#TheToughest Issue: Who would you have in your team, Aidan O'Shea or Conor McManus? 8 years ago

#TheToughest Issue: Who would you have in your team, Aidan O'Shea or Conor McManus?

Aidan O'Shea and Conor McManus were the two standout individual performers over the weekend, but which one would you have in your team?

Conor Heneghan says: Aidan O'Shea


First of all, I feel I should point out that any manager who would ever be in a position to make a direct choice between Aidan O'Shea and Conor McManus is a damn lucky one.

Unless Ireland happens to have its strongest ever International Rules team in the coming years it's never going to happen, of course.

They could, on the other hand, be vying for All-Stars this year and in years to come because they are two of the best players in the game at the peak of their powers right now.

So, although it's a purely hypothetical debate, here's why Aidan O'Shea would just about get the nod over Conor McManus in my fantasy XV.


Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon 19/7/2015 Mayo vs Sligo Mayo's Aidan O'Shea celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Much like Michael Murphy with Donegal, you tend to forget how young Aidan O'Shea is because he's been around the block for so long.

O'Shea has just turned 25 but he made his senior Mayo debut while still doing his Leaving Cert in 2009.

Something of a phenomenon at under-age level (as well as showing early signs of the beast-like qualities that are still intact today), O'Shea has had to cope with huge expectations from within his own county since then.


Six Connacht titles out of a possible seven (a run in which he has only lost one game in the province), two All-Ireland finals, an All-Star and a status as one of the most influential players in Gaelic Football would suggest he's coped with that expectation pretty well.

Ask any obersever to name Mayo's most influential footballers in that period, the most successful period in the county's recent history, and O'Shea would definitely be in the top three; he's been a colossus in a team that have been agonisingly close to winning the big prize.

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick 30/8/2014 Kerry vs Mayo Aidan O'Shea of Mayo at the end of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Indeed, had himself and Cillian O'Connor not banged heads in last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay, who knows how things might have turned out?


When opposition managers look at Mayo players that need to be stopped, O'Shea's name inevitably crops up first and it's easy to see why.

For a start, he's probably the strongest footballer in the country right now.

Unless there are three or four players surrounding him, attempting to tackle him is almost a futile exercise; trying to run through him likewise, you're as well try and run through the nearest wall.

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick 30/8/2014 Kerry vs Mayo KerryÕs Peter Crowley and Fionn Fitzgerald with Aidan O'Shea of Mayo Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

But it's too easy to tag O'Shea with phrases like 'wrecking ball' or 'man mountain' because he's so much more than that and he seemed keen to point that out after the Connacht Final.


He's a superb fielder of the ball, with great hands. Colm Cooper would have been proud of the way he finished the two goals he scored with his left foot against Sligo on Sunday and he improvised well to tuck away the one he scored with his right, even it was from very close range.

That he was directly involved in 6-15 out of Mayo's 6-25 against Sligo illustrates that he's adept at bringing his teammates into play and is a testament to his awareness.

Because of his size and the fact that he's not a bad-looking chap O'Shea stands out on the pitch, but 'flash' is kept to a minimum; he's a real team player.

It would be naive in the extreme to think that O'Shea will be given as much freedom in Croke Park as he was in Connacht when Mayo face sterner tests later this year, but it's not as if he needs to prove himself in the big house.

It's not Conor McManus' fault because Monaghan have yet to truly deliver in a big Championship game at Croke Park, but O'Shea definitely has the edge over him in that regard.

GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 22/9/2013 Mayo vs Dublin Mayo's Aidan O'Shea and Cian O'Sullivan of Dublin Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Barring the All-Ireland Final of 2013 when Dublin's kickout strategy was designed to have him chasing all over Croke Park, he has delivered a series of big displays in big Mayo games at HQ, none more so than when he delivered an exhibition of midfield play against Donegal two years ago.

He's been a relevation at 14 in the Championship so far, but he knows himself he's going to be needed elsewhere out the field at some stage for as long as Mayo stay in the Championship.

And he'll be well able for it too because adaptability is one of his greatest strengths.

O'Shea has already shown his ability to dominate a game from midfield, centre forward and full forward and you get the impression he could do a job at centre back if required as well.

Aidan O'Shea has always had the look of a Footballer of the Year in the making and should the Green and Red finally go and win the bloody thing, then it won't be a surprise to see him leading the charge.

Could it be this year? The way he's been playing so far, you couldn't rule it out.

Conán Doherty says: Conor McManus

We know Aidan O'Shea can kick the living daylights out of a man-for-man Sligo defence, but how comfortable could he make himself inside the Donegal duvet?

Conor McManus hogs the blanket and takes all the leg room he likes.

McManus or O'Shea? Christ, it's like tea or ice cream. Put your hands together.

Both are big-game players, both are big game-winners, and both would stroll onto any side in the land and command a starring role.

But Conor McManus is special. The sort that's just better than the best. Conor McManus is an oasis of traditional class surviving with grace in the harsh climate of modern day football.

Conor McManus and Neil McGee 19/7/2015

He's a throwback to the textbook corner forward that they said would go extinct amidst the blanket defences and cynical tactics. He wins ball, he turns, he spins, he takes men on, he draws tacklers and support runs, he kicks points from both sides of the pitch with laughable ease.

Now, he's a leader of men.

Conor McManus marched Monaghan into Sunday's Ulster final with Donegal and he led from the front. He had one of the toughest man-markers in Neil McGee hanging off him for 70 minutes. He had one of the toughest man-markers in Paddy McGrath sharing shorts with him as well. They couldn't silence him.

Even with Ryan and Mark McHugh roaming around the backline, with Karl Lacey firefighting where he wanted to and the yellow jerseys at times throwing 15 men behind the ball, McManus found pockets of space and, bit by bit, blow by blow, he brought Donegal to their knees.

Conor McManus celebrates winning 19/7/2015

When teams like Derry are throwing Eoin Bradley out the field to get on the ball, Jamie Clarke is being made a new position and Aidan O'Shea will sooner or later be taken from the full forward line to go and effect the game, Conor McManus and Malachy O'Rourke do what so many fail to do in this era: they get the best out of their most dangerous player in the most dangerous area of the field.

Aidan O'Shea catches ball in acres of space against one Sligo back and, inevitably, he rips the defender a new one. Commentators exclaim that there's nothing Sligo can do. That they tried everything. Four different markers. They didn't even once try to double up on him, sit their half back line deeper. Do things that Donegal (probably) will do to him in the quarter finals to force him out the pitch and away from the red zone.

Such is McManus' class though that he doesn't need as much breathing room. He survives with less oxygen than a lesser man could even joke about. And, still, feeding off scraps, he's viciously deadly.

If any kid up and down the country wants to learn how to play Gaelic Football, if anyone wants to believe that there is still hope for the attackers in the current game, go and watch a Monaghan match.

Stand behind the goals and watch Conor McManus. Watch him prowl along the 13-metre line, biding his time, playing dead before bursting into beautiful life. Watch him wriggle free of the attention of four and six hands, win ball and produce magic where he wants to produce it - not in pointless areas of the field.

Conor McManus and the Monaghan team celebrate 19/7/2015

Watch him curl set pieces between the posts as if he had practiced them countless times during endless summer evenings in Clontibret. Watch him take on the big score - the one he has no right to even be thinking about. Watch him take on the responsibility dragging his team from the trenches in their hour of need.

In this championship alone, he rescued the Farney men when they looked dead and buried against Cavan. He scored the goal that broke Fermanagh's back and he bled on the front line against Donegal, striking six killer blows in a one-point battle.

Conor McManus, right now, is the most important player in Gaelic Football.

He's having a bigger influence on his team than the Michael Murphys and the James O'Donoghues of this world and even the Diarmuid Connollys. And, yes, a bigger influence than Aidan O'Shea.

But Conor McManus isn't just important for Monaghan. At a time when the ratio of squats to kicking a football is probably 10:1, Conor McManus defies the modern idea that athleticism is all that matters.

Conor McManus isn't just important for Monaghan. He's important for the game.