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Saturday 10 December 2016

O'Shea won't lose any sleep

Veteran's Euro focus is on boys in green, not Red Devils

John O’Shea during Republic of Ireland squad training in Bordeaux. Photo: Sportsfile
John O’Shea during Republic of Ireland squad training in Bordeaux. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciaran Clark let slip earlier this week that he had a sleepless night in the hours after his own goal against Sweden in Paris.

As someone who turns 36 on his next birthday, there's little that keeps John O'Shea awake - maybe babies in the O'Shea household when they were smaller but not so much with footballers.

That's why the defender, set to win his 113th senior cap against Belgium here in Bordeaux today, is not too fussed about Belgium. He's heard the talk about discontent in their camp, he knows that under-fire manager Marc Wilmots may change his side around to improve their chances of staying in Euro 2016, that Christian Benteke or Jordan Lukaku or the much-vaunted (but still under-achieving Michy Batshuayi could be plucked from the bench and into the starting line-up today.

You see, O'Shea's been down this road before. You fuss too much about the prospect of facing Benteke and he doesn't feature, or he plays, has a stinker and is hauled off at half time. Either way, the Belgians have quality - on paper at least - in their XI and on the bench, so O'Shea will just deal with what's thrown at him.

"Whatever team we face today, and we will only find out and hour or so beforehand, we will know the quality they have. Whatever options they do go with, we have to be prepared, no matter what," said O'Shea, Ireland's captain against Sweden in Paris on Monday and the man likely to don the armband again in a rainy Bordeaux today.

"They have a good mix of the physicality and the skill, so whichever combination they pick it's a quality combination and we have to be prepared for it.

"It's the case where you are familiar with many of their players who play in the Premier League, so you are familiar with their attributes, but we have to just focus on ourselves. Belgium have a very talented squad but we are hoping we can cause them one or two problems, we have to be on our guard a ll evening as they are a very talented team."

Balance

Focus is a word you hear a lot from players at a tournament like the Euros, squad members trying to balance the need to stay on-message in their own camp and watch the other game at the finals without being too distracted.

The Irish squad got to see the second half of Italy's win over a very ordinary-looking Sweden yesterday on their arrival in Bordeaux., and it is tempting to start thinking the what-ifs. Italy await in Lille on Wednesday but for O'Shea, all the focus has to be on Belgium and Bordeaux.

"As the manager said, we have to get more points to get to the knock-out stage, we have a chance do do that today against Belgium, that is the once we are focused on," says O'Shea.

"Italy is in the back of our minds but we have a difficult game to face against Belgium. If they do make changes, it's not as if they are not replacing quality with quality, whatever they pick it will be good. It's a good game and one we are looking forward to."

It often happens at a press conference involving Ireland where the media attached to the away side have no idea of the identity of the Irish player speaking to them.

We're all guilty of that - on Monday in Paris, this reporter spoke to a Swedish player (they all look the same, don't they?) but only knew of his identity as he had his squad number sewn into his team suit.

But the Belgians knew of O'Shea and were aware of a spell early in his club career when Manchester United sent him out on loan to Royal Antwerp, their feeder club in Belgium. And O'Shea has fond memories of his time in the port city.

"It was a long time ago but it was a fantastic experience to develop as a player and as a person," he says. reflecting on his time there in 2001. "I don't think I played against many of the players that I might face today, if selected, but personally, it's a fond memory. It was part of my development, as a player and a person," he says.

Club duties and other matters have denied O'Shea the opportunity to return to the club for a visit, despite many offers. The fact that they asked him back means he's still remembered in Antwerp, at least. A big result today and all of Belgium may remember John O'Shea.

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