Former Galway footballer Diarmuid Blake doesn’t expect Aidan O’Shea to start Sunday’s Connacht semi-final, claiming the two-time All Star is “not at the top of his game” at present.
O’Shea has been excluded from the Mayo team for their visit to Salthill, and Blake, who doesn’t believe Stephen Rochford has named a dummy team, questioned whether the 26-year old would be able to last the full 70 minutes at Pearse Stadium.
The Mayo forward failed to garner selection for their championship opener against Sligo three weeks ago, sprung from the bench for the closing 27 minutes.
Blake, who was a mainstay in the Galway defence for most of the last decade, said O’Shea’s absence would hand the Tribesmen a significant advantage.
“I’m not surprised with the Mayo team,” he said.
“Just from watching the Sligo game, Aidan O’Shea looked either injured or unfit. He didn’t look up to the pace for the time he was on. From the game the last day, I just didn’t think he could last the 70 minutes. He was carrying a groin injury but he didn’t look like a lad that was fit. I think they’ll probably look to bring him in as opposed to starting him.”
He added: “In my opinion, Aidan O’Shea has been the catalyst for most good performances from Mayo over the past five or six years. He’s so important to them that when he is not there, they slightly struggle. I think it is a huge advantage for Galway.”
Last year’s shock result in Castlebar was the county’s first championship win over their great rivals in eight years.
Blake reckons the Galway team that will take to the field on Sunday is more advanced than the side Kevin Walsh brought to Castlebar 12 months ago.
“That was the first real performance Galway gave. Everything came from that win and the players started believing in themselves. They’ve been developing and refining their system since that. They can go toe-to-toe with anyone on fitness. They are counter-attacking at huge pace and if they can do that on Sunday, we have serious scoring forwards that can do damage to anybody. If Galway can implement their game plan, Galway will win.
“The likes of Michael Meehan and Sean Amstrong coming back into the panel in their early thirties would have been influenced by that victory against Mayo because it showed the massive potential in this group. If we had lost that game last year, you wouldn’t have seen any of this happening.”
The physical battle, said Blake, could well determine who advances to the provincial decider on July 9.
“This is going to be a very physical game, on and off the ball. I remember before the 2011 game, Alan Dillon ran up to Johnny Duane, hit him a big shoulder and put him sitting on the turf. I remember going, ‘Wow, these Mayo boys are up for it’. Then last year, Declan Kyne grabbed Keith Higgins and threw him over his shoulder down in the corner with 15 minutes to go. It exemplified that Galway were up for the game.
“In years prior ro 2016, I don’t know were Galway up to Mayo’s physicality. I think they are now.”
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