Sunday 21 July 2019

Glory years at United and turbulent times on Wearside have primed John O'Shea for management


O’Shea with his son Alfie after defeat to France in the Euro 2016 round of 16 match in Lyon. Photo: Sportsfile
O’Shea with his son Alfie after defeat to France in the Euro 2016 round of 16 match in Lyon. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

John O'Shea is still living the dream. Next month he will close the chapter on 16 years of senior international football with the Republic of Ireland. He will captain the team against the United States and say a proper farewell to the Irish football public.

"It is a wonderful gesture and I really appreciate everything that Martin O'Neill and John Delaney have done to make it happen," O'Shea said yesterday. "I spoke to Martin about playing a couple of months ago and he said what about coming in for the America game and making that the last game, and it sounded like a good way to finish it off.

"I know I am very fortunate to go out this way, which is why I am very proud and just looking forward to it. I'll try to soak it all up, do the job properly of course, and have a good family day which all the family and friends can enjoy and remember. I want to take it all in as best I can, and thank everybody."

One of the top five most decorated Irish footballers, O'Shea hopes to eke out one more season of club football before he looks seriously at following Alex Ferguson into management.

"He was crucial to my career, and when you see the response to his illness, not just from the football world but people in all walks of life around the globe, you realise the huge effect he has had on everybody. The updates from the club and the family are encouraging so fingers crossed we will see him up and about and travelling to watch games again soon."

O'Shea has the Uefa A licence, gained on FAI courses with Ireland team-mate Glenn Whelan, and a wealth of experience and knowledge he is desperate to put into practice.

He said: "What has happened at Sunderland over the last couple of years has been hugely frustrating but playing for Manchester United was like living in a fantasy world and Sunderland was like the reality. Within three months of signing for Steve Bruce, he was sacked, and that started the cycle.

"It happens in football, but I had that one constant in my life at Manchester United. Since then, I have seen so much stuff in the last few years at Sunderland, which will hopefully stand me in good stead for management, if I decide to go into that, or get an opportunity. It has been a great learning curve and I would be mad not to take something from it.

"A manager has to have his own ideas and plans and I have seen so many things that have not worked out from so many different managers, in different situations. There are a lot of factors which affect things, but I have to take things on board and want to put them into practice. It has definitely given me more of a taste for it, rather than put me off."

John O'Shea arrived at Sunderland a serial winner. He had just sealed his fifth Premier League medal with United when Bruce, another former Old Trafford centre-half, signed him for £6m. Seven years later, he could be leaving the Stadium of Light a loser. But a proud one.

"Horrible." That was O'Shea's reaction to Sunderland's second successive relegation last month. As club captain, he was the only player sent out to face the media on the day it was confirmed, with a dreadful home defeat to their nearest rivals Burton Albion which summed up their season and meant League One football next season.

They were ahead at home for once. Nigel Clough's nervy young side should have been out of sight by half-time but mounted a late comeback after O'Shea hit the bar. Former Sunderland striker Darren Bent was booed as he warmed up for abandoning the club after Bruce took them to 10th. And of course he had to come on and score - and at the end where he scored the famous 'beach ball goal' against Liverpool. Bent equalised four minutes from time. Liam Boyce headed in the winner two minutes after the 90. Results elsewhere meant Sunderland were down.

Chris Coleman knew it. He shook the delighted Clough's hand and disappeared down the tunnel. The players and few supporters who had remained for the debacle seemed oblivious, however.

Coleman left for good after an almost identical defeat at his former club Fulham in the penultimate game of the season. The former Wales manager was as stunned as anyone by Ellis Short's departing gift after selling the club to a consortium of 'football investors' led by former Eastleigh chairman Stuart Donald. Coleman was sacked as part of a deal still to be ratified by the English Football League. Donald was in the crowd for the visit of champions Wolves on the final day. Sunderland won. O'Shea was captain and departed four minutes from the end to an ovation. He handed the armband to 16-year-old striker Bali Mumba.

O'Shea said: "Bali has come into training with the first team during the season and done very well. He is a 16-year-old who has come into that environment and not looked out of place, got plenty of knocks and kicks and tackles and bounced back up and showed a good attitude, and I said to Robbie [Stockdale, the caretaker manager] he would be the perfect example of what this club's future is all about.

"It was a symbolic moment. That's the future of the club, and lads like him really need to be looked after. Keeping the home-grown talent and bringing them through and developing them has to be the model they need going forward."

A few days after the win over Wolves, O'Shea was the reluctant recipient of the supporters' player of year prize in one of the most low-key awards nights in the history of football.

O'Shea added: "It was a strange one all right. Any time you win the player of the year award should be a very nice moment and a very proud moment. Personally, it was nice to win of course but it was a bit surreal.

"Ultimately I don't think there should be a player of the year award when a team has been relegated but the club has a tradition and wanted to keep that going. Hopefully the club can recover and kick on.

"There are so many good people at the club, great supporters, amazing travelling support who always turn up in great numbers away from home, no matter how things are going. It's a great club, a big club and it has been a tough few seasons for all of us, with change after change after change after change.

"The club now have a chance to really get back to core values, re-group and really go again. Hopefully things can start happening soon, because there is a danger of getting left behind.

"For the moment, my contract is up in June and I want to continue playing for another season. Where it will be, we will have to wait and see, and we will see what happens with things at Sunderland but yes, I would like to stay.

"Hopefully things will be in place quickly and we will see how things are going to be done. Chris Coleman said before he left that Sunderland should be looking to go out and win League One but it will not be easy, as we have seen for clubs who have dropped into League One."

The farewell to Ireland next month will be very different. O'Shea will have the armband again for his 118th and final international appearance. The 766th game of his professional career. He will depart before the end to take the deserved acclaim of the Lansdowne crowd.

But one man will be missing in the seats at the Aviva.

Jim O'Shea was Ferrybank AFC. Father to John and Alan, he died last year and his coffin was draped in the club colours.

"My main memories would be Saturday morning, jumping in the car to go to watch games, and doing it all over again on a Sunday morning," said John.

"When I was starting out, I was eight and playing in his under 11 team with Paddy O'Hearn. I was a right-winger back then, but I had plenty more pace in the locker and could just about avoid a few tackles.

"He was chairman of the club for a while, chairman of the schoolboys team as well and he just loved football and Ferrybank. It was huge for him once he became involved - my mum would definitely tell you that - and he was passionate about it, like a lot of his friends. He didn't drink but it felt like he did to her because he was out so much with the football club, whether it was fundraising, helping with the club lotto or being there for games. . . he absolutely loved it.

"It is possible something rubbed off and if he came over to England to watch me play, and when I started to play for Ireland, he might say it would be pay-back for all the hard work he put in.

"He did play a bit apparently, but his friends at Ferrybank would tell you that he was definitely better off the pitch organising, than on the pitch. My mam played a little bit actually so we reckon I get my good feet from her. Her maiden name was Troy, so she obviously has good dancing genes too, which might have helped.

"In fact, my brother Alan has a better left foot than me, without a doubt. He has that good family trait of versatility - he has played left-back, centre-back, centre-forward, in goal. The funny thing is that he has always been taller than everyone, he's 6ft7, but he's got such a sweet left foot, he takes all the corners and free-kicks, which does look strange. He definitely has a better left foot than me, though."

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