Mayo's Aidan O'Shea has answered his critics, reckons RTE pundit Lee Keegan

RTE pundit Lee Keegan (left) feels his former Mayo colleague Aidan O'Shea has answered his critics this year.
RTE pundit Lee Keegan (left) feels his former Mayo colleague Aidan O'Shea has answered his critics this year.

Lee Keegan reckons former Mayo colleague Aidan O'Shea has 'emphatically answered' his critics after being 'unfairly' singled out for abuse for years.

Keegan and O'Shea came up short together in a series of All-Ireland finals, stretching right back to the 2012 defeat to Donegal.

Yet while five-time All-Star defender Keegan was largely praised for his glittering career, O'Shea often received punishing flak and criticism.

Freshly retired Keegan even admitted some of it was 'justified' but said most of it came O'Shea's way because he was an 'easy target' and 'because of the presence and the personality that he is'.

It's been a far more positive story this year for National League winner O'Shea under new boss Kevin McStay.

He's been stationed on the edge of the square and the team's tactics have been carefully tweaked to capitalise on his ball winning ability.

Speaking at the launch of RTE TV's coverage of the Championships, pundit Keegan said O'Shea got unwarranted abuse virtually 'every year' when they played together.

"He did, because his personality is so big," said Keegan. "And you know what, Aidan also takes a lot of the brunt on himself regardless because he's that kind of personality within the group, he doesn't want other guys being impacted or taking on flak that shouldn't be coming their way.

"The thing is, we tried Aidan O'Shea at full-forward for many years but the problem was our game plan was around running it. So if you're a full-forward like Aidan, why would you want to move for it when you have strike runners like Oisin Mullin or Paddy Durcan or whoever coming on at the end of moves?

"Now, all of a sudden, it's given Aidan that confidence that, 'You know what, if I make a run, more than likely I'm going to get the ball'. So that gives confidence to Aidan that the guys back on the '45 are looking at him and it also gives confidence that we're not just going to continuously run it and run it and run it.

"That's why we're getting the best out of Aidan O'Shea, because we're kicking in the ball. It was the same with Con O'Callaghan in the second-half last weekend - Dublin finally kicked the ball in directly to him. You can see the damage it does when you have a big target man on the edge of the square. It can really hurt teams."

Keegan reckons it's inevitable that some of the flak which came O'Shea's way hurt him.

"He didn't show it but I'm sure at some stage it does take it out of you," continued Keegan. "I suppose Aidan being the big personality that he is, he never lets on that it does get to him. I'm sure there are times, when it's just going full spiral, when it just keeps coming and coming and coming, and unfairly at times, sometimes justified, that it must have been difficult. It happened to us all, we all got criticism and rightly so.

"But I think because of the presence and the personality that he is, I think it's just an easy target sometimes to go straight for Aidan.

"I think he's emphatically answered the questions this year of where he's at in his career, with how he's playing. And we're getting the very best out of Aidan as a result of the game plan that Mayo are playing, but also the freedom he obviously feels.

"I think it's the first time in a while that we see Aidan playing with a big smile on his face because he's getting the type of ball that he wants, that he can do damage with. That's giving him the confidence to play the way he wants to play."

Keegan will spend the summer tracking big games for RTE TV as a rookie analyst. He admits he'll be keeping a close eye on Mayo, the form team in Ireland on the eve of the Championship.

But it's a big ask for the league champions to keep winning big games indefinitely, particularly with Division 1 rivals Roscommon first up in the Championship this weekend.

"My biggest worry for Kevin and Mayo is trying to keep that freshness, particularly towards the latter end of the year when games are coming thick and fast and the competition is getting stronger," said Keegan.

"I think it's all well and good going really hard now, but there has to be a bigger picture for Mayo and where they are at. I know the squad depth is good but if you lose an Aidan O'Shea, who has been playing absolutely fantastic football, can they recover from a loss like that? Or a Paddy Durcan or someone like that.

"But I think Kevin knows what to expect this Sunday with Roscommon, he obviously has a lot of close ties with Roscommon, so he'll be well up for that game and for laying down a marker for the match against Galway in two weeks, all going to plan."