Friday 9 December 2016

O'Shea not taking eye off the prize

Published 06/06/2015 | 06:51

John O'Shea would rather the Republic beat Scotland next weekend than England on Sunday
John O'Shea would rather the Republic beat Scotland next weekend than England on Sunday

John O'Shea is desperate to get one over on England - but would readily swap victory over Roy Hodgson's men for three precious Euro 2016 points against Scotland.

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The two sides meet in Dublin on Sunday for the first time in 20 years since rioting England fans forced the abandonment of their last encounter in the city.

But, while the game is significant in both football and political terms, it is the Group D showdown with the Scotland next Saturday on the road to the finals in France which remains the overwhelming priority for the Republic.

Defender O'Shea said: "Look, if the game didn't go well for us against England and we beat Scotland, that's what we are looking to do. Great if we beat England and we beat Scotland, but let's not take our eye off the prize, as they say.

"It's France, qualification and it's a fantastic game to look forward to, the England game. But we need to get a result against Scotland."

O'Shea, 34, grew up in an era when there was little to choose between the sides - indeed, Jack Charlton's team could argue they enjoyed the better of the fixture in a golden period for Irish football.

Circumstances have dictated that Ireland and England have met only once in two decades - at Wembley two summers ago - and the Sunderland captain admits that makes this game all the more special.

He said: "Yes, you could say so, without a doubt. But we played them not so long ago at Wembley, a fantastic game, a fantastic atmosphere and I'm sure it will be the exact same again.

"It would be great if we could carry on these games every so often. We can enjoy these occasions, not just playing England, playing Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well.

"It would be great if we could get those games more regularly, but when they do come up when you play international football, especially playing for Ireland, to represent Ireland against England, it's obviously a very important game."

Manager Martin O'Neill, who remembers his own "derby" internationals as a player fondly, would also like more regular games against the Republic's neighbours.

He said: "When I was playing for Northern Ireland and we had the Home International series at the time, I used to always look forward to it. It was great.

"At that time, they played them at the end of the season, and, while perhaps maybe the English players might have thought they were surplus to their whole schedule, it was great for us, we enjoyed them.

"We enjoyed the Scottish matches - usually nobody turned up for the Welsh matches - but they were great.

"It was at a stage where I was just coming in and a certain George Best was going out, so just to meet up with that quality of player was great for me.

"I must admit, I loved them and I was sorry to see them disappear from the calendar."

O'Neill, who was once heavily linked with the England job, is relishing the game as the perfect preparation for Scotland's visit to Dublin, and he is hoping it passes off peacefully with in excess of 100 riot squad officers being deployed as well as 400 gardai in a bid to handle an anticipated influx of around 5,000 England fans - many of them without tickets.

He said: "I'm hoping that the crowd will be behaved, I'm hoping that there's something on the field for them to cheer about and be interested in, and I'm hopeful also that times might have moved on since 20 years ago.

"I think that would be the important thing. Certainly, I don't think anybody would like to see the scenes that were there all those years ago."

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