It is the only in the enviable thread of the GAA that such an important sporting event, a supporters dream, a players realisations and a team’s hopes could come down to how well a pair of brothers know each other.
What is even more fascinating about this tie is that we as spectators have a pair on each team. The post ritual banter around Drumcondra on Sunday evening will not be how well the O’Shea brothers coped with the aerial battle at midfield, the helping out in the defence or the delivery in the forward line. The conversation will be as to whether they were better than the Cavanagh brothers in all 3 of the said aspects.
Like in every well-known family whether it be the Kardashians in reality TV or the Jacksons in the Music Industry, there is always one sibling more well-known than the other and that is certainly true of our midfield pairing this Sunday. Aidan O Shea and Sean Cavanagh have lit up this year’s championship and whatever team progress this weekend, you can be sure that one of the aforementioned will be nominated for the footballer of the year.
After witnessing a below par quarter final between Cavan and Kerry where Kerry looked like winners from early on, the crowd awaited in huge anticipation the All-Ireland pairing of last year. It was a fascinating encounter but not for the reasons we expected, there was no tight finish. Mayo de-throned the All-Ireland champions and O’Shea was central to it. He was awesome in the air and put in a complete performance. So we need to ask what has taken O’Shea to such heights in such a short period of time. One must ascertain that the experience of losing an All-Ireland final a mere year ago is still fresh in his memory. He is cuter on the ball and as we experienced in the Connaught campaign, is putting himself physically around a lot more. Having witnessed him in the Seigerson and League campaign where he was not at his fittest, his aerial possession could not be threatened. He does not need much space to get height; he has a platform in his size that can spring him athletically into the air.
Similarly his long range shooting like Cork’s Aidan Walsh has improved this year. James Horan has taken his rough edge and smoothed into the perfect performer, but there is no replacement for hunger and you only have to note his post-match interview after the quarter final win to see it in barrels. While it may sound laughable that he remarked on how Mayo could have played better, he was more honest in his assessment than others.
Cavanagh on the other hand has proved this season that he is un-mark able. Brolly-gate aside, there is no denying that he has single handily “dragged” Tyrone into this All-Ireland semi-final. He has been around the inter-county scene for a long time now yet his freshness in his displays has left even the most sceptical neutral in awe. He is unique in his style and even though every opposition can re-enact his trademark dummy, few can counter it. The Moy man has a covered every blade of grass in each game this year and while every opposing manager has set out to nullify him with a man-marker, no-one has yet exceeded. There are few midfielders on the inter-county scene who are prepared to sacrifice their game at this level, Dick Clerkin the closest to Cavanagh in the quarter final. Despite the blanket defences that we have witnessed this season, the man-marking job outside the full-forward line is something that seems to still exist only at club level. To say that Sean has wound back the clock would be incorrect; he has reset it, playing the best football of his career.
Both players have strengths that outweigh the other but the sum of all parts tells us that they are close when you add up the equation. Cavanagh has the edge in pace with a more natural stride while O’Shea will pick up more primary possession. Cavanagh can point in less space than O’Shea while O’Shea can use his physical ability to make it. How managers will nullify each players influence is easier said than done. Tyrone will continue their short kick outs while Horan will undoubtedly focus on a man-marker for Cavanagh.
So what are we to witness this weekend, which sibling will pick up the other? There is the temptation there that wants the two best midfielders in the country at the moment play off against each other. That would be easier for us to assess who comes out on top regardless of the result. Who will give up an element of their game to cancel out another?
That decision will ultimately come down to management and whether Aidan will be told to mark Sean or vice versa. Both players have been a joy to watch during this year’s championship and the GAA enthusiast will want to see both players at their best. In picking up one another, we have a fascinating battle. In picking up the younger brother, we get to see who exerts the biggest effect on this game in their own right. There is no doubt that whatever happens; their paths will cross in what will be a family affair!
|- Mayo – Mayo|
|- Tyrone – Mayo|
|- Draw – Mayo|
|- Mayo – Draw|
|- Tyrone – Draw|
|- Draw – Draw|
|- Mayo – Tyrone|
|- Tyrone – Tyrone|
|- Draw – Tyrone|