It’s rare you can identify precisely when a game of football turns against you. It’s usually a series of small incidents that culminate in a shift in momentum you just can’t reel back in.
It must feel like that for Aidan O’Shea and Mayo football for the past couple of weeks. A wave of negative momentum has just washed over them like the tide.
When Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes sat down to give an interview back in December of last year to give their account of the unceremonious ousting they received from their joint manager gig with Mayo, they came with loaded guns.
They opened with: “We’re doing this because we sincerely believe it’s in the best interests of Mayo football.” I had to do a double-take on the line when I re-read it over the weekend. Come again now? The best interest of Mayo football? You’re having a laugh lads.
If anything, that interview appeared to me specifically calculated to undermine and devalue the integrity of Mayo football and the current squad of players in particular. It was purely a means to get back at those players who had shafted them. They were jilted and felt harshly treated, and this was their opportunity for payback.
They continued: “If some egos aren’t checked and outside influences curbed, the problems will continue.”
In the interview, they painted a bleak picture of a small number of their former players who held the whip over the whole group.
O’Shea, in particular, was portrayed as the schoolyard bully who would leave you bloodied and without your lunch money if you didn’t fall into line with his status as the head of the pack. He intimidated even the teachers apparently. According to their thinly veiled account, O’Shea wanted a say in the picking of the team, how they trained, what they ate, the logistics… everything. The former joint managers did their best to make him look like a cavity inside your tooth, constantly aching away until you either get it filled or pulled out.
That interview only exacerbated the perception about Mayo football (and O’Shea in particular) that was lurking in the shadows since giving their management the boot. It painted them as a group more concerned with the individual rather than the collective goal, and the big Breaffy man as ringleader. Twitter followers over All-Irelands. Celebrity status over Celtic crosses.
In the past few weeks, the impact of that ousting, followed later by an incendiary interview by Connolly and Holmes has started to reveal itself fully.
Prior to the managerial heave, Mayo were most people’s second favourite team. Once your own county was eliminated from the championship, very few would have begrudged Mayo reaching September’s summit. A group full of honest endeavour, with players that never stopped trying, no matter how many disappointments or setbacks they suffered year in, year out. They’ve been close, but never quite close enough.
Defensively, they have plenty of guys who can run like a gazelle and hit like a rhino. They are always combative and mobile in the middle of the field. But the main knock on them, and the one that remains to this day, is that they’ve probably lacked the top-end cutting edge inside-forward talent to score enough to win you the biggest of days.
Their slogan could read; Mayo, really good, just not great. In the past few weeks, Aidan O’Shea has unwittingly become the subject of some pretty damning comment from a lot of people who should know better, and I contend the Connolly and Holmes interview is at the epicentre of most of that negative perception.
He is being held up by some as a symbolic beacon of Mayo’s failures, seemingly more interested in commercialising himself rather than being truly dedicated to the cause of winning an All-Ireland title. You’ve seen him on TG4’s ‘The Toughest Trade’, where he spent time in America sunning himself in front of the cameras while cruising along in a drop top convertible and working to get in shape for a crack at the NFL combine. A rare opportunity for anybody, never mind somebody from the GAA with no experience of American football.
He drives the sponsored car and no doubt cashes in on whatever chances present themselves to one of the most recognisable Gaelic footballers in the modern game. There’s an appropriate time to carry out your business, but I don’t see making money off the back of your hard work as being a punishable act.
Then, of course, he went off playing some basketball over the winter, injured his ankle and missed a chunk of the early football season. Further proof to those craving it, that he couldn’t give fiddlers about Mayo football or his teammates. Sure, he only cares about himself that fella. But somehow, the basketball was great for Donaghy to keep him ticking over during the winter. Again, I don’t see the problem.
To top it all off, and this may be distressing for some to read because of the graphic nature of his heinous crime, but following a recent challenge game against Meath, Bernard Flynn pointed out that he actually stood signing autographs and posing for pictures with young kids rather than join in a team huddle a few yards away. I know what you’re thinking here: what a self-centred so-in-so. Sure how in the world will Mayo ever win Sam Maguire with gobshites like that representing them? No chance.
As someone who has personal experience of standing in a few thousand pre and post-match huddles, I can say with unequivocal certainty that the ones we had after insignificant challenge matches were definitely the most crucial element to our successful runs at September!
He should have just ploughed through those young kids like a bowling ball bursting through pins at the end of a lane to get to the huddle and they’d surely have a much better chance of winning the All-Ireland this year.
What absolute nonsense.
He and his teammates will continue to be a soft target until they climb the steps of the Hogan to collect Sam. Until they do, talk of the player cliques ruling the roost and fellas going on solo runs will continue to haunt their efforts thanks in large part to the destructive revelations by their former managers last December.
With O’Shea, it seems to me because of his high profile, people pay more attention to what he does poorly during a game, as opposed to what he does well. Human nature dictates that the higher you go, the more they want to find a reason to bring you down.
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