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O'Shea: 'Irish kids can still aim for top'

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SILVER LINING: Former Ireland international John O’Shea was named as the Tournament Ambassador for the upcoming UEFA Under-17 European Championship. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SILVER LINING: Former Ireland international John O’Shea was named as the Tournament Ambassador for the upcoming UEFA Under-17 European Championship. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

SILVER LINING: Former Ireland international John O’Shea was named as the Tournament Ambassador for the upcoming UEFA Under-17 European Championship. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Next Sunday, Manchester United and Arsenal will meet for the third time this season.

It will also be the 23rd consecutive meeting of the two clubs without any involvement of a player from the Republic of Ireland, John O'Shea the last Irishman to play in the fixture, way back in August 2009.

Now retired from international football, O'Shea has issues of his own to deal with, like getting fully fit, getting into the team at Reading and aiding in their quest to avoid relegation to the third tier in what is likely to be his last season as a player.

But O'Shea, who turns 38 next month, feels that despite the lack of an Irish presence in fixtures at the top end of the Premier League, young players from this country should not give up hope of trying to make it at a club like United, O'Shea the last Irish-born player to make the breakthrough at a big Premier League club.

He's in touch with what is going on at ground level in Ireland, O'Shea joking that he teases his friend, Waterford FC manager Alan Reynolds, "that I'm going to take his job" and O'Shea says he can see the long-term benefits of keeping Irish players in Ireland for a bit longer through the new underage national leagues.

But when parents of young Irish talents contact O'Shea for advice on a move to England, he feels the door to Anfield and Old Trafford should remain ar oscailt. Should they still try to make it at a top Premier League club?

"I think yeah. I understand it, I get plenty of phone calls to ask me to talk to a kid and to talk to the parents about their decision," O'Shea said on a visit to Dublin yesterday as part of his role as an ambassador for the U17 European Championship finals, to be held in Ireland in May.

"I can see the benefit of not going to a top four or top six team.

"I can also see the benefit, from my side of things, of going to those teams, the history they have of producing players.

"What the teams in Ireland are trying to do with the underage structure with the leagues, that will take a bit more time but that will definitely be a key point in younger Irish lads staying for a year or two longer.

"Ultimately it won't change as if a a really talented kid is wanted by United or Liverpool or Arsenal, whoever it is, that the temptation will be there to try it and why not go and try it?

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READY FOR ACTION: John O’Shea is pictured with the UEFA U17 Championship mascot Barry the Bodhrán. Photo: SPORTSFILE

READY FOR ACTION: John O’Shea is pictured with the UEFA U17 Championship mascot Barry the Bodhrán. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

READY FOR ACTION: John O’Shea is pictured with the UEFA U17 Championship mascot Barry the Bodhrán. Photo: SPORTSFILE

"Yeah, there is increased competition but if you are good enough you will get through, if you are good enough you will get that chance to prove yourself - and you have to be ready to prove yourself."

Looking ahead to his own role as a mentor for the U17 finals here, O'Shea reflected on the first major success of his career, winning the U16 European Championships in 1998, the Waterford lad playing through the finals while preparing for his Leaving Cert and juggling contract offers which ended with him signing for Manchester United ahead of Celtic: O'Shea's parents insisted he had completed the Leaving before he could leave for a football career in the UK.

"It was difficult to focus but I had the knowledge in my head that I was going to give football a go for that three-year contract and hopefully have an ok Leaving Cert behind me as a fall back. That was the thinking behind it," says O'Shea, no slouch at the exams.

"I got in or around 400 points. My first choice was going to be economics in UCD."

That degree in UCD was not needed as O'Shea went to Old Trafford and into the side, where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a team-mate, O'Shea delighted to see the Norwegian turn things around at United.

"I would have definitely seen him as a future manager," says O'Shea, who spotted the warning signs under Jose Mourinho last summer.

"I just remember seeing it on Sky Sports News and he was really going off the rails a bit in the sense of the transfers he was looking for, he seemed to be getting really quite agitated and there seemed to be trouble brewing.

"It's not just that they players have gone, 'Ah, sure he's a great fella, let's go run around a bit faster and harder, tackle harder for Ollie just because he's a nice lad.' There's a lot more behind Ollie."


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