For their week-long residency in Perth’s Duxton Hotel November two years ago, the Ireland International Rules team had their own recreational area in the lower ground floor.
Table tennis was the most keenly competed activity chiefly among captain Aidan O’Shea, previous captain in Australia Michael Murphy and vice-captain Conor McManus.
So much so that a bat was broken not out of frustration but with the ferocity with which the ball was hit.
They referred to each other by abbreviations — Aido, Murph, and Mansy — but none of the trio like budging in pretty much anything. And for Murphy and O’Shea there might have been the remnants of their duel in Castlebar seven months previous when O’Shea, coming on as a second half substitute, put the seal on the Donegal skipper, who had been lording affairs, to guide Mayo away from relegation.
Their duel then had been a tense one, the pair picking up yellow cards for some rough exchanges after O’Shea took exception to a Murphy foul on Cillian O’Connor.
At the final whistle, referee Cormac Reilly had to separate them again. O’Shea had been brought on to disrupt and he did just that.
By ex-Kerry players in particular, O’Shea has found himself being held up against Murphy and the comparison hasn’t been flattering.
“O’Shea is a really good footballer, but maybe expectations around him have been a bit unrealistic,” said Kieran Donaghy earlier this year.
“He’s not like, say, a Michael Murphy, who carried Donegal on his back to the All-Ireland. O’Shea is a top player, but he’s a bit below that level.”
Donaghy did acknowledge an O’Shea point is the equivalent of two points for Mayo but his thoughts on him were in keeping with Tomás Ó Sé’s assessment two years ago.
“He’s a marquee player but if I had a choice between him and Michael Murphy, I wouldn’t have to think about it too long. Right now, I just don’t have O’Shea down in the same league.”
Kevin McStay does, however, the former Roscommon manager earlier this week in his Irish Times column regarding him as the best tackler in the country and disagreeing with Ó Sé’s analysis Mayo people think he should be giving more.
“I think his toughest press comes from outside Mayo. People in the county who are fair about it realise he has been a fantastic servant for Mayo. Supporters adore him.”
Whatever others think of them, the esteem in which the pair hold each other is high, especially having won two of three International Rules series together.
Speaking after the first test in Adelaide two years ago in which Murphy among others had been hit by a stomach bug, O’Shea marvelled at how his team-mate was still able to play and score 20 points.
“Michael Murphy was in bed up until the day before we got the bus over to the stadium the first day. Gary Brennan was out on the pitch the day before the game and had to run in to get sick. It was insane.
“We were going into the dressing room not knowing who was even going to be able to play. We knew the two boys were going to be out. Murph playing — what he did was incredible.”
In an interview last month, O’Shea heaped further praise on the Glenswilly man when asked about the player he most admired: “There have been a few, Michael Murphy from Donegal is from my era, and he’s a brilliant footballer. I got to play with him for Ireland, and he’s always a tough opponent.”
Murphy is more circumspect in his utterances about O’Shea except to acknowledge the importance of him to the Mayo cause.
But in what is a de facto All-Ireland quarter-final in Castlebar, what will be fuelling Murphy is those 2013 and 2015 quarter-finals when O’Shea was a class apart.
The communication channels would obviously be closed this week but they’ll reopen again. Stephen Rochford’s departure to Donegal was known in the Mayo camp long before it was confirmed.
Murphy would have been an influence in Rochford heading north to assist Declan Bonner and if he had picked O’Shea’s brain during their time shared in Australia it would hardly have been surprising.
While Murphy turns 30 tomorrow and O’Shea follows next June, they are hardly the same player. But in what is expected of them in Castlebar they may as well be identical.
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