A man for all seasons

Bill George talks to the versatile John O’Shea on his role for club and country

JOHN O’SHEA yesterday laid claim to being the most versatile player in the Premiership as well as in the Ireland squad when he suggested he would happily play in midfield for country and club.

O’Shea was not being boastful, merely responding to a suggestion that his particular talents were well suited to a role in any of three positions. It was a suggestion that was gleefully grasped by the talented Irishman and one that caused international team manager Brian Kerr to look a little askance at his emerging young star.

The pair were in tandem at Ireland’s conference after training yesterday in Tbilisi and prior to departure for Tirana where they will be based until tomorrow’s game against Albania.

Ireland delayed their departure because there are no training facilities in Albania.

O’Shea’s youthful enthusiasm shone through his response when he was asked whether a spot in midfield might suit him: “Well, I played in central midfield when I was aged between 10 and15. In my first game for Ireland U-15 I played central midfield and if I’m in the first 11 with any team the position at the minute is not the most important for me.”

Playing first team football with Ireland and Manchester United is clearly still a huge source of satisfaction to the man from Waterford. Getting into the team rates higher than nailing down a specific position. He said: “The more experience I gain playing in games at club level and at international, the more games I start, and the more experience I gain, the better for me all round than to start worrying about what position is best for me.”

Kerr wore a wry smile while he listened and at the first opportunity he responded in typical fashion. When asked about O’Shea’s emergence as a regular member of United’s squad this season, he said: “He has grasped the opportunity in the Premiership in an awkward position for him playing at left-back when his natural position is at centre-back. Although now he tells me he should be playing midfield for us.”

The easy relationship between manager and player was a little cameo of the mood surrounding the Irish squad under Kerr. O’Shea was forthright in explaining his reaction to Kerr’s appointment: “It is a perfect scenario really. I have known Brian all through my career and I spoke to him on numerous occasions when I was on loan with the different teams, just to get that little bit of advice. He was always helpful to me there and it was just perfect for me.”

Said Kerr: “It has probably surprised everyone that John has played as often as he has at United. When he got in at the start it was maybe forced on Manchester United by the injuries they had. I remember speaking to John about the loan period he had at Bournemouth and saying that I didn’t think he should worry about the loaning out, that it was part of his growing up and getting experience and understanding of the physical side of the game.

“So when John was out on loan the first team football he got was crucial to his development.

“We are all delighted with his progress this year and everybody understood what his potential was.”

That potential led to his introduction to competitive international football in Tbilisi. It was a fiery baptism, principally because of the crowd trouble and also because of the goal he conceded when he fouled substitute Demeradze on the edge of the box in the second half.

He feigned confusion when asked about the goal. “I was a bit dizzy at the time. I was sure he was going to put it in the second time but he turned the third and the fourth time and I just gently put my hand on his back. I know in Ireland not many players would have fallen, but you have to cope with that when you play in these kind of places. He did well to get the free.”

The spin-off from winning was huge: “When we came out of it with the three points it gives everybody a lift. Coming into these two games, everyone was saying how are we going to do here, how will we fare in the first game and we’ve come out with plus points.”

He said his United colleagues on the England team had warned him of what to expect in Tirana since they played here two years ago. “The crowd will be very hostile and as Brian (Kerr) said with the result they got at the weekend, it’s going to be a packed house. We’ll be up against it but it’s not something we haven’t faced before.”

O’Shea paid generous tribute to his Irish colleagues and highlighted the influence of Kevin Kilbane: “Kevin is an easy player to play with. You know he is going to give 100% and he worked up and down for me. There were a lot of times in the first half when I think he was doing my job.”

“John has a little bit to learn yet about playing left-back,” said Kerr after the game in Tbilisi...but there was no doubt in his mind O’Shea will quickly be a force with Ireland, as he is with United, in any one of three positions.

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