Win or bust for rivals’ family fortunes

On Sunday, they will rut. Aidan and Sean. Sean and Aidan. The two best midfielders in the country as things stand. The stand-out performers across the four All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Win or bust for rivals’ family fortunes

And yet it’s almost too easy to believe the central battle only concerns them. For alongside each of them will be Aidan’s older brother Seamus and Sean’s younger sibling Colm.

Having two sets of brothers contesting the throw-in at 3.30pm Sunday will make for a unique snap but O’Shea senior and Cavanagh junior come into the game in the sidecars.

That said, each bring their own strengths. Bar Aidan’s blood sub and second yellow card absences, the O’Shea combination has been ever-present this summer, Seamus offering a steady and assured presence, never mind a fine kick-out fetcher.

Colm Cavanagh has been substituted twice in this Championship but has athleticism to match his brother (he was beside Sean when he pulled down Conor McManus as the Monaghan forward was about to unload on the Tyrone goal) and a scoring boot.

Clearly, familiarity breeds content and speaking in these pages earlier this month, Conor Mortimer spoke of how much it benefits Aidan O’Shea to have Seamus beside him.

Mortimer was close with Aidan O’Shea before he left the panel in 2011. He knows how desperate the 23-year-old will be for Sunday to come around. “The bigger the opponent, the better he will play. Going up against (Sean) Cavanagh will get him going. He won’t worry about Tyrone, he’ll just concentrate on Cavanagh.”

As much as he had condemned Sean in recent weeks, Joe Brolly has also extolled the Tyrone man as the greatest player of his generation.

However, he has also praised O’Shea to the hilt. “When Aidan O’Shea was a minor he just walked through the game. It was easy for him and he didn’t have to push himself. When he started as a senior footballer he was like a big overweight calf. He would do some of the extraordinary things that he’s capable of but he just wasn’t there at all.

“You see what (James) Horan has done. Aidan O’Shea is simply awesome and he’s now achieving his full — and I don’t exaggerate — awesome potential. His tackling, his fetching, his positional sense, his kick-passing, his finishing. He has the physique of an All Black. There is a wee query of his temperament in the sense that Tyrone more than anyone will get under his skin and try to unsettle him. No doubt James will be working on that.”

O’Shea’s early yellow card last day out didn’t upset him. The performance he turned in after it was the type of rallying display that echoed a cautioned Roy Keane would do. He was eventually sent off but by that stage Donegal were at his toes pleading “no mas”.

An independent thinker, it wouldn’t be remiss to suggest O’Shea and Horan have differed in opinion on the odd occasion but then it never appeared to hurt Harte and Cavanagh who contradicted one another on everything from International Rules to the GPA to the manager’s second autobiography.

Harte’s remark in the 2009 book that Cavanagh didn’t start that year’s All-Ireland semi-final because the “roof simply caved in” on the midfielder with the pressure on him — and not the stomach bug, as the player had suggested — did create an issue. The following year, this writer travelled to Dungannon to meet Cavanagh for an interview and it was still apparent there were differences. However, anyone who saw how warmly the pair embraced after victory over Monaghan would realise the common bond. On the pitch that day, Cavanagh epitomised the winning mentality Harte has always championed. Yes, even the not-so applaudable rugby tackle.

Cavanagh has well and truly come alive since Tyrone arrived in Croke Park in late July. Prior to that, his form fluctuated. Ballybofey was not one of his best days out while he ranged from good to mediocre in Newbridge.

O’Shea had the easier run to get to Dublin 3 but from as early as steamrolling Galway in May he has been illustrating the ruthlessness and relentlessness Horan has preached.

After a build-up in which the pair were honoured in a reworked Simon and Garfunkel song and borrowed Chuck Norris jokes, his young bull faces Harte’s old one on Sunday. It should be captivating.

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