Tuesday 6 December 2016

O'Shea bids for Ireland home rule to swat Scots

Sunderland defender hoping to swap club survival scrap for country's Euro 2016 charge

Published 01/06/2015 | 02:30

O’Shea, throughout his century of caps and decade-long service for his country, has never experienced such a feeling. His eyes dance at the dizzy prospect of providing such a moment (Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE)
O’Shea, throughout his century of caps and decade-long service for his country, has never experienced such a feeling. His eyes dance at the dizzy prospect of providing such a moment (Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE)
John O’Shea could be sitting here marooned between two doomed footballing galaxies, mired between contemplating the despair of his professional life and the prospective implosion of his patriotic passion (Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE)

John O'Shea could be sitting here marooned between two doomed footballing galaxies, mired between contemplating the despair of his professional life and the prospective implosion of his patriotic passion.

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Instead, he has a pep in his step and a glint in his eye.

Last month, Sunderland scrapped their way to survival with all the elegance of a pan-handler vainly attempting to keep his beltless trousers from slipping to his ankles.

This month, the team which forges the fire in the Waterford man's belly puts its Euro 2016 qualification hopes on the line against Scotland.

It may possess all the qualities of a typically artless English relegation struggle, and the financial stakes will be dwarfish in comparison - the emotional value is, however, incalculable.

After limping to an uninspiring draw against an equally moderate Poland side last time out, Ireland's faithful still clamour for the sort of Dublin defiance that can produce something definitive, in the shape of a win, rather than yet more ponderous purgatory.

FEELING

O'Shea, throughout his century of caps and decade-long service for his country, has never experienced such a feeling. His eyes dance at the dizzy prospect of providing such a moment.

"You could get bogged down in the result if you're too negative about things," O'Shea says at the launch of a remarkable relationship between the Beacon Hospital and First Ireland which will allow thousands of AUL players free access to medical care.

He could be speaking of Ireland but, in fact, he is speaking of Sunderland.

"At the time when Dick Advocaat came in, it was perfect in terms of getting attacking players on the pitch. Everything was positive, positive, positive."

Inspired by Sunderland and the positive brush strokes of their Dutch master, O'Shea is clearly hoping the feel-good factor can be forged with his international colleagues.

Even though Sunderland ultimately salvaged their top-flight status by scrapping an away draw at aristocratic artists Arsenal, ask O'Shea is there a lesson from his club's survival as he awaits Scotland in their return trip, and he is succinct. "Just win the game."

But to achieve that, one presses, must there not be a fear factor?

"Without a doubt," he says. "The manager has spoken about it, coming back from the games we played away, we need to win the home games. We had Germany away, Georgia away so these home games now coming up are key. Let's change it then, our home record. Everything is negative, negative. We need to qualify for a tournament. We need to get results at home.

"Now would be a good time to start getting it against so-called… not just Scotland. You go back to results against teams that are ranked above us, we haven't been getting results at home. Getting draws is not enough.

"I wouldn't say there is more pressure at home, it's just we haven't performed enough for long periods in the game. We have done in spells in games when you're dominant but we need to score more goals, put teams under a lot more intensity at home.

"Hopefully, I'm sure, the England game is totally different in terms of the atmosphere. But the Scotland game, I'm sure the fans, like the players and management, will realise how important the game is. The fans will be crucial that night too.

"Ultimately we've to get to major tournaments. It's totally different for your country. You switch off from the club game, it's another theme. You always build up with Ireland that identity, it's totally different." Footballers often lazily decry that club form can influence the international environment; O'Shea has done so before but now, he's reluctant.

"The emotion of staying up gives you a bounce, without a doubt it does," he says. "But it's one of those things, we have good competitive games against Northern Ireland and England before going into the Scotland game.

"It's a chance for everyone to refocus. There has been a bit of a break for some of the lads from the Championship in particular. It will be a good chance to get everyone back up to speed, have a good week's prep before such a big game."

The fact many of Ireland's players labour in the Championship remains a perennial cause for concern and it is a population enhanced by the relegation candidates this season.

"Without a doubt. Getting to a major tournament - that's the key," he says. "Ideally we would love lots more Irish players coming through at clubs, whether it be teams in the top half of the table or top four or six. It's not there at the minute.

"It would be great profile-wise if we did get to a tournament for some of the younger players. They would definitely be in a bigger shop window, without a doubt."

Ingloriously, Jack Grealish remains uncertain as to what shop window he would rather appear in, with his international future seemingly less and less about the innate desire that courses through O'Shea's veins.

Whether for similarly selfish reasons, O'Shea expresses a desire that the Aston Villa FA Cup Final loser be cut a bit more slack than many have offered him during the tawdry saga.

"Give him as much time as he needs," he pleads. "He has obviously had a good end to the season. It didn't go to plan in terms of the cup final, but let him make his decision and whatever he decides, let him get on with it."

John O'Shea was speaking at the Beacon Hospital and First Ireland launch of their new Sports Medicine Programme for AUL players.

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