And, in jocular mood, Keane has painted an amusing picture of Irish football’s quiet man going off the rails when he finally hangs up the boots for good.
“Brilliant pro,” said Keane. “He’s had a good innings and you couldn’t begrudge him the nice send-off he’s going to get. Good memories of Sheasy, a good pro, a good lad, and we’ll miss him, just like we miss Robbie (Keane) and Shay (Given) and all of those guys. John certainly deserves the praise he gets. Really good player. I remember him as a young player at United and thinking, ‘this kid’s got a chance’.
“Strange enough, he always seemed really balanced. We’ve talked about all the pitfalls in football but John always seemed to be really switched on. But listen, he could be a raving lunatic when he’s at home in the evenings (laughs). I hope he is. I hope he’s a headcase and we’re all proved wrong when he’s locked up in six months and we’re all saying ‘Jesus, I never saw that coming’.
“No, but I don’t think so. He’ll probably have a nice steady life. Probably become a coach or a pundit.”
Asked if he could see O’Shea coming back as Ireland manager some day, Keane offered the deadpan response: “Maybe in August.”
O’Shea’s former Ireland team mate Keith Andrews also paid tribute to the Waterford man.
“The first thing that springs to mind for me would be when I moved to Blackburn and John was obviously established at Manchester United and probably had 50-plus caps for Ireland at that stage.
“I just always remember his dedication and his humility coming into an environment where he would be playing with Championship players or lower Premier League players after playing the previous week with Paul Scholes or Roy Keane or David Beckham or whoever it was around that time.
“There was just nothing big-time about him whatsoever.”
Andrews reckons O’Shea’s experience of football’s lows as well as highs will stand him in very good stead should he choose to go into management.
“We did our combined B and A Licences together a few years ago and I think he has got aspirations but, knowing John, he’ll make the right step at the right time. He’ll play for as long as he feels he can at as high a level as he can.
“In terms of his temperament and his experience, if he wants to go into that line of work, what’s he’s gone through at Sunderland will hold him in such good stead.
“The experiences he’s had there, the managers, the ups, the downs and downs and downs, he will have got so much from that, from going from a top-two [club], Champions League, one manager, to the contrast of Sunderland.
“That will be his biggest learning curve in terms of what he will potentially bring into management.”
But might he be too softly spoken, too nice, as it were, to be a gaffer?
“Ah no, I wouldn’t say that. You don’t last that long in the professional game unless you have a streak of ‘I’m looking after myself here’. I wouldn’t have seen a lot of it but I’d imagine that if things need to be said in the dressing room, he’s not one to shy away from it.
“He’s not this shy and retiring type. Public perception can sometimes be a little distorted from reality. John O’Shea can absolutely look after himself, there’s no doubt about that. If he wants to go on that ladder, he’ll have to upset people and I wouldn’t see that being an issue.
“I think he’s got a huge presence. He wouldn’t be hugely vocal in terms of the dressing room and the training ground — you mention softly spoken — but when he speaks, players tend to listen.”
Attending, along with Andrews, the Spar/FAI Primary School 5s National Finals at the Aviva yesterday, Irish international Megan Campbell — who was marking six months to the day since she underwent surgery for her cruciate knee injury — also hailed O’Shea’s influence.
“He’s someone I looked up to as a kid, him being a centre-half and me being a defender,” she said. “He’s strong, physical, aerially very good, both defensively and offensively.
“I think we owe it to him on Saturday for the crowds to turn up and thank him and give it back to him. It’s going to be an unbelievable occasion and he’ll definitely be missed.”