Sunday 25 February 2018

O'Shea eyes one last shot at living World Cup dream

Veteran has unfinished business before retiring, says Cian Tracey

John O'Shea during squad training at the FAI National Training Centre, in Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
John O'Shea during squad training at the FAI National Training Centre, in Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When John O'Shea sat down with Martin O'Neill after the Euros last summer, few would have blamed him if he had decided it was time to call it a day and focus his attention on his club career.

There has been no shortage of younger players who have made a similar decision but O'Shea is still as determined as ever, particularly as the potential to play at the World Cup for the first time was on the cards.

The 35-year-old was central to Martin O'Neill's plans until the horror show against Belgium last June but his desire to pull on the green jersey has never wavered and he started the current qualifying campaign in Serbia.

Although he lost his place in Vienna in November, O'Shea is set to earn a call against Wales on Friday in the absence of the now first-choice pair Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy who are both injured.


"The manager has certainly had a conversation with Sheasy, that there were lads coming through and they'd play a big part and ironically they'll (experienced players) have a big part to play I'm sure on Friday night," Roy Keane said yesterday.

His former Manchester United team-mate may be in the twilight of his international career but with Robbie Keane and Shay Given hanging up their boots before the start of the campaign, O'Shea's experience both on and off the field is still crucial to the squad.

"I'm a realist and obviously when I spoke to the manager about it, it was straightforward," O'Shea says of his decision to stay on.

"I didn't need much persuasion at all because obviously I haven't been at a World Cup. That's obviously a driving ambition but it's one of those things that it's parked to the side.

"You deal with what's in front of you so you take that one step at a time but if you could get to that situation, for myself personally from a totally selfish point of view, that would be amazing.

"But first and foremost, you put yourself forward to be used and needed when required and I was willing to do that as I always have been for my country."

For all that O'Shea has achieved across his illustrious career, playing at a World Cup is the final box that he desperately wants to tick.

With Ireland sitting on top of Group D, there are plenty more twists to come and O'Shea knows that more than most having come close to helping Ireland get to the World Cup on that famous night in Paris in 2010.

"I've been very fortunate and whatever happens with my career, I've done okay," he admits. "But obviously not getting to a World Cup so far has been annoying to say the least because of how close we've come a couple of times.

"You always wish you were there. You get on with it and you move on which we have done. We qualified for the last couple of Euros but the World Cup has just avoided us."

Now one of the more experienced faces in O'Neill's squad, O'Shea insists that his role hasn't changed that much in recent months. Leading from the front comes natural to the Waterford native.

With O'Neill's hand weakened by the loss of several key players for the crucial clash at the Aviva, O'Shea concedes that had he retired last summer and this injury crisis hit, he would have regretted the decision.

"I definitely would have been thinking, 'Why didn't I (stay)?' That's for sure. But thankfully it's all going well so far. The most important thing is to be on the pitch. And obviously around the place to help out. It's a mixture.

"It's (role) the same as it always has been. I wouldn't say the role has changed. When Robbie (Keane) and Shay (Given) finished, you're losing lots of experience but there are other lads who have gained much more experience too at club level. It's just the natural cycle."

O'Shea has seemingly come to terms with the fact that for the first time he is not an automatic starter for Ireland but he is eager to prove that there is life in the old dog yet as he shuts out the struggles that he has endured with Sunderland again this season.

"It sits with me because of me age," he smiles. "It was never going to be an issue, but it's also the case that you know you're coming in and you're playing in the Premier League. You're playing in that competitive nature of that league and it has always stood me in good stead. (I am) always willing to be available for selection.

"Always coming across for your country is a proud moment for everyone.

"Growing up it's always something you want to be a part of, so every time I do it I just enjoy it, switch off (from Sunderland) and focus totally on Ireland."

Irish Independent

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