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Wednesday 18 October 2017

'We have steadied the ship' - O'Shea

Veteran happy with Trap's new-look crew as squad look to steer way to Rio

John O'Shea. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
John O'Shea. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

IT'S A RELAXED and refreshed Republic of Ireland camp which will meet up in the Welsh town of Newport next Sunday to prepare for the friendly against Wales.

A very different mood compared to 10 months ago when the Ireland squad, battered, bruised and bewildered by that 6-1 defeat at home to Germany, flew out to the Faroe Islands, tension and worry for the future very much part of their baggage.

As one of the elders in the team – O'Shea will win his 90th cap against Wales next week – it was left to senior players like himself to try and keep calm as the Trapattoni regime almost foundered, but O'Shea believes that the ship has steadied in the months since that tumultuous time.

He warns against over-confidence ahead of the next qualifier: "Everyone seems to think that just because we drew in Sweden, my friends are telling me 'no problem, we're beating Sweden'. If only it was that easy," he says.

But the Sunderland man insists the side has recovered from the mauling in late 2012 and that a new-look team, with many of the Euro 2012 old guard axed, can push the side towards World Cup qualification.

"The ship was rocking quite a bit but we managed to turn it around. That comes from the manager's belief that the team and the players he was picking could do that," says O'Shea.

"Those few days after the Germany game were obviously tough. I was well used to it, but some of the younger lads were fairly shell shocked, to say the slightest. Obviously we were playing the Faroe Islands, we had to win, and put in a good performance against a team like that but if ever there was a banana skin there for us, that was it."

O'Shea knows all about having a hard time early on in one's international career, as he had a sticky moment on his debut, a friendly against Croatia, and had to wait another two years for his competitive debut, but thanks to factors like twitter, 2013 is different to 2001.

"That's where the youngest lads would have changed more. These days they're a lot more into the technology side of things, they're reading and seeing things a lot more than I was 10 years ago," he says.

"So in that sense they were shell shocked with everything but they're more resilient too I think, the younger lads. They are able to dust themselves down and get on with it. They couldn't wait for the game to come, the training, those two days after the Germany game, was really intense and obviously lads were smelling blood in terms of getting chances in the team as well. That's always the case when

there's a bad result, the manager is not going to pick the same team and the lads were sensing that opportunity."

O'Shea is adamant that the squad is now in a better shape than a year ago, in the gloom of the team's failure at Euro 2012.

"Without a doubt," O'Shea insists. "I can't remember what game it was but there was only about two or three of us that had started at the Euros. It shows you the turnaround, obviously the transition the manager is trying to make. Since he's been in charge, he's always tried to get new lads involved as much as he could. When it came to the qualifiers, he went with the more experienced lads and that almost got him to a World Cup, and got the Euros.

"It also comes from the players developing at club level. Players have to realise if they're not developing, they won't get the chance to develop at international level."

Matters at club level at his own place of employment in the coming weeks could impact on the international scene. With news yesterday that David Forde will be out for six weeks because of a knee operation, forcing him to miss the World Cup battles with Sweden and Austria, the club future of Keiren Westwood is even more critical from an Irish viewpoint. Westwood played hardly any football for Sunderland last season, back up to Simon Mignolet, but Mignolet's move to Liverpool should free up that position.

O'Shea, meanwhile, says he's not hung up on the prospect of becoming the latest Ireland player to reach the 100-cap mark.

The Waterford man has already won 89 senior caps and given his age – just 30 – it's almost certain that he will join the ranks of 100-cap players alongside Kevin Kilbane, Shay Given, Robbie Keane, Steve Staunton and Damien Duff. Should he play in all of the remaining games scheduled for this year he will reach 94 caps, leaving the century within reach.

"It's one of those things, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest if I did or I didn't. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I'm not going out there thinking I have to get there.

"It's a case of, 'If we get there, well and good, we'll enjoy it'," said O'Shea.

"It would be an amazing honour, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to take away from that, but if it happens it happens, it's one of those things in football, when things are finished, careers are over, it's time to look back on stuff that's happened, stuff you've achieved. Otherwise you live for the moment, as they say," added O'Shea, insisting that he has no plans to retire from the international side.

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