WHEN John O’Shea left Old Trafford for Sunderland and Darron Gibson exited for Everton, a long tradition of Irish involvement in Manchester United’s adventures came to an abrupt end.
Other than Jonny Evans, there was nobody ready for a rapid promotion to first-team status from within and no sign of an Irish player on the outside who Alex Ferguson might fancy.
Worse than that, the rest of the top clubs in the Premier League are chasing talent across the globe and the once tried-and-trusted scouting networks in Ireland are no longer given the priority they once enjoyed.
But O’Shea has a clear and very positive message for anyone who believes they are good enough to play for Manchester United or any of the other big clubs.
“There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t have that dream. I know it’s a lot harder than it was even when I was a teenager but if a young lad gets a chance, has the talent and right mental approach, United will find a way to bring it out of him.
“The mental thing is probably the most important. I don’t know how many I’ve seen come over down through the years and not make it because they had the wrong mentality.
“It has become more difficult for a lot of reasons but mainly because clubs have global scouting networks now. But if a player is patient, good enough, and it’s a cliché, but gets a bit of luck along the way because I wouldn’t have got into the team without that bit of luck, then they will always have a chance.
“They certainly shouldn’t think it’s beyond them but they will need to have a lot of factors working for them. What helped me was patience – not being worried if I was sent out on loan, not thinking, well it’s not happening at United, I’ve failed.
“Not listening to people back home saying look he’s been sent out on loan, so obviously United don’t think he’s very good.
“But when you look at the ones who did go out on loan – myself, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and now Fabio – they’re doing alright.”
“A kid doesn’t have to be spectacularly talented. There’s still room for a slow burner, a player who develops slowly and especially if Alex Ferguson stays involved.
“He will stay there unless his health gets in the way. I’m sure of that.
“The little cogs he needs in his team, that’s not going to change. He knows what is successful in rebuilding a team or a squad. He needs a bit of flair, a bit of anger, a bit of calmness – all sorts of factors.
“He does his homework on the player, his background, his family situation. Every little detail he can find out, he will.”
O’Shea’s self-belief was crucial in keeping him at Old Trafford when some suggested that he should leave to find regular football.
Now, that same confidence is helping him guide a new team and players much younger than himself at Sunderland.
“I changed clubs and my son Alfie arrived all in the same few weeks and the next thing I know I’ve pulled a hamstring. I’ve never pulled a hamstring in my life and pre-season is so important.
“Every time I’ve had a full pre-season, I’ve never had an injury during the full season so I was playing catch-up a bit. When you’re a bit older it takes a little more time to recover from knocks and little muscle tears.
“But I was able to pick it up. With the experience I’ve picked up over the years, I’m able to put that across and organise the team. It’s easier to do it from centre-back. The position helps you to see things a lot more clearly.
“That’s probably the longest run of games I’ve had at centre-back. I was beginning to think I was 15 or 16 again.
“As the season wore on, my lungs knew I was playing at centre-back. There’s a different physiology needed to recover than when you’re a full-back. My lungs knew I was having a rest. They weren’t required as much.
“I’ve adapted well, though, and the more games I played, the more I felt I was getting into a good rhythm