Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Down Goes O'Leary: How Aidan O'Shea Won the Day for the County Mayo

When he was learning about the great game of Gaelic football at his father’s knee, a friend of the blog was regularly asked what was the turning point. It was his father’s way of getting the gasúr to think about the game, and to realise that small events can have momentous consequences. Gaelic football’s butterfly effect, if you like.

Not every game has a turning point, of course. But yesterday there was a huge one, when an emperor was dethroned and a foundation stone set for a new world order.

Mayo were offered at 18/1 in running early in the first half of the game on Sunday. Cork had been gifted a sweet start, the last thing Mayo could afford them, and they were humming. Mayo were 1-4 to 0-1 down and in big trouble.

Noel O’Leary, a player whose praises your faithful correspondent will always sing, was in possession under the Cusack Stand around the 45 metre line and was thinking about where to launch it when he got a shock. The sort of shock you get when six feet five of Breaffy bone and muscle comes barreling into you when you’re not expecting it.

Aidan O’Shea, for it was he, put O’Leary on the deck. As tough an hombre as has pulled on a jersey found himself stretched, whacked, done.

O’Shea got a yellow card for the challenge, which may have been harsh, and may not have been. It’s hard to believe O’Leary considered the challenge anything other than fair; God knows he’s delivered plenty of them himself.

But the game was never the same again. O’Shea putting down O’Leary was the turning point.

O’Shea’s challenge on O’Leary was a primal act of defiance. You may beat us but you will not defeat us. We are not here to be bullied. We are not here to make up numbers. We shall fight you ball for ball and if we lose, we lose on our feet, not on our knees.

There’s more to it than that of course. A lot of things happen in a game of Gaelic football. But An Spailpín will believe until the day he’s called that Aidan O’Shea’s challenge on Noel O’Leary changed the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Of course, Cork were hampered by their injuries. No team can lose so many of its front-line players and still perform at its optimum. They were worthy Champions and Conor Counihan was gracious in defeat, which can’t have been easy. This defeat is very, very painful for Cork football and, with the bizarre way the inter-county calendar is currently fixed, it will be a long time until they can assemble again to deal with their pain.

While for Mayo, and perhaps for the entire football base of Connacht, it was a moment of justification. Not least in light of what passes for football analysis currently.

Whatever happens now, Mayo are playing with house money. Kerry are the best team in Ireland, and Jack O’Connor doesn’t miss much on the line. Cork were complacent on Sunday, but Kerry know the breed of the O’Shea boys, and they will be ready. It’s also to be hoped that Darran O’Sullivan can play in three weeks – his presence will make Mayo’s task all the harder, but his talents grace the game, and the game is bigger than any or all of us. Can’t wait.