Mayo dismantled a high-flying Kerry on Sunday to pick up their first national title in 18-years after a run of nine straight Croke Park final defeats.
From start to finish they were the better side and had it not been for two classy Kerry goals in the opening half then Mayo could have had plenty to spare come the end.
Mayo fans celebrated as though the curse had been lifted and while that may be understandable given the heartache these players and supporters have had to go through, there can be no disputing that bigger challenges lie ahead and sterner Croke Park tests await them.
Diarmuid O’Connor has taken on the mantle of captain and rose to the task (just as we predicted), proving influential in the final 20 minutes as Mayo clawed their way back to kill off the Kerry challenge.
However, throughout the entirety of this league campaign, one facet of Mayo’s play has really stood out particularly in the final three games and it may prove key to James Horan as they go in search of a first All-Ireland since 1951.
The burgeoning partnership at midfield between clubmates Aidan O’Shea and Matthew Ruane looks to be something that Mayo can really use to their advantage in 2019 and that’s why the Big Breaffy units are our focus on this week’s edition of ‘Spotlight’.
Matthew Ruane has been a revelation since coming into the Mayo panel this season. His driving runs from midfield have been a joy to watch and his engine is clear for all to see.
The 2016 All-Ireland U21 final Man of the Match made his first competitive start at senior level against Cavan on the opening day of the league and has yet to look back and despite Mayo crumbling against Dublin in Croke Park in the fourth round, Ruane was one of the few players (alongside Rob Hennelly) who was able to walk away with his head held high.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 16, 2019
While we all thought his defining moment of the league campaign would be down in Killarney when his late goal helped Mayo over line against a previously undefeated Kerry, he proved us all wrong with another huge moment in the Allianz Football League Final win on Sunday when he popped up once more to score a goal at a crucial point in the game.
It brought Mayo back to within one and allowed them to kick on.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 31, 2019
Ruane was involved in the move from start to finish. It was he who broke Rob Hennelly’s kick-out down to Jason Doherty before receiving the return and embarking on a lung-bursting run into the heart of the Kerry defence.
After playing another one-two, this time with Darren Coen, Ruane had the opportunity to pass to his partner O’Shea who had bombed through the middle, but such is his confidence, he backed himself, beating Jack Barry before firing low past Shane Ryan into the net.
Aidan O’Shea has operated all over the pitch for this Mayo side and the debate has raged over the years on where best to play the Breaffy talisman.
The general consensus before this season was that O’Shea’s best position has always been at centre-forward where he is able to link up with the inside men, acting as both provider and enforcer, while others see his size and presence as a must for the full-forward line.
O’Shea has proven throughout the 2019 Allianz Football League that he is a handful for anybody at midfield and what sets him apart from other ‘forward-thinking’ players is that he is one of the best tacklers in the game.
He was our focus on a previous edition of ‘Spotlight‘ after a dominant spell against Kerry that allowed Mayo to seize control of their group game in Killarney.
His steal for this Diarmuid O’Connor score in the second half is just one of a number of key moments from the Breaffy star.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 31, 2019
Another facet of O’Shea’s game that is hugely underestimated is his kick passing. Some of his long-range passing throughout the league campaign has been a joy to watch and with quality such as Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty, Brian Reape, Andy Moran etc etc etc inside, it could be a huge tool for Mayo come the summer.
His kick pass inside to James Carr on Sunday, while not coming to anything, epitomised everything that is good about one of Gaelic football’s finest art forms.
O’Shea broke the ball from a Kerry kick-out towards his partner, Ruane, who immediately passed back to O’Shea who had only one thing on his mind.
Kerry defending the attack well, but it is a clear sign of how is able to dictate and effect play from midfield.
It’s time for this writer to eat some ‘humble pie’ having previously been on the record saying that Diarmuid O’Connor is destined to play midfield this season and that Aidan O’Shea should be utilised at full-forward.
However, based on the balance of play over the past four months, if Mayo are to make a serious tilt at Sam Maguire in 2019 then a midfield partnership consisting of Breaffy’s own Matthew Ruane and Aidan O’Shea is what can set them apart from the rest of the field.
Both can score, tackle, kick long, have fantastic engines and are key to Mayo GAA in 2019.