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Saturday 10 December 2016

Euro 2016 place a shop window for young Irish stars, says O'Shea

John O'Shea, James McClean and Damian Duff
John O'Shea, James McClean and Damian Duff

MISSION accomplished at club level where the aim was simply to avoid relegation, John O'Shea turns his mind to Ireland and the European Championships where there's no longer a margin of error.

It was a grim enough season for the football supporters in the north-east of England as Sunderland and Newcastle United flirted with relegation while Middlesbrough had the elation of making the promotion playoff final but then the misery of a defeat, to Norwich.

Staying in the Premier League was an achievement for the club which O'Shea captains but the veteran is around long enough to know that when it comes to Ireland, staying out of the bottom two in the final group table is nothing to celebrate.

"Ultimately we've to get major tournaments. If you don't, it's not happened," O'Shea said when asked to compare the various battles he faces in the red and white of Sunderland and then the green of Ireland.

"It's totally different for your country. You switch off from the club game, it's another theme. You always build up with Ireland that identity, it's totally different," adds O'Shea, hopeful that a successful route to France 2016 can give a flagging Irish soccer scene a much-needed lift.

"Getting to a major tournament - that's the key. Ideally we would love lots more Irish players coming through at the club, whether it be teams in the top-half of the table or top-four or six. It's not there at the minute.

"It would be great profile-wise if we did get to a tournament for some of the younger players. They would definitely be in a bigger shop window."

One player who had a shop window, but didn't use it all that well, was Jack Grealish, who was sub-par for Aston Villa in Saturday's FA Cup final defeat to Aston Villa. Did the kid just freeze on the big stage? "I wouldn't say freeze," sighs O'Shea, an FA Cup winner with Manchester United in 2004. "There are a lot of very experienced players as well if that was the case. For Villa, it didn't go to plan. But you have to give credit to Arsenal. Believe me, when we played them at the Emirates, we survived a few scares. Arsenal have had a fantastic end to the season, so believe me, it wasn't all down to one young player's performance," he added, O'Shea not keen on pressing for an international decision.

"Give him as much time as he needs. He has obviously had a good end to the season. It didn't go to plan in terms of the Cup final, but let him make his decision and whatever he decides, let him get on with it."

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