JOHN O’Shea at ease with United exit and confident of three points from Slovakia clash.
DURING every year John O'Shea lived the high life at Old Trafford, he faced doubts and doubters. How ironic it is now that he has moved on to find that football fans in Ireland are disappointed that he had to leave.
Even today you'll find a pundit |or two of some renown who would review O'Shea's time with Manchester United as Alex Ferguson's utility man and suggest that he might be a better player if he had moved on sooner.
But it's hardly a rational view given the fact that O'Shea pocketed five Premier League medals and, on a torrid night in Moscow, a Champions League gong to go with them.
He played 256 times in 13 years at Old Trafford and managed 30 games a season for half of them.
His involvement tailed off significantly in the last few years and it was this which convinced O'Shea to cut the cord with a quick exit to Sunderland.
What a cold business it is in the end. Not matter what way you leave the Theatre of Dreams, it's never good.
Whether it's kicking and screaming like Roy Keane or clutching a manbag like David Beckham, nobody ever enjoys the experience.
That's why O'Shea's outward display of studied and professional pragmatism when he speaks about his latest and only career move is fooling nobody.
It must have hurt when he went to Ferguson and discovered that he wouldn't be playing much this season or any other. It must have been hard to walk away from Carrington for the last time knowing that everything he would undertake from that point on would be filtered through experiences very few footballers enjoy.
But O'Shea, the man, is not a whole lot different now than he was when he stepped on a flight to Moscow back in 2002 for his first exposure to big time senior international football.
He is a lot more reticent and closed than he was then but that is to be expected.
Over the years, he has been through the media wringer more than a few times and it is impossible to understand what it must be like to be in the spotlight which shines on all Manchester United players all the time.
It can't have been easy to find that back home, his decision to stay and fight for his slice of glory was seen as somehow less credible than a career spent in mid-table at Everton or Bolton.
Asked whether he had any regrets about his time at Old Trafford, he answered quickly and with a slight edge: “How could I have regrets?”
Highlights? “One or two! The
whole lot really. I couldn't have asked for more.”
Another contract extension would have gone down well but when |that wasn't forthcoming, his clear preference for a stable environment kicked in and he would only find that at a new club.
“It wasn't a shock,” he insists. “It was always going to be the case.
“With a year left on my contract, Sunderland offered a four-year deal and it was very straightforward after that,” said O'Shea, who knew the writing was on the wall when he learned that games might be hard to come by in his final year.
But he did let slip one item of interest which suggests that his initial reaction was less than one of calm acceptance.
“Bill O'Herlihy announced on television that I had signed a new £20m contract and I had friends and family onto me congratulating me when it couldn't have been further from the truth.”
That was last November and from what he said, O'Shea was still |waiting for a new contract offer and beginning to realise that he wasn't going to get one.
Injuries niggled away until the final and dramatic month of the season when O'Shea forced his body beyond safe limits in a bid to make the Champions League final team.
“I played against Chelsea in the League but towards the end of the season I was getting a lot niggling injuries,” he says.
“The games were coming thick and fast and I probably didn't give myself enough time to recover.
“I was trying to make sure the manager didn't have an easy decision to make if he left me out but it probably cost me in the end because I wasn't able to train until four days before the Champions League.”
Does he think his presence is missed?
“I can see they're gone downhill, they're struggling aren't they?” he laughed.
“The Champions League finals against Barcelona were the key for the manager and he wanted to get
energy and freshness back into the squad which is what he has done.”
O'Shea's new life in Sunderland had to wait until his son Alfie was born. After that, a hamstring injury – the first he has experienced.
“Of course it was frustrating to pull a hamstring in the first game for the club but I took my time with the rehab. It was important I got 90 minutes against Swansea.”
Important for O'Shea and Steve Bruce and just as significant for Giovanni Trapattoni, who just a few short weeks was looking at the wreckage of his squad and wondering how many big names would be missing for Slovakia and Russia.
But O'Shea is fit and anxious to get down to business, beginning with three points against Slovakia.
“We should have won the game over there and it will be the same case at home. We should be able to do it with the players we have. With Robbie, Duffer, Aiden (McGeady) and Kevin (Doyle) we have plenty of quality.
“Obviously, it is make or break now coming to the crucial stages but we don't want to look past Slovakia. Get the result and we're almost guaranteed a play-off.”
O'Shea is not looking too far down the road in international terms other than to say that he will turn up to play as long as he is picked.