Friday 21 October 2016

Ready for anything

O'Shea primed for Euro 2016 lift-off and first priority is to ensure he plays against Sweden in the Stade de France

The Ireland squad and management team are pictured before their flight to Paris ahead of the European Championships. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
The Ireland squad and management team are pictured before their flight to Paris ahead of the European Championships. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
John O’Shea (c) is pictured with Shane Long (l) and Darren Randolph ahead of the flight to Paris. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

John O'Shea has just three targets for the summer ahead. A fast start for Ireland against Sweden, qualification from the group phase and a day out at Croke Park with Waterford. Too much to ask?

He can't do much to impact on Waterford's fortunes in this year's All-Ireland race and if he's still playing for Ireland when the Russia 18 series gets under way, he would probably miss the final because of a clash with Ireland's opener against Serbia.

Any thoughts about playing on after France?

"Look, that will take care of itself after the tournament. It's one of those things, I will always been immensely proud of the 20-years playing international football for Ireland and it's something that will soon take care of itself after a few months," said O'Shea with sufficient inscrutability to leave us guessing.

O'Shea's thought are firmly in the present and he can do a great deal to bring his influence into play for Ireland's Euro 2016 kick-off in the Stade de France on Monday.

O'Shea knows more than most about big football occasions but almost all of his knowledge of big days out was gathered at Manchester United.

He didn't make the squad for World Cup 2002 and Euro 2012 is best forgotten but he doesn't see this tournament finals as a way to gain atonement for what happened in Poland.

"The days you remember most are the days that haven't gone well, where you want to improve yourself. It's not a case that you don't look back at all," he said.

"The bad times drive you on to be a better professional and to look at yourself even more. They are the things that hurt you the most. You can't keep winning and it's one of those things where you have to use that negative thing to turn it into a positive and that's what we want to do.

"We have to use that (Euro 2012 memories), me, personally as a professional footballer, why you're in the game is to get to these special moments but to also use those bad times as motivation so that they don't happen again and to make sure the good times, as in winning matches and getting to the knock-out stages, roll.

"It's not about atonement for Euro 2012, that's done," he said with great finality.

"After that, it was the next campaign, the World Cup. You have to move on. It probably lingered on a bit too much and effected the campaign.

"We had to dust ourselves down. The new management structure came in. After a few tough results we managed to dig deep and get ourselves to France. Now we want to really enjoy it. The only enjoyment you get is if you get to the knock-out stages," claimed O'Shea.

"We need to get off to the best start possible. You need to take points from the first game, in particular, that's the big one. The acid test is taking something from the game.

"After that, it's about getting out of the group. That's the big thing. To make sure over the first three games that we get a lot of positives from it. If we play badly and win, and we get out of the group, fine.

"You want a great performance, you want a couple of wins but ultimately you want to get out of the group. That's what the manager is stressing, that we're not going over here for just three games."

O'Shea recognises that defensively, Martin O'Neill's options have improved radically since he took over, particuarly at centre-back.

You would imagine that as O'Neill's second choice for captain when Robbie Keane is not playing that O'Shea would be fairly confident of making the team for Sweden but he's not taking any chances.

He has a starting XI in mind for Sweden althought there hasn't been much general talk within the squad about who will make the cut.

"I'd say every player would have ideas about it but there's not much talk about it. Maybe one or two players chatting but that's it. Every player has themselves in the team, I hope!" he said.

"If they didn't they shouldn't be here. When you saw the teams that went out during the campaign and how we could adapt and the XI shifted with suspension and injury and different formations and the results we got, that's key for us

"I'm making sure first and foremost that I get in the team, that's my focus. The quality we have now in the squad, it's brilliant.

"Shane Duffy has come in and done amazing in the last few months and has pushed himself right into the picture.

"Throughout the campaign, Clarky and Richard have done the job at different stages so whatever combination the manager picks, and even the competition you have at fullback for different ideas and formations, there is quality in the boys that have come in, whether it's out in Germany or Bosnia and at home. It's great for the manager to have those calls to make."

O'Shea laughs ruefully when the suggestion is made that Stade de France owes Ireland one.

"You'd like to think so but ultimately that comes from doing the right things and having the right attitude and with a bit of luck the ball will fall your way, or the referee might give you that decision for a penalty, goal or offside," he said.

"If those things go your way then you know you've done things the right way in terms of the attitude was right and the application was right. That little bit of luck comes in handy."

For O'Shea, adaptability will be the key for the next few weeks, the same kind of mix and match approach O'Neill took to the qualifying campaign.

"When you look at the individual players in the squad you see the different systems and formations we can play and it's going to be a key asset for us.

"That's something the manager has stressed to us in terms of understanding your role if and when you're called upon and you have seen that throughout the campaign."

Euro quiz

1. Name the Russian ‘keeper who Ronnie Whelan beat with a stunning volley at Euro 88?

2. Who scored Croatia’s first goal in the 2-1 win over Ireland at Euro 2012?

3. How many international goals has Robbie Keane scored?

4. Who played right-back for Ireland in the 1-1 draw against Germany at the 2002 World Cup?

5. How many years did Wes Hoolahan spend at Shelbourne?

ANSWERS: 1. Rinat Dasaev; 2. Mario Mandzukic; 3. 67; 4. Steve Finnan; 5. Four (2001-2005).

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