Young guns were the leaders in win over Donegal insists Mayo star Aidan O'Shea
MAYO may be sweating on the fitness of some of their most experienced campaigners, but Aidan O’Shea was quick to praise the young players who stood up to be counted in Sunday’s do-or-die relegation clash with Donegal.
Without the injured quintet of Lee Keegan, Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan, Cillian O’Connor and Chris Barrett, as well as Keith Higgins who played with the county’s hurlers this spring, Mayo looked on course to drop out of Division One for the first time in 20 years.
A heavy home defeat to Tyrone the previous week did little to allay those relegation fears as they travelled to Ballybofey needing a win or a draw, only for Kevin McLoughlin’s last-gasp leveller to keep them up at the death.
The loss of Keegan, in particular, is a huge blow ahead of their May 13 Connacht SFC opener against Galway. The 2016 player of the year ruled has been ruled out for “three or four months” with a dislocated shoulder according to Stephen Rochford.
But the Mayo boss will have taken great heart from the performances of young trio Eoin O’Donoghue, Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus as the depth of Mayo’s panel continues to be called into question.
O’Donoghue popped up with a superb late score to close the gap to one in added time, while the pacy Loftus proved a thorn in Donegal’s side all afternoon.
“We always thought they were there, people just don’t like to mention it,” said O’Shea.
“Stephen Coen, I thought he was excellent out there. Loftus kicked some massive scores under pressure, and Eoin O’Donoghue kicked a crucial one.
“These guys are good players and they’re coming through. They were the leaders out there and it’s great to see.”
And maintaining that stay in the top flight was crucial, insisted the Breaffy man.
“It’s all I’ve known as a young fella watching Mayo and the same playing it. We said that coming up, even with players missing, we felt we had an opportunity here to stay up and we really wanted to grasp that.
“It didn’t look too promising when Odhran [Mac Niallais] hit a great point against the wind down in the corner and we went three down. But, in fairness to the boys, we kept chipping away.
“I’m only passing through, there’s a couple of us will be gone in a couple of years, some of the lads that stood up were the younger lads and that’s great. They need to continue that on and stay in Division One for as long as possible.”
Former Kerry star Marc O Se was the latest to predict the end-game was in sight for this group of players, stating that even if Mayo didn’t lose in Ballybofey they were “living on borrowed time”.
O’Shea has heard it all before, however, and said the players and management are beyond reading too deeply into Mayo’s League performances.
He added: “I did an interview last October and I predicted what was going to happen in the League, and it turned out exactly that way.
“We never quite make it easy on ourselves, especially coming in after beating Kildare, that really, really poor performance against Tyrone last week. We didn’t even show up.
“It’s the same kind of rhetoric every year. We just know that, with the logistics of everything that’s going on with us, the injuries, players coming back, it’s always difficult in the league.
“But now we’ve got six weeks to really get to work, and everyone knows that game on the 13th of May is the biggie.”