O'Shea believes struggling Sunderland will draw on fear of drop to fuel survival instincts
John O'Shea laughs, pauses and then agonises over his response when he is told about Gary Neville's assessment of a title race that could boil down to a choice between Manchester City and Liverpool.
"It's like choosing between two blokes to nick your wife," said Neville on Sky's 'Monday Night Football', summing up the attitude of Manchester United people towards two clubs they are conditioned to dislike.
O'Shea was impressed by his former team-mate's description. "That's very well put," he grins, before silence again descends as he composes an appropriate response. "Chelsea can still win it, can't they?"
With a gun to the head, he would prefer City to claim the crown because in his time at Old Trafford, Liverpool were always the bigger rivals. He actually supported the Anfield club as a child before his choice of employer totally changed his focus but with a number of friends from home teasing him about the Reds reclaiming the perch, life would probably be easier if Manuel Pellegrini's charges claim the title.
The levity is a welcome break from discussing the woes at Sunderland which are dominating the Waterford man's mind at the moment. He didn't hear Neville's comment on Monday because it came as part of the build-up to the Black Cats' clash with West Ham, a game which ended in a crushing defeat that leaves O'Shea in real danger of dropping out of the top division for the first time in his career.
With eight games remaining, Sunderland are four points from safety albeit with a game in hand on 17th-placed West Brom. Their run-in includes testing trips to Tottenham, City, Chelsea and Old Trafford. "We've been playing quite well away from home," he stresses.
While he remains positive that his employers can negotiate a great escape, O'Shea concedes there was a mood of devastation in the immediate aftermath of another home loss before minds turned to the future.
"We need to make sure at the end of the season we can at least say we have given everything," says O'Shea.
"It (the Championship) is one of those things that you don't want to think about and you will give everything to make sure that doesn't happen. But when the end of the season comes, the league position won't lie – you are where you are and you deal with it then."
With United, this phase of the season was often the stage where pressure revolved around winning things. The circumstances are slightly different at the other end of the table, with confidence dragged down by negative thoughts about what failure could bring.
"There will always be fear," concedes O'Shea. "But that fear should get you going, to want to prove that we deserve to be in the league. You have to use that. It's a difficult position but we still have time to do something about it. That's the beauty of football; you get a chance to do something about it."
Meanwhile, the 32-year-old, back on home soil to launch McDonald's FAI Future Football Programme, has given his backing to UEFA's plans to reduce the number of international friendlies on the calendar and add the Nations League to the diary.
"The main thing is doing away with friendlies. At the end of the season and before the new season starts, it's just not the same (as a competitive match). It's fantastic that UEFA are trying to improve that, although it will be more difficult for club managers."
In relation to an article that appeared in our edition of March 28, entitled 'Red Devils Legends match puts Kildare GAA club in firing line', we wish to clarify that Newbridge Town had absolutely nothing to do with this event, which was organised by Newbridge FC.