O’Shea: Croke Park holds no fear for Mayo youth

Aidan O’Shea is convinced Mayo’s youngsters will not be overawed when they face Dublin at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

When Mayo last won their opening three rounds of the league, the year was 2006, Mickey Moran and the late John Morrison were in charge of the westerners and Aidan O’Shea was only 15 years of age.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then and one of the constants with Mayo has been indifferent league form but being a different animal come championship.

However last year’s exit to Kildare in the All-Ireland qualifiers in June in Newbridge marked Mayo’s earliest departure from the championship since 2010.

Its effect has been huge. Stephen Rochford departed in controversial circumstances, paving the way for James Horan to return for a second term in charge.

The average age of the starting team that day was just shy of 29 years of age, highlighting the need for new blood in 2019, while the long break has allowed Mayo return to training much earlier than in any of their previous seven league campaigns.

Aidan O’Shea himself is 29 this year and he is gushing in his praise for the impact of Mayo’s young guns in their wins over Roscommon, Tyrone and Cavan. Horan has handed first league starts to seven different players, all of whom have caught the eye to varying degrees. Fionn McDonagh, the second youngest of them, left with the man-of-the-match award in Omagh after striking 1-3 against last year’s All-Ireland finalists.

“It takes a bit of time for me to get used to them, them get used to me and the rest of the boys but good footballers pick up good habits very, very quickly and Mayo have always had good footballers.

“These guys have been pushing on the door for a while and they’ve just been given the chance in the last couple of weeks and in the FBD and I’m just delighted with the way they’ve been playing. It’s great energy around the squad, these young lads who have come in and done so well,” O’Shea said.

Mayo go to Dublin on Saturday in buoyant form but also facing their first significant test after wins over the two teams promoted from Division 2 and a somewhat out of sorts Tyrone. However O’Shea says playing the five-in-a-row chasing Dubs will hold no fear for Mayo’s young brigade.

“A good few of them have played [in Croke Park] with Westport and stuff like that and boys have played in big games before.

“There’ll be no hassle there, sometimes naivety is the best thing in the world, you know when you’re young, [you can] go out and enjoy it. They’ll be fine and whoever is lucky enough to get one of the 15 jerseys will go at it again and we’ll do our best to get the two points.”

O’Shea used Mayo’s long season to do a bit of travelling in South East Asia, but now is focused on making amends for last year’s disappointing campaign.

“We’ve had a break, a lot of new boys have got game time. We haven’t played well in the league [in previous seasons], we’ve been aware of that, we haven’t had a good record here [in MacHale Park] and we’re aware of that too.

“We’ve got some great supporters out there and they come here, pay good money, they travel around the country but it is important to put on good performances here in MacHale Park as well.

“We wanted to set that straight from the start of the year and the energy levels ... I think the young lads have brought massive energy and even the older lads coming back.

“We really wanted to set a few things straight and a disappointing year last year, we want to try get back on the right road.”

It’s a road they know well that awaits them this weekend as they return to Croke Park for the first time since the 2017 All-Ireland final defeat to the Dubs.

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