Friday 21 July 2017

Aidan O'Hara: Pride in green sets Trap's army apart

JOHN O'SHEA has been around for far too long to care what anybody else thinks, but, when he eventually retires, a cabinet which shows medals from five Premier Leagues, one Champions League, one FA Cup and three League Cups might help his career get the credit it deserves when others look back on it.

Given his international goal-scoring record, the lack of love for Robbie Keane in Ireland continues to baffle, yet O'Shea managed to survive 10 seasons under a ruthless manager while playing more than 20 league games in all bar one of the last eight seasons for the most dominant club of their generation.

But ask many football supporters in this country where O'Shea stands among the best Irish players since the turn of the century and it's likely to be met with a shrug of the shoulders and the word that seems to accompany everything apart from the achievements in his career: alright.

But a quick scan through the squads of what is likely to be England's top six clubs this season shows that the likes of O'Shea will become even more of a rarity in the coming years -- an Irishman with a Premier League winners' medal.

FLAG

Gervinho, Solomon Kalou, Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Toure all come from the Ivory Coast which has a similar flag to ours, but that's about as close as an Irish player is likely to come to consistently making the starting line-up of Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City.

Keane closed the door as the last Irishman out of Tottenham while, at Anfield, there was a strong Irish connection to Kenny Dalglish's first stint in charge, but, as yet, there is no sign of him taking a similar approach this time round.

Of course, Darron Gibson remains at Manchester United but a combination of injuries, lack of form and not leaving for Sunderland when the manager wanted, means he seems as likely to feature in 10 games of a Premier League-winning season as Shane Long is of catapulting West Brom to their first top-division title since Walt Disney was an intern.

Barring somebody striking oil at Villa Park, that group of clubs isn't going to change much in the coming years, which means that the likes of Greg Cunningham (Manchester City); Conor Clifford (Chelsea) or Robbie Brady (Manchester United) might represent the best chance of following in O'Shea's footsteps.

All three are exceptionally talented players but, as the likes of Richie Partridge and Graham Barrett discovered, the leap from youth-team prospect to first-team regular is immense -- all the more so if injuries strike or the manager has the ability to spend several million on a player in your position.

And yet, if ever a team proved that the club a player represents has little basis for his international prospects, it is this Irish one under Giovanni Trapattoni.

On Saturday, Seamus Coleman helped Everton beat Wolves in the Premier League while Paul McShane was an unused substitute in Nick Barmby's first game in charge of Hull. But, against Estonia, Trapattoni had McShane on the bench rather than Coleman.

There are many who despair at such an approach, which can see Wes Hoolahan not in the squad despite helping Norwich into the Premier League and then playing regularly, while Keith Andrews starts for Ireland as his club career path goes in the opposite direction.

But in an era when Kevin Prince-Boateng can retire from international football at the age of 23 because it is getting in the way of playing for AC Milan, Ireland can prosper simply because their players will want to be there to escape the day-to-day drudgery of club football.

Tomorrow and Wednesday, the majority of the recent Ireland squad will watch the Champions League knowing that their chances of playing in it in the coming years are slim.

For whatever reason, the likes of Richard Dunne and Shay Given seemed destined not to get the chance to show if they are good enough to play among the Premier League's elite while Per Mertesacker or, until this year, Heurelho Gomes go from week to week like the star of the TV show 'Seconds From Disaster'.

For those two and most of the next generation, the international team is their best chance to showcase their ability and with that desire driving the team, Ireland can prosper against players of greater talent but for whom international football is an inconvenience.

After missing a penalty in the shoot-out as England were eliminated by Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, Jamie Carragher received a text which said: "F*** it, it's only England." In his book, he then revealed that he sent a separate text to Kenny Dalglish saying: "I would rather miss for England than LFC."

Such an attitude is typical of so many of his generation. Thankfully for their chances in Poland and Ukraine, it's impossible to imagine an Ireland player doing the same next summer.

Irish Independent

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