ANNOYED AND UPSET Breaffy manager Peter Ford. Pic: Michael Donnelly
‘IT’S completely untrue, the picture that’s being painted.
“Most of the time people are making comments and assumptions when they don’t even know him.
“I hear it myself, from innocent people who don’t know Aidan O’Shea and they assume that he’s arrogant or not committed or whatever. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“I’ve been involved with a lot of teams over the years, and I can honestly say that Aidan would be the most impressive guy that I’ve ever come across, as a footballer and as a person.”
These were the strong words of Breaffy senior football team joint manager Peter Ford last week when he spoke to The Mayo News about recent criticism of O’Shea that has left the former Galway and Sligo manager feeling ‘annoyed’ and ‘upset’ about the player’s treatment.
Ford, who won four Connacht SFC medals with Mayo during a distinguished playing career, also expressed his disbelief at recent comments in national newspapers that questioned O’Shea’s attitude, as well as suggesting that the player was more concerned with self-promotion than maximising his football potential.
“Anybody who thinks that just doesn’t understand the desire and effort that he shows and puts in,” said Ford.
“It’s completely wrong. Aidan is completely obsessed with winning a county final with Breaffy, as he is with winning an All-Ireland final with Mayo.
“He’s not the only guy with [endorsement] deals or a sponsored car, but they [critics] always seem to pick on him.
“In an ideal world, people need to meet somebody to really know them. It’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon and speculate and say what they’re reading or hearing must be right.
“To suggest that he’s more interested in looking after himself or whatever is so false, so off the mark. He’s the opposite as far as I can see.
“People have no idea the amount of effort that he puts in. It’s football first for Aidan.”
Critics of O’Shea have questioned his performances for Mayo in big championship games in recent seasons, including last year’s drawn and replayed All-Ireland finals.
Ford, renowned for his analytical approach and forensic nature when it comes to watching football matches, feels that O’Shea has been singled out for unfair criticism in that regard too.
“People need to ask, where would Mayo be if they didn’t have him? How many of the All-Ireland finals would they have got to?
“How many Connacht finals, All-Ireland quarter-finals and All-Ireland semi-finals have Mayo won with him in the team? To my mind, he’s been outstanding in most of them.
“Plus, you’ve got to realise that most of the time there are two and three lads dragging off him. That’s creating space and opportunities for other lads, because he’s attracting so much attention. The reality is that he’s played a lot of good games for Mayo and, okay, he wasn’t the best player in any of the All-Ireland finals but he was still in the top five or six if you go through it.”
IT was in his capacity as Breaffy joint manager that Peter Ford wanted to speak out and address the recent negative coverage that has been directed at one of his players.
The former Mayo senior team selector has been working with Aidan O’Shea in Breaffy at club level since the start of last year.
Ford explained that he has seen at close quarters just how much of a positive influence the former All Star full-forward is on his team-mates and the wider Breaffy GAA Club.
“When Aidan comes to Breaffy all that he’s concerned about is winning, for the team to win,” explained Ford.
“Even if we’re playing ‘starred’ league games that’s all he cares about. Every time he speaks it’s sensible, and there are times when he doesn’t speak at all.
“He’s not there to be ‘the man’, he’s there to help.
“I find him an amazing person to be honest, especially with all the stuff that’s going on around him. It’s so wrong.
“It’s not his fault he’s a star, that he’s hot property in the GAA. Okay, he hasn’t won an All-Ireland but how many players haven’t?
“In the club he’s brilliant, all the Mayo lads are, Robbie [Hennelly], Seamus and Conor [O’Shea], but Aidan stands out. For leadership, and how he deals with and encourages younger players.”
It was O’Shea’s interaction with some young fans after a challenge game for Mayo in Mullingar last month that sparked some of the most recent criticism aimed in his direction.
However, speaking from his experience in Breaffy, Peter Ford was keen to explain the esteem in which O’Shea is held by many of the young children in his local GAA club.
“Sometimes before we’re training, he’ll come when the lads are going out on the pitch and there might be an under-12 or under-14 match finishing.
“As soon as that underage game ends, the kids are all around him. The kids’ faces light up when they get a picture with him, and their parents are so happy. He has that effect on people.
“I know he wouldn’t want me saying this, but he gets asked a lot to visit people who are sick or in hospital, and he goes and does that nice and quietly. Always.
“When he’s dealing with supporters after games, that’s because he’s a warm person who is always generous with his time. And he’s aware that, even in a small way, he can make someone a little happier.
“How can someone be taken to task for this?”
Ford, who won an All-Ireland under-21 medal in 1983 and also captained the Mayo senior team to the 1992 Connacht title, is now calling on Mayo supporters to rally around O’Shea and the rest of the county squad this summer.
He believes this is also important for the likes of Breaffy goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly, who came in for a lot of criticism in the wake of last year’s All-Ireland final replay defeat.
“We can only deal with it at a local level, and those lads know how much I think of them, how much Shane Conway [joint manager] and Marty McNicholas [selector], the players, the club and the parish thinks of them.
“They’re heroes in Breaffy and they’re so devoted to their parish and their club and the people there.
“That’s where their strength comes from.
“And when all of this stuff is going on, deep down they know how valued they are in Breaffy. Mayo supporters should continue backing all their players, and Aidan in particular at this time, as he’s been subjected to some very unfair commentary.
“Our players won’t let us down for effort, let’s not let them down for loyalty.”