Meet the Irish-Finnish soldier who is aiming to make the Euro 2020 finals... after completing his national service
Army conscript must do his national duty before getting call-up
Finnish international Daniel O’Shaughnessy may be the only Irish man at this summer’s Euros but for now he’s more concerned with completing his military service.
The HJK Helsinki centre-half, who can also play left-back, has adapted to a different type of defensive duty at Santahamina military base just outside the Nordic nation’s capital.
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Although born and living in Finland, he holds dual nationality as his father Robert hails from Galway.
The 25-year-old is halfway through his six-month stint of national service, which all Finnish men are required to do before turning 28.
O’Shaughnessy looks older than the many other uniformed conscripts returning to barracks on the Helsinki train on the evening he sits down with the Irish Independent.
He explains why as he makes his way back to the base before his "strict" 9pm curfew that Sunday after a weekend at home.
"Usually most people get it over with when they turn 18 but I played abroad for six years so it made it difficult," says O’Shaughnessy.
"It’s quite tough. Well... it’s not too hard. It’s our off-season now so we haven’t got any training at the moment.
"We wake up at 6.30 every morning, have breakfast. Usually we have some lectures about how to use a gun. Then lunch, and after that we usually practise outside in the forest. Basic stuff."
A more robust military seems a greater priority when you share a 1,300km border with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has been keen on flexing its muscles of late.
Despite such nearby national concern, the army makes allowances for sport and O’Shaughnessy has been called up to a special division for professional sportsmen.
"You have the winter sports and the summer sports (groups). I’m in the summer sports group. That starts in October and finishes in April. And then they start the winter sports, like ice hockey and other sports which starts in April and finishes in October," he explains.
"(In my group) there’s footballers, people from athletics, sailing, golfers. It’s good to see how other people train and how they live their lives. I’ve found it quite interesting."
A Manchester United fan growing up, he dreamed of emulating his idol Roy Keane. Having a career in the army was not part of the plan but he has nonetheless valued the recent military experience.
Especially following a knee injury which sidelined him for nine months last season on his first year back in Finland since he left for French side FC Metz in 2012.
"I had a long time with my injury. Last year, off-season, I had to work and do rehab. So I nearly had two years in a row of just constant training," he recalls.
"So now I feel it’s just good to get my mind off football and do some other things, and be mentally fresher in January."
O’Shaughnessy spent two years with Metz before moving to Brentford in the Championship where he finished the 2015-’16 season on loan with Denmark’s Midtjylland.
Following an 18-month spell at League Two side Cheltenham Town, he returned to Helsinki in 2018 to play with HJK. League victory came in his first year back and they ended this season in fifth.
O’Shaughnessy finishes with the military in March, before Finland’s summer league starts a month later, meaning pre-season preparations must be balanced with army commitments.
Another kind of national service came recently following a late call-up to an injury-afflicted Finnish squad which qualified for the Euros after a 3-0 win over Liechtenstein in November.
O’Shaughnessy, who has just three international appearances to his name, didn’t play but made history as part of the first Finnish side to make a major tournament.
“It was such a surprise. I played three times for Finland but not in qualifiers. I was very honoured to get a call-up and especially at the moment when there was a chance of qualifying.”
The FAI’s Noel King contacted O’Shaughnessy and older brother Patrick – who also played professionally for a time – in 2012, inviting them to a Dublin training camp.
Patrick (26) continued to express his interest in playing for Ireland in an interview with this newspaper two years later.
However, he has since quit the pro game to study teaching, while Daniel has nailed his international colours to the mast with his first Finnish appearance against Sweden in a 3-0 defeat in 2016.
“Of course, it (declaring for Ireland) was always an option. I’ve lived my life in Finland. I was born here. I played my first game when I was 14 for Finland Under-15s and then it was just natural for me to go to Finland,” Daniel says.
Visits to Ireland have admittedly been few and far between and O’Shaughnessy’s grandparents moved to England following his father’s own departure from the Emerald Isle over 30 years ago.
Dad Robert moved to the town of Riihimaki – 70km north of Helsinki – after meeting his future Finnish wife Ulla, who was holidaying in Dublin at the time.
Three kids would follow. Daniel, the youngest, grew up playing ice hockey and athletics before choosing to pursue football.
The O’Shaughnessy name proved a challenge to most in a country more used to names like Litmanen, Jaaskelainen, Hyypia and Pukki when it comes to football.
"I’ve heard many different variations of the name. Once you tell people how it should be pronounced then they remember. But, just read on paper, it looks very difficult."
The Euros, where the Finns face neighbours Russia, Belgium and Denmark in Group B, will prove another big test.
O’Shaughnessy, however, has more confidence in his international team-mates’ chances than his own of making the team this summer.
"At the moment I’m not really sure how (I can make the team). I was in the last team so that gives hope but I need to do really well in the coming months to have a chance of making the squad for the Euros."
O’Shaughnessy just needs to make the team and he’s there. Mick McCarthy’s side still must make the tournament itself.