Saturday 20 January 2018

O'Shea hungry to banish years of Irish hurt

David Kelly

David Kelly

His mantelpiece is weighed down with everything the club game could possibly offer a player operating at the pinnacle of his profession.

His is not a mind burdened by the ludicrously exalted drama of the transfer window and the shadowy personae lurking within the modern game's undergrowth.

John O'Shea is, it would seem, the man who has it all, his enviable roll call of honours a glowing testament to his durability and versatility within the most glittering franchise in world football.

Four Premier League titles. One FA Cup. Two League Cups. He has also reached the summit of club football: the Champions League success on a rain-soaked evening in Moscow two years ago.

But there remains a glaring omission on his otherwise stellar cv. Even with all their disappointments at club level, team-mates such as Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane can gently tease that they have experienced something that he, regrettably, has not.


For an appearance at a major international soccer championship still eludes the 29-year-old Waterford native. Although then team-mate Roy Keane may have stridently argued his case in public ahead of the 2002 World Cup, Mick McCarthy demurred and left the then fledgling at home.

He has summered quietly every two years since as Ireland failed to emulate the last squad to pitch up at one of soccer's flagship events.

"Yeah, that's a huge disappointment," he says softly, before repeating the words for dramatic effect. "A huge disappointment. There's major jealously with all the lads in the team who have been to a major tournament.

"You feel that you've missed out on reaching the pinnacle of where international football is. That's definitely a disappointment but we're confident we can do it this time. We'll wait and see."

Unlike some of his closest peers -- Paul Scholes and Wes Brown to name but two Old Trafford colleagues -- premature retirement will not usher him off the scene, regardless of Ireland's success or otherwise in the forthcoming campaign.

By the time this campaign ends in late 2011, he will be older than the aforementioned United men were when they called it quits on the international stage. But, he stresses, their subsequent success hasn't dimmed his desire to wear his national jersey.

"Well, you never know," he replies, with initial, perhaps understandable, uncertainty. "It's definitely a possibility when you see how they excelled at their clubs because of the rest you get."

But then he stands firmly against the prospect. "It's a simple factor, but I don't see it ever being a problem for me. I would be very confident of Ireland retiring me rather than me retiring Ireland."

As long as he is fit and capable, he will always answer his country's call? "Yep," he affirms. Alex Ferguson's contention in Dublin earlier this month that O'Shea could perform until he is 40 franks that declaration of commitment.

Despite his absence from that 2002 World Cup squad, these days the 62-times capped player's permanence in Giovanni Trapattoni's starting XI requires him to be one of the team's leaders, a talisman for those of lesser prowess than himself, both in terms of experience and achievements.

"Look, experience is the word there," he says. "You can help the younger players out but I'd love to be able to score a hat-trick in every game if I could, it's one of those things. I do my job for the team; if that's helping out younger players or doing other things.

"But I feel I have to look after myself first and foremost and then worry about the other lads. I've won things, but it's totally different with international football, you're part of a new team as such and every player has his role to play."

Having seen his latest attempts to aid his country's qualification stymied by Parisien heartbreak and the dead leg that ruled him out of action for four months, O'Shea has had plenty of time to ponder the ways in which Ireland can better maximise their potential in the forthcoming campaign.

"Picking up points away from home is definitely going to be the key to automatic qualification," he insists.

"Our home form, we know we can beat anyone at home. Once we can stick to being unbeaten at home and winning the majority of those games, it's going to come down to the away games and winning some.

"In the last campaign, you look at drawing against Bulgaria. I know we may have been lucky to go ahead and they missed a couple of chances but we should have been able to see that one out and pick up the three points.

"Then we had Italy away, down to 10 men as well. I know we got the draw but maybe that was another three points gone there. It's making sure we capitalise on good situations, that's definitely the key to automatic qualification.

"It's a different approach and a different attitude. There are a lot of different factors that go into it. As the manager said today, it's the little details. That's the key to it really."

On Sunday, O'Shea travelled to Ballybrit with Stephen Hunt, a member of the 'Dubs vs Culchies' syndicate, to see their five-year-old hurdler, St Devote, fail to justify favouritism and finish second.

In truth, he never looked like winning. O'Shea is tired of second places with Ireland too. "He should romp home the next time," smiles O'Shea. Making the running, as Ireland hope to demonstrate from this Friday, is always crucial.

Irish Independent

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