Sport Euro 2016

Saturday 10 December 2016

O'Shea looks for change in Paris luck

Return to Stade de France brings back some painful memories for veteran Irish defender

Published 09/06/2016 | 02:30

The Republic of Ireland management, front row, from left, goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh, manager Martin O'Neill, captain Robbie Keane, assistant manager Roy Keane, coach Steve Walford and coach Steve Guppy with the Ireland Euro 2016 squad at Dublin Airport yesterday Picture: Sportsfile
The Republic of Ireland management, front row, from left, goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh, manager Martin O'Neill, captain Robbie Keane, assistant manager Roy Keane, coach Steve Walford and coach Steve Guppy with the Ireland Euro 2016 squad at Dublin Airport yesterday Picture: Sportsfile

John O'Shea is midway through an answer about one of his Stade de France memories when he stops himself.

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"Jeez, you love looking back on the past don't ye lads?" he says. "It's incredible stuff." He makes a fair point.

O'Shea has already dealt with the Euro 2012 post-mortem and knows the Thierry Henry questions are coming when discussion turns to his late miss in Brian Kerr's 0-0 draw at the venue in 2004; he was inches away from a famous goal.

The 35-year-old would prefer to focus on the future - especially as he is keen to make the most of the time he has left in an Ireland jersey - yet he later concedes that the negative experiences always stick in a player's mind.

When he arrives at the venue for Monday's date with Sweden, the heartbreak of 2009 might temporarily enter his head. The veteran has come around to believing that any recall of crushing disappointment can be used as motivation.

"The days you remember most are the days that haven't gone well, where you want to improve yourself," he says.

"There is plenty of things that have gone on in the Stade de France that we'd have liked to have gone our way. It's not a case that you don't look back at all. The bad times drive you on to be a better professional and to look at yourself even more.

"They are the things that hurt you the most. You can't keep winning and it's one of those things where you have to use that negative thing to turn it into a positive and that's what we want to do.

"Why you're in the game is to get special moments, but to also use those bad times as motivation so they don't happen again."

O'Shea did think about making a return to Saint Denis for a rugby international but didn't get around to it in the end. He admits that a lucky break would be a welcome turn-around, although he refuses to entertain a query which poses a scenario where he gets to punch a ball in. Of course, he needs to get on the pitch before he can even contemplate that scenario. O'Shea has functioned as captain on the pitch for the majority of the campaign with Martin O'Neill's first-choice skipper Robbie Keane deployed as a sub.

Prevented

However, injury prevented the Waterford man from contributing to the play-off win over Bosnia where Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark struck up an effective partnership. Shane Duffy has also knocked on the door by impressing in the warm-up friendlies.

"I'm making sure first and foremost that I get in the team, that's my focus," he says. "The quality we have now in the squad, there's an intensity and everyone has stepped up, it's brilliant. Shane has come in and done amazing in the last few months and has pushed himself right into the picture.

"Throughout the campaign, Clarky and Richard have done the job at different stages so whatever combination the manager picks - and even the competition you have at full-back for different ideas and formations - there is quality in the boys that can come in.

"Whether it was for Germany and Bosnia at home (it worked). It's great for the manager to have those calls to make. Competition is a good thing. It improves teams."

Keogh sang from the same hymn sheet when he was put up in front of the media before flying to France. For the centre-half options, the Zlatan factor is a significant part of Swedish preparations.

He is a step up from Edin Dzeko, with the Derby defender taking a lot of confidence from how he handled the Roma star in the tense play-off.

"I think I've got more confident with every cap I've got. The Bosnia game was a big moment, for sure," says Keogh. "It was a pressure game and to play how we did, not just me personally but as a team, to finish that game off was great for the country and was something I'll never ever forget. Dzeko is a very good player, he has won Premier Leagues and has played at a very high level. It's exciting. It was exciting to play against a brilliant player like Robert Lewandowski. It's what we are in the game for. Whether it's on him (Zlatan) or whoever, you want to try and settle into the game as quick as possible and make a first tackle.

"You want to test yourself on the biggest stage and there is none bigger than the European Championships."

O'Shea does have the edge on experience, and the straightforward lesson he is taking from Poland is that Ireland simply cannot afford to start as sluggishly as they did against Croatia. Three defeats from three ruined his first taste of an Irish tournament summer.

"The only enjoyment you will get from this is if you get to the knockout stages," he continues. "And to do that, you have to get off to the best start possible. You need to take points from the first game, in particular, that's the big one. The acid test.

"You want a great performance, you want a couple of wins but ultimately you want to get out of the group. That's what the manager is stressing, that we're not going over there for just three games."

At this stage of career, it means everything to O'Shea. He declined to divulge whether he will be hanging around for the next campaign.

"Look, that will take care of itself after the tournament," he said. Before then, he must take care of unfinished business.

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