Poznan horror haunts O'Shea
IRISH football returns to the scene of the crime tonight, 17 months on.
The final, crushing blow to Irish morale was inflicted in Poznan, in the final minute of our final game at Euro 2012 when Mario Balotelli did the damage, and that's why John O'Shea admits he had mixed feelings about trotting out on the turf at the Municipal Stadium in this Polish city.
"I don't even want to think about how I was feeling the last time I was in Poznan," O'Shea told the Herald, the defender well aware that he was the Irish player closest to Mario Balotelli when he smashed home Italy's second goal in that 2-0 win, the ninth and final goal conceded by Ireland at Euro 2012.
"It's not just the memory of Balotelli for me, it's the Croatia game, the Spain defeat that came before the Italy match, everything about that tournament was disappointing for us. A lot has happened since then and we can try to look forward to this game tonight.
"Tonight against Poland will be a much tougher test than the one we had on Friday against Latvia, that's for sure."
There has certainly been a big turnover in Irish talent since our last visit to Poznan. A chunk of Ireland's starting XI that day are still in the side (O'Shea, Stephen Ward, Seán St Ledger, Aiden McGeady, Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane), but others have seen their international careers go by the wayside, such as Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt and Darren O'Dea.
Of course, we have seen new blood come into the squad, and the sight of attacking players like Andy Reid, Wes Hoolahan, Anthony Stokes and Kevin Doyle all back in the green shirt last week was encouraging. Hoolahan, in particular, stood out in the 3-0 win over Latvia.
While Hoolahan and O'Shea are contemporaries – O'Shea is 18 months older – they have not had many chances to play alongside each other, but Sunderland man O'Shea is a big fan.
"Wes was great against the Latvians and this is a big chance for him," O'Shea says.
"I think the gaffer (O'Neill) might have tried to sign him a couple of times, though I can't swear to that, and it's no surprise. Wes was excellent in training since we first hooked up last week, he was fantastic on the ball and he was superb in the Latvia game.
"Getting a start against the Latvians was a big deal for him, he has the manager's eye now and he has to try and stay in the side. I have known for years what Wes was capable of, now he has the opportunity to prove it.
"Lads like Wes, Andy Reid, Stokesey: they are very experienced players, we know that against certain teams we will dominate possession and we'll need certain players to get on the ball and impose themselves, they did that well against Latvia on Friday and we have to keep doing that."
While a lot of the groundwork was laid in last week's training sessions in Malahide and then the game against Latvia, this trip to Poland, with the necessary time spent in hotels and airports, has offered the new managerial duo more time to get to know their players.
O'Shea was one man who knew the manager and assistant very well.
"I couldn't wait to get started with Ireland," O'Shea says.
"I knew that Martin had spoken to Roy and once Roy agreed to come on board, it was only going to be positive as I know the type of people they are.
"I was buzzing as I had worked with both of them before – Roy having played with him for the club and for Ireland and having played under Martin at Sunderland.
"Anyone who asked me about Roy, I just told them that he was a man you would want to learn from, to listen to him.
"He was one of the best players in the world, one of Ireland's best ever players and for him to be in our dressing room, fighting our corner, passing on advice and bits of information. Whoever it is in the squad, Glenn Whelan or James McClean, it can only be a good thing.
"It's a new scenario for Martin now. I saw what he said last week about when I used to come to him at Sunderland to tell him that Ireland had another game arranged, he's in the situation now where he will be getting calls from club managers, especially when they have important league games coming up, but that's all part and parcel of it.
"He will know how to deal with all of that, he will have given international managers answers when he was the club manager in terms of players going off to play for their country, now the shoe is on the other foot," added O'Shea, the veteran now only six games away from the 100-cap mark in his international career.