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Sunday 24 September 2017

Group effort is needed if we are to stop Bale: O'Shea

Republic of Ireland defender John O’Shea
Republic of Ireland defender John O’Shea

Gareth Bale has lots to ponder today as he prepares to pack his bag for tomorrow's trip to Dublin to face Ireland.

Getting a result, and avoiding defeat is necessary to make sure that Wales are not out of the race for the 2018 World Cup before it's even at the midway point.

If Wales' talisman wanted to look for omens, he could think back to his last game in club football in England: the final day of the 2012/13 season when he scored the only goal of the game for his team against an opposing side who had John O'Shea and James McClean in their XI.

For his part, if O'Shea is stressed about the prospect of facing up to Bale on Friday he's not showing it. "I remember marking him before, we won," says O'Shea, referring back to a Euro qualifier here in Dublin 10 years ago.

"That's why you're playing. A few weeks ago you're playing against, Aguero, Costa, Kane. They're good players but that's who you want to be playing against. We look forward to it."

Campaign

Barring injury, O'Shea will start in central defence on Friday, his first taste of action in the campaign since that opening-night 2-2 draw in Serbia. About to collect his 117th cap, he's around long enough to know how this works, that should Bale inflict pain on Ireland it's the defenders who will get the blame but O'Shea insists it's the team's job to deal with the man from Real Madrid.

"It's a collective unit, as always, when you're facing individuals. If you focus too much on them, there are other players who will come to the fore too," he says.

"Everyone has a job to do and as I said, combinations and being compact in midfield and defence so we can close down the spaces that he enjoys.You don't want to give those players the time and space because you know what they can do."

Wales are trying to play down the talk of this match being do-or-die for them, in the sense that defeat would leave them seven points behind Ireland and possibly five adrift of Serbia, presuming they win in Georgia.

Friday could also have a big say in whether Ireland stay in the hunt for World Cup qualification, a long-time ambition for O'Shea and one of the reasons why he stayed on after Euro 2016.

Retirement

Approaching 36 and this season battling to stay in the team for a club battling relegation, international retirement would have been understood by the public, especially as O'Shea lost his place in the side midway through Euro 2016.

But he is still here. "I'm a realist and obviously when I spoke to the manager about it in the summer, it was straightforward," O'Shea explains of his new role as a squad player instead of a guaranteed starter.

"So 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, that competition and it has always stood me in good stead and always willing to be available for selection.

"My role in the squad is the same as it has always been. I wouldn't say it's changed: Robbie's finished, Shay's finished, so you are losing lots of experience there. But there are other lads who have gained much more experience at club level too, so it's just a natural cycle.

"The most important thing is to be on the pitch. That's the most important thing for me still. I'm obviously around the place to help out as well."

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