By Peter McNamara
Paddy O’Shea knows a thing or two about minding the house on major occasions at Croke Park.
A league and All-Ireland medal winner, in 2010 with Cork, O’Shea remains a student of the game and was, like the majority of the nation, glued to Sunday’s drawn All-Ireland final.
A goalkeeper by sporting trade – the St Vincent’s clubman runs Paddy O’Shea Electrical, outside of the white lines – he was particularly caught by the performance of Mayo’s David Clarke on Sunday.
In the lead-up to the clash at headquarters the role of Stephen Cluxton was front and centre of the build-up, especially in the media.
However, arguably, Clarke had more of a positive impact for the westerners than Cluxton did for Dublin.
Clarke’s restarts were effective while his interventions from Brian Fenton’s first-half shots, even if the first play after the initial save ended up as a green flag for Dublin, were inspiring.
Second brilliant save from David Clarke. Keeping Mayo in this game. Brian Fenton with the shot after Mayo go sucked in #DUBvMAYO— Off The Ball AM (@OffTheBallAM) September 18, 2016
“David Clarke was probably a contender for man of the match,” O’Shea stated. “When you take into account he made two great saves in particular in the first-half, caught a great ball from Dean Rock in the second which was probably just tipping over the bar and his kick-outs were of a really, really high quality.
“I think when Mayo go back over the game and statistics they’ll see they won the battle with the kick-outs.”
There is a theory developing in the public domain that Cluxton is more susceptible to making errors in the last number of months than has been the case for the vast majority of his career.
O’Shea admitted he can see the reasoning behind that thought-process.
However, he also reiterated how exemplary Cluxton has been at the top for such a lengthy period.
“If you look back to the semi-final against Kerry, when Kerry really pushed up and put pressure on his kick-outs, he was rattled for that 10-minute period.
“Kerry then got huge success in turning over Dublin’s kick-outs and punished them with scores.
“Even on Sunday there were times like that, remember he put one ball out over the sideline.
“And that’s all because the Mayo forward line pushed right up on his kick-outs.
“Now, usually what you find is teams don’t do that against Dublin.
“Teams back off them giving Cluxton free rein with his kick-outs to find defenders with nearly 100% possession.
“Definitely, though, the way to go against Dublin is to push up on Cluxton’s kick-outs and see how he reacts to it.
“You would be surprised at how much success Kerry got against him in that semi-final.
“If you look at the guy’s career though, how long he’s been playing and ask yourself: ‘How often do these things happen?’ You could count them on one hand.
“It just doesn’t happen very often but why it’s happening more lately is a surprise.
“I wouldn’t put it down to pressure because he’s played in high-pressurised games before and played very, very well.
“It’ll be interesting to see in the replay if Mayo do push up on his kick-outs. I’d be very surprised if they don’t,” O’Shea opined.
Stephen Rochford introduced Barry Moran in the second half to add an aerial presence in the inside line for Mayo.
Yet, he was underutilised. O’Shea reckons the westerners could get change out of stationing a physical character in this area next Saturday week provided that player is not isolated.
“When Mayo brought Barry Moran in I think there was only one really high ball went into him, which I think was played in by Aidan O’Shea but it wasn’t a particularly great ball.
“If you’re going to have a big man in there you have to utilise him as much as possible.
“I don’t really agree though with having one man in there and leaving him there on his own because Dublin always seem to have four defenders back, especially with the excellent Cian O’Sullivan picking up the breaking ball.
“If you’re going to implement that strategy you need one or two men playing off of the big man inside.
“Whether they have Aidan O’Shea or Barry Moran in there, the ideal man to have playing alongside that player would be Andy Moran.
“Andy Moran was excellent on Sunday. His usage of the ball is really good. He rarely makes the wrong decision with the ball.
“He’s clinical and clever too. So if I was Stephen Rochford and was opting to have a big presence inside there I would have Andy Moran right beside him,” O’Shea mused.
John Small produced an exceptional display which understandably yielded The Sunday Game Man of the Match award.
However, equally impressive was Ciarán Kilkenny once more almost acting as the orchestrator in a quarterback-style role again.
O’Shea had high-praise for both men.
“John Small was excellent,” O’Shea responded. “People talk about how much of a loss Jack McCaffrey would be but Small was just excellent.
“He kicked a great point to put Dublin ahead at a crucial time and his energy levels were incredible.
“He can both defend and attack and maybe he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves at times.
“Ciarán Kilkenny was another man of the match contender.
“His willingness to get on the ball is really commendable. Any time they break out of defence he seems to be there as a quarterback.
“He’s receiving the ball and he’s facing out the whole time so he can see the entire pitch.
“Even when he’s not on the ball, if you watch him off-camera, he’s pointing at players telling them where to go and whatever else.
“He’d remind you of Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper at times. He’s pointing at forwards telling them where to make their runs and his work-rate is exceptional.
“So, for me, Dublin were really lucky Kilkenny was so good and Cian O’Sullivan was another that was excellent,” he added.
O’Shea was speaking on the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast - out on Monday night.