Aidan O'Shea has spoken with fairly brutal honesty on the subject of this Mayo team's quality ahead of their All-Ireland final match-up with Dublin in Croke Park tomorrow.
Speaking to Colm Keys of the Indo, O'Shea admitted that after their loss to Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final replay two years ago, the Mayo panel was filled with players he "thought might step away", worn down by heartache and a desire to "go off and do other things".
But, while they have retained the core of that side, he admitted that they aren't operating on the same level now as they were in 2014.
If I'm being totally honest I think the peak stage is probably gone. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Some players are coming down the way and then younger players are trying to bring it back up at the same time.
They (the team) have battled through and regardless of whether we've had easy routes or not, we've had long campaigns, heartbreak at the end of them as well. So I don't think we are in that pomp that maybe we were a couple of years ago.
But O'Shea did highlight that, this season, Mayo have been "getting the job done in games where we're not playing well. We're doing enough to get over the line" - and he used the game against Tyrone as an example of this.
O'Shea is one of the highest-profile GAA players and his state of health and general existence are constant topics of conversation, particularly in his home county and particularly in this week of all weeks.
And, speaking to Kieran Cunningham of the 'Irish Daily Star', O'Shea acknowledged that he wasn't impervious to criticism - especially the deluge of strong words that fell his way after he was alleged to have dived against Fermanagh earlier this summer - but that he used it as a "chip on his shoulder" against Tyrone in the quarter-final.
It's when his family are involved that he finds it harder to handle.
People questioned me as a person, and that was difficult on my family.
For me, I think I'm pretty strong but, for my family, that's the most difficult part.
They went down one Sunday to Tullamore to the schools athletics championships with my little sister, and the talk was there.
Maybe the GAA needed to talk about something for a few days, but they took it down to personal level which I felt was unnecessary.
It's for men like O'Shea that the neutral wants Mayo to win tomorrow. The potential loosening of the shoulders, the removing of the perpetual shrieking monkey from the now straining back. The silencing of the demons.
But O'Shea told Cunningham that, as important as it all seems at times, he has come to realise that football is not the be-all and end-all. Especially since he became a father.
When you become a father, you step back and go, 'Hang on a second'.
I still love football, absolutely love it, but I don't think it matters to me as much as it did back then.
When I go to training now, or if I'm going for a weekend with Mayo, it's not, 'I can't wait to get away'. I need to check and make sure of what I can do with Caragh.
God knows, he's been through the wars. But, when the battle starts tomorrow, there'll he be. Once more primed to put his body on the line for his county.
(Irish Independent/Irish Daily Star)
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