, but it was an uncharacteristically lethargic performance from Mayo.
They now go into the All-Ireland Qualifers for the first time in six years, and O’Shea knows this will be the stiffest test this group of players has ever faced.
“Yeah, I'd say so,” he said. “I think from a player point of view, yeah, definitely it's our biggest challenge. Having not done it before, it's hard to quantify it at the moment, and not knowing who we're playing it's obviously hard to focus.
“It’s very much on ourselves now and getting ourselves right in a short space of time which is good. Previously we've lost in August or September and had to wait nine months or longer, even 12 months, to get back to where we had been the previous year.
“We've a three-week window now to try to get ourselves back playing good football and enjoying our football again and get a win and get a bit of momentum. Because, yeah, it's a big challenge, and if we don't rise to it, it could be a short summer.”
Mayo’s defeat to Galway means they have missed out on becoming the first team to ever win six Connacht titles in a row. That failure to create a unique slice of is a source of regret for O’Shea.
“Yeah, absolutely, it was driving me,” he said. “I wanted to keep winning Connacht titles for the rest of the time I was playing for Mayo. It is a big disappointment to not win another Connacht championship. We'd won five-in-a-row, I don't think any team had won six so it was definitely something I wanted to achieve.
“Look, it's not going to happen now. We've got three weeks to reassess into a shit or bust tie now at this stage and we've got to put all our energies into that and make sure we get a performance. The reality is that the last time we played in a qualifier it didn't go too hectic so we need to make sure we focus all our energies, regardless of who it is and where it is, we got to make sure we perform for 70 minutes and the result will look after itself then.
“We had a pool session yesterday and we'll be back training Tuesday as per normal, as per the schedule so we'll be ready to go again on Tuesday night. We need to seriously get ourselves together for three weeks' time because a performance like that, a drab performance like that, wouldn't be good enough.”
If Mayo are to mount a Championship challenge through the Qualifiers they’ll have to learn from Saturday’s defeat and raise their game significantly. Their intensity levels were far removed from what we have come to expect from them in recent years, and O’Shea admits he still has no answer why they were so far off the pace.
“At this stage, to be honest with you, I don't know,” he said. “I've only caught a few minutes of the game between Saturday evening and getting here so I can't pinpoint any reason why it just didn't happen. I think we had 10 wides in the first-half, I had two bad ones myself.
“We had opportunities, we were playing poorly and I think we were starting to frustrate them at the start of the second-half and we just gave them a bit of leeway back into the game and that's the really disappointing aspect from our point of view.
“I think we were 11-7 up around the 51 minute mark. We weren't playing particularly well but we were doing enough to be ahead and then I think just a few poor errors, a costly free and obviously the goal just swung the momentum. We couldn't wrangle it back as you said which was disappointing because there was loads of time at that stage but we just couldn't get it back.”
There was a lot of confidence in Mayo before the match that beating Galway would be a relatively straight-forward task. Former manager James Horan said the gap between Mayo and the other counties in the province was widening, and he suggested Galway people would be “happy enough” with a six-point beating. But even if Mayo supporters were confident of victory, O’Shea doesn’t believe complacency was an issue within the four walls of the dressing-room.
“I have to say, preparations, from our point of view, we had a strong week in London, yeah, we had a few boys who had a few injuries that kept them out but that's not an excuse for a squad of our squad,” he said. “There was nothing from a preparation point of view that would really say that there'd be a reason for the performance level.
“It just wasn't good enough to be fair. If we'd continued on and got the win we'd have said our performance level was poor and we'd have to up it overall. So no, nothing from a preparation point of view that you could pin point and say that was coming.”
Mayo haven’t won an All-Ireland at the last five attempts after coming through the direct route of winning a provincial Championship, so it’ll be interesting to see if the indirect route serves them any better. O’Shea would have much preferred to win another Connacht title, but is hopeful a run of matches in the Qualifiers could enable them to generate a lot of momentum.
“Look, when we were winning Connacht titles everyone was saying, 'would you not be as well off going through the back door because you're not getting much of a challenge',” he said. “I'd prefer to have won the Connacht championship if I'm being frank but we haven't. From a game point of view, we've got the game in three weeks.
“We don't know who it is against at this moment in time and we're not going to look any further past that. The summer has started. We're going to have a couple of games in a row hopefully to get ourselves and if we can get a performance in that game I don't know where it's going to take us.
“It's very hard to say whether it's a benefit or not. But it's not a benefit if we wallow in this loss and arrive at the game in three weeks' time still back in MacHale Park last Saturday, we need to cut it now and get ready for that game.”