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The Big GAA Interview: Aidan O'Shea
The Championship kicks into gear with the meeting of traditional rivals Galway and Mayo this weekend and we caught up with Mayo midfielder Aidan O’Shea for a chat ahead of the big one in Pearse Stadium.

The Championship kicks into gear with the meeting of traditional rivals Galway and Mayo this weekend and we caught up with Mayo midfielder Aidan O’Shea for a chat ahead of the big one in Pearse Stadium.

If there’s a more evenly contested rivalry in Gaelic Football than Mayo v Galway then we’d like to hear about it.

The Connacht rivals will meet for the 77th time in the Championship in Pearse Stadium this weekend, having shared 38 wins apiece in the previous 76 meetings between the sides, a reflection of a rivalry that holds its own alongside the likes of Kerry v Cork, Tyrone v Armagh and any other throughout the four provinces.

It’s why, despite the record of both counties in recent years and despite odds which make Mayo slight favourites for Sunday’s encounter, that you can’t predict with any degree of certainty who will come out on top.

Mayo midfielder Aidan O’Shea knows all about the importance of Mayo v Galway clashes; his first Championship game at midfield for Mayo was the victory over the Tribesmen two years ago and his debut season resulted in a thrilling, last-gasp Connacht Final victory over Galway at this weekend’s venue in 2009.

Now firmly established as one of the most prominent players in the country, O’Shea will have a pivotal role to play in green and red this weekend and he was good enough to sit down with us in JOE Towers a couple of weeks back to chat about the game, the season so far and what lies ahead.

He also took the time to answer a few light-hearted questions about Luis Suarez, hoodie bans in Castlebar and appearing topless on national television.

JOE: We’re not long after the National League Aidan and it’s probably fair to say that Mayo’s campaign was a bit of a mixed bag. Were there a lot of positives to take from it?

Aidan O’Shea: It was a crazy, crazy league campaign. In the middle of it we lost four in a row, but we had started well and probably should have beaten Tyrone and had four points on the board. Instead we went on a four-game losing streak and people were talking about relegation and Mayo being in Division Two for the first time in I don’t know how long.

Then we beat Donegal and the Cork game became like the quarter-final of the league because if we won it we would have been in Croke Park.

There was a realisation after the game (the All-Ireland Final) that we belong playing alongside the Donegals, the Dublins and the Kerrys and maybe it took us a while to realise that ourselves.

It wasn’t as if we had been playing badly to be in the position we were in to begin with, you could see that from our scoring difference, it wasn’t as if there were major panic buttons being pressed or anything like that.

To get to Croker was a massive bonus but we didn’t play well when we got there. We didn’t play well at all but it was the strangest game I ever played in because we could have been 1-4 to no score up in the first few minutes but the floodgates opened after that and we were well beaten in the end.

JOE: Different teams set different targets before the league. For example, it was obvious that Donegal’s approach was vastly different to Dublin's. Did Mayo have any particular targets coming into this year’s league?

AOS: Last year in particular we stated that we wanted to make the league final because we had a 13-week break between league and championship, even though we were probably a bit lucky to make the final in the end.

This year we weren’t as open about it because we had a lot less time between league and championship so our training schedule was a lot different. We would have started heavy training a lot earlier, all that science-y kind of stuff came into it so we would have done a lot of heavy stuff in the middle of the league and I think it could be seen in some of our performances, they were a bit leggy.

Making the last four of the league wasn’t our main priority, but we didn’t want to be relegated at the same time either. If we got to a league semi great, if not, we weren’t going to get too worried about it.

JOE: In that regard, it probably wasn’t the worst thing to get knocked out of the league when you did with the Galway game on the horizon?

AOS: The added game was great because we got to play in Croke Park and we learnt a lot from it because Dublin were flying and they showed us up in a lot of departments and helped focussed the minds again for Galway.

Of all years, I think if we can win Connacht this year it would be a massive boost and that’s why we’ve put a huge emphasis on winning the provincial championship this year.

Obviously that’s going to be a cracker on May 19 and they’ll probably have been honing in on that game for a long time because they’ve probably been a little disappointing in Connacht for the last couple of years so it will easy for them to get up for a game against Mayo.

JOE: The squad itself isn’t in bad shape though is it, particularly with the players who have to come back in?

AOS: Yeah, we have three All-Stars to come back with Keith (Higgins), Andy (Moran) and Alan (Dillon) so obviously that’s of huge benefit. Then you have Barry (Moran) to come back too which will obviously strengthen us.

We used a lot of players during the league as well, Cathal Carolan, for example, came out the woodwork which is great and other guys have got opportunities as well so we’re in good stead and going into the Galway game happy enough with where we are.

JOE: Your first senior championship game against Galway would have been in Pearse Stadium in 2009. It wasn’t a bad game to start! What are your own memories of that day?

AOS: It was an outrageous day, it was seriously warm and we were well up in the game but Michael Meehan got a goal and then Peadar Gardiner got a dramatic late winner, but if you look back over the years the amount of Mayo v Galway games that there has only been a point between us has been crazy.

O'Shea getting the better of Joe Bergin in 2011

Their under-21s have won the All-Ireland again and they’re going to get a serious bounce off that so I think it will be a very tough game up there. It’s in Pearse Stadium as well which is always windy and that always makes it difficult.

JOE: Are you happier that Mayo have a more difficult route in Connacht this year as opposed to last year?

AOS: Well, last year we had a 13-week break before playing Leitrim and that turned out to be facile victory and then we had another three weeks before the Connacht Final so there was a lot of time just training whereas this year if we win Connacht we will have beaten all the best sides in Connacht to win a Connacht title if we win it.

That will hold us in good stead if we were to get to the August Bank Holiday weekend and into an All-Ireland quarter-final having beaten three good sides.

Galway are coming good with their under-21s doing so well again, Roscommon have a new manager and look strong, while Sligo have been one of the most consistent teams in Connacht and although they probably haven’t won enough for what they’ve put in, they’ve definitely been one of the most consistent sides in the province.

JOE: And a Mayo man is playing very well for them?

AOS: Yeah it’s funny, one Mayo man, Alan Costello goes to Australia and Jimmy Kilcullen comes in and from what I hear, is doing very well so far.

JOE: The attitude of the Mayo players following last year’s All-Ireland defeat was very impressive. Was that down to James Horan’s influence or was it more of a player-driven approach?

AOS: I’d say a lot of the attitude after the All-Ireland was player-driven, it was more the realisation of an opportunity missed and, I think, the realisation that we can do this, as opposed to James Horan telling us to be positive or anything like that.

There was a realisation after the game that we belong playing alongside the Donegals, the Dublins and the Kerrys and maybe it took us a while to realise that ourselves.

Disappointment following last year's All-Ireland Final defeat, a setback the Mayo players responded to in impressive fashion

If you look at our age profile we are fairly young, Alan (Dillon) and Andy (Moran) are the eldest but the rest are 27, 28 downwards so we’re a very young team and the future is bright and I suppose that’s why there was a huge confidence amidst the disappointment that was coming out of the All-Ireland Final. We didn’t deserve to win the game but we took a lot of strength from it as well.

JOE: No All-Ireland is ever easy to win, but is it a harder All-Ireland to win this year perhaps?

AOS: It looks that way from early impressions alright. Division One was the most competitive it’s been in a long time. Kildare have got a lot stronger, Tyrone have come back with a conveyor-belt of young fellas and look strong but it’s hard to know how hard it’s going to be right now because the way the championship is structured we won’t be playing these teams until the quarter-finals if we even get there and to get there we need a bit a luck.

Of all years, I think if we can win Connacht this year it would be a massive boost and that’s why we’ve put a huge emphasis on winning the provincial championship this year.

JOE: A few quick fire questions to finish off Aidan...

You mentioned Tyrone there; will we see any better points in Croke Park than the ones scored by Stephen O’Neill against Kildare a few weeks back?

AOS: Those dummy solos are deadly, aren’t they? He did the same one in the game under lights against Dublin a couple of years back. In fairness he’s a special talent and he retired how many years ago? A class act.

JOE: Given what you’re wearing at the moment you might not be too welcome in Castlebar given the plans to introduce a hoodie ban?

AOS: I’ve only heard of this hoodie ban, I could get in trouble alright. I never would have believed there was so much crime in Castlebar by people wearing hoodies.

JOE: Was there a huge female reaction to your topless appearance on television a few weeks ago?

AOS: (Laughs) Oh there was a massive reaction, my Twitter hasn’t stopped hopping since; I think I should do it more often.

JOE: As a Liverpool fan, what did you make of the Luis Suarez ban?

AOS: I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t have time to think about it (we interviewed Aidan minutes after the length of Suarez’s ban had been revealed) and on first impressions I think it’s ridiculous.

I feel sorry for him in a way because his name goes before him. Fair enough he was involved in the controversy with Patrice Evra last year but John Terry openly called some fella a racist remark and the FA gave him a four-game ban. Defoe did it before and he got a yellow card and he gets on with it and there was no retrospective reaction; I think it’s ridiculously harsh.

JOE: Thanks for your time Aidan and all the best against Galway.

AOS: Cheers.

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