O’Shea recalls his Euro success

A nation may have groaned when Ireland’s path in Poland was laid out at last December’s draw in Kiev but John O’Shea knows what it is like to beat Italy and Spain in a European Championships and, lest we forget, to win one too.

The Sunderland defender, then with Waterford Bohemians, played centre-back in Brian Kerr’s U16 side which also beat Finland, hosts Scotland, Denmark and Portugal on the way to an historic triumph 14 years ago.

It was the first time an Irish side had ever won a major international tournament. They did it in some style by beating the Azzurri 2-1 in the final in Perth and Simone Pelanti’s 52nd minute strike was the only goal they conceded in six games.

“It is something that I flit back to every now and again,” O’Shea admitted. “It was an amazing occasion to be part of that time, winning a major tournament. Obviously, U16 is a different kettle of fish compared to senior international football but what an amazing feeling we built up amongst ourselves in the first couple of group games.

“The campaign started a long time before that but the camaraderie we got around the group and the buzz factor we got from showing no fear and going into the games... no matter what country we were facing we were going to go out and cause them a lot of problems. That’s the kind of mentality that we are hopefully going to have and going to need.”

It goes without saying that the 1998 side was one brimming with potential. Joe Murphy played in goal, Graham Barrett was at Arsenal, Liam Miller at Celtic and Andy Reid at Forest. Big things were expected of others like Keith Foy and David McMahon, the two scorers in the final, as well.

Of them all, only O’Shea is still playing international football and his durability, dependability and flexibility was finally rewarded with an appearance in a senior tournament after 11 years and 74 caps in green when Estonia were put away in the two-legged play-off five months ago.

For a while there, he thought it wasn’t going to happen.

“Yeah, obviously. We got so close, so many times. The last World Cup in particular, with the injury I picked up on the night [of the play-off loss to France in Paris] compounding it because it was the longest time I’ve been out.

“I was out for four, five months so it was a real double blow for me, that one. Maybe if I had broken into the United team six or seven months earlier than I did, then maybe I would have gone to the Japan/Korea World Cup [in 2002].

“To think that, 10 years later, I’m finally getting the chance to be a part of a major tournament, it just shows you that when the chance comes around you have do to everything you can to get there and, when you do, to enjoy it.”

He should be fit and fresh for the fray. A hamstring injury at the start of the season produced a stuttering start to his Sunderland career after his transfer from Old Trafford and he has missed the last three games due to a calf injury, which has now cleared up, and will allow him take his place against Aston Villa this weekend.

His departure from Manchester was accompanied by the birth of his son Alfie and the little lad, who turns one on June 29 — the day after the second semi-final — is making the trip to eastern Europe as well.

O’Shea declares: “If we’re still there for his first birthday we’ll have done very well.”

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