Friday 20 April 2018

O'Shea glad to be tuned in to Trapattoni's wavelength

The manager's will to win has impressed the Waterford man, writes Dion Fanning

THE cruelty of football revealed itself in Montecatini last week but John O'Shea knows that the game is a brutal business.

In 2002, Roy Keane suggested he should be part of the Ireland squad, something O'Shea would jokingly say later, probably ensured he was doomed. But he was young and on the fringes of selection so it didn't feel so bad, there was never any bad feeling between him and Mick McCarthy. The relentless nature of football and of time then intervened. "You're thinking it's going to come sooner than in 10 years' time," he said last week.

Ireland knows that the wait went on for a long time but for O'Shea, there was further anxiety. On the last day of the season at the Stadium of Light, he went over on his ankle. Trapattoni described him as "naive" to play in the game but O'Shea says he wasn't worried.

"When I came off, I knew it was more precautionary. I could have carried on but the fact was I didn't want to make it even worse. There was always a small doubt obviously but I was always confident."

While some of the players talked last week about their impatience as they wait for the tournament to begin, O'Shea was in a different situation.

"No, I was glad I had the time so it worked well in that sense. It's a fantastic feeling that we have at the minute with this group. Time-wise, it can get a small bit tedious but we've built up a good bond and little groups go off to do different things. Whether it be playing cards, relaxing, going for a walk and having a coffee. The time with the training sessions and the games soon ticks along and we're heading to different countries. It breaks it all up and the next thing we know, bang, we'll be walking out against Croatia."

Ireland fly to Budapest this morning and O'Shea is expected to start against Hungary, in a team which, barring injuries, will be the team that starts the game against Croatia.

He returned to training on Thursday, as did all of Trapattoni's squad.

It was a week when the Irish players were reminded what is expected of them and also what is demanded of the manager. O'Shea has always known what to expect from world-class managers.

Last summer, Alex Ferguson told O'Shea that he would be ready to accept offers and let a player who had been part of the club for more than 10 years to leave. O'Shea's wife was expecting a baby at the time but Manchester United were looking to change. O'Shea was smart enough to know he would have to as well.

"He [Ferguson] said, 'Look, I could keep you here and you might get enough games to satisfy you, but I can't promise you as much as you got in the past'. Playing in European Cup finals, playing in over 30 or 40 games for a Premiership-winning team. They're the things that kind of enter your mind and obviously it's a fresh start off the field too. It all came together."

Unlike some who leave Old Trafford, O'Shea didn't waste any time glancing backwards. There were differences in Sunderland, most notably as the season came to an end. It was the time of year when United would be in a relentless hunt for trophies.

"It was weird towards the end of the season when we got ourselves into a comfortable position in the table. Without knowing it, it's weird, you just kind of . . ." He trails off as he tries to consider what it was. Training was good, the mentality of the players was right.

"You just get into a comfort zone I suppose and that's a mentality that has to change. We have to try to get bigger and better at Sunderland and we've got the right manager to do that."

In Trapattoni, Ireland have a manager who understands, like Ferguson, that football is a cruel business in which only the tough survive. He may have made mistakes in his handling of the Kevin Foley situation, but the players know he also made a tough decision, the latest in a long career.

O'Shea looks at Trap and asks himself why Ireland's manager is in the business now. When he spends time with him at the training ground, he gets his answer.

"He has a huge winning mentality. It's not that he speaks about what he has achieved all the time. You just know. You know that he has the hunger. Why is he doing this job now? It's not for money. It can't be. It can't be. He's doing it because he loves the game and he loves getting the best out of teams, knowing that he's built up a good group and we're getting success from it. You have to admire that determination."

It is that mentality that has changed. As soon as Trapattoni took over, the John O'Shea who had at times appeared unreliable disappeared and a more solid figure took over.

Immediately, being an Ireland defender became a more straightforward job. O'Shea had played in Cyprus in 2006. Trapattoni took that as his starting point -- it would never happen again.

"It's more straightforward -- as a unit, we know where everyone's going and what everyone's doing," he says.

Every time Ireland play, he says, you can see the philosophy. In the friendly against Bosnia, it was Ireland not the Bosnians who looked more energetic despite Ireland fearing injury before the finals.

O'Shea points out how hard the wide men work under Trapattoni and how the forwards close down the opposition as a pair. That effort from everyone and the manager's relentless drive have changed things.

"I think that's been the main difference and the concentration factor from the manager just drilling it into us at every team meeting. Every little chat he has with us before training is about the small details. I say small details, things that happen in games like turning your back when there's a free-kick given against you. Teams have got relegated from it. He just drills that into you and the whole concentration factor of the team has improved."

Trapattoni will be desperate that O'Shea is part of that defensive unit. O'Shea said he wouldn't be worried if he didn't play in Budapest but that was before Trap said that would be his starting 11 for the tournament.

It isn't far away now. O'Shea has waited for big games throughout his career and he is ready for 90 minutes in Budapest and then next Sunday in Poznan. The manager had "unfinished business" after Paris, he says, and now O'Shea is patiently waiting for his chance to play in a tournament.

Trapattoni was asked a lot last week about what Ireland can achieve. He occasionally mentions it to the players too.

"Yeah, in small little ways. He talks about how football is today. When you expect the big teams to win it's never the case. He mentions Greece but he mentions how big favourites Bayern Munich were in the Champions League final and Chelsea go and win it. He repeats it quite a lot. 'Football is different today, football is different today.'"

John O'Shea knows that in 10 years, a lot has changed.

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