Kids can step up: O'Shea

Veteran tells the fringe players to take chance this week while they can

Republic of Ireland’s John O’Shea with manager Martin O’Neill during a press conference at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

Aidan Fitzmaurice

A young John O'Shea tried, but failed, to make it into the squad and onto the plane for the World Cup finals in 2002.

A decade later, O'Shea was one of the cornerstones of an Ireland squad that watched in awe as a young tyro from Derry called James McClean bounced onto the scene and grabbed for himself a place in the Ireland panel for the European Championship finals, despite having not kicked a ball in the qualification bid.

This week O'Shea, standing in as team captain in the absence of the injured Robbie Keane, can see that scramble for places at Euro 2016 from both sides: the uncapped hopefuls (Alan Judge, Jonny Hayes, Matt Doherty, Eunan O'Kane) and the one-cap-wonder (Shane Duffy) who hope to bag a place in the squad at the expense of more established members of the squad.

It's worth recalling that O'Shea had been capped before Ireland travelled to Japan and Korea without him but his then team-mate Roy Keane was very clear in his view that O'Shea should be in the squad for the World Cup.

So O'Shea, who turns 35 next month, is in that position of wanting to see the best players travel with Ireland but also not wanting old pals and comrades to miss out, but he feels that the fringe players should do all they can in their auditions, starting tonight against Switzerland, to get to France.

"It's what the manager said about them hopefully taking an opportunity to shine and if they do shine then hopefully they get another chance on Tuesday," says O'Shea, likely to win his 110th cap at home to the Swiss tonight.

"To give the manager tough decisions to make, that's the whole idea of it ultimately, making sure - as the manager said - that if they're not picked for the tournament in the summer that they're at the front of queue to be ready to go come September time.

"So that's the key thing, as the manager said that they're opening up his mind to be ready to go when called upon and they've shown this week they're definitely doing that."

O'Shea was only 20 when he made his international debut, against Croatia in 2001, but the current batch of hopefuls are of a different vintage, the uncapped quartet ranging in age from 24 (Doherty) to 27 (Hayes, Judge). "You can see the experience they're gaining at their club is benefiting them greatly, that's definitely key to it. You can see they're hardened professionals almost, a few of them, so they'll definitely be ready."

O'Shea had three central defensive partners in the qualifying campaign (Marc Wilson, Ciarán Clark and Richard Keogh), but as Wilson battles with injury while Clark's confidence suffers with Aston Villa's ongoing woes, O'Neill is keen to have options in that position for the summer.

Paul McShane and Alex Pearce are not to be discounted while Cyrus Christie and Matt Doherty can play across the back four.

But the defensive question could push Shane Duffy onto the scene, O'Neill and O'Shea are both big fans of the Derry native who has so far been capped just once at senior level but is guaranteed to start one of the two upcoming friendlies.

"He's doing fantastic at club level, obviously there are stories linking him with different teams and it shows how well he's progressing," O'Shea says of Duffy.

"He had a couple of loan spells from Everton and I'd know a few lads who have gone down there on loan from Sunderland as well and they're speaking very highly for him too, so I just hope he keeps progressing as he has been and he'll definitely be one for the present and the future, that's for sure, because he's got a lot of great attributes for a central defender.

"I think confidence will be a big thing, that's just come from the game time. You can see he's obviously just maturing as well. Obviously central defenders sometimes take that few more years to get through into teams and I'm sure the manager at Blackburn, who the boss knows very well, will know how he's progressing also."

The veteran of the squad now, O'Shea can breeze through his duties as player and captain this week but bigger goals await in France, the Sunderland man not keen to be reminded of Euro 2012.

"I did me best to keep erasing it from my memory but people keep bringing it up," he says.

"I was hardly delighted with it. Obviously we wanted to get out of the group and we didn't, so that's main thing we'll be looking to do this time around.

"Preparation is very important for it but it's a different time, a different group of players, different management. Everything is different.

"But ultimately, fingers crossed the manager has a fully fit group to pick a squad from and we if we can have that hopefully it will be a different set of results, that's for sure."