It was entirely in keeping with John O’Shea’s self-effacing character and career-long commitment to the concept of the ‘team player’, that the elegant defender’s farewell address to the Irish supporters seemed to be about everyone but himself, writes Liam Mackey.
After announcing that “with sadness and joy” he will don the green shirt for the last time against the USA at the Aviva Stadium on June 2, the 37-year-old made a point of not just saluting players and managers (and family and friends) from throughout his career but also the new generation of Irish football talent aiming to follow in his illustrious footsteps.
“We have just passed the 20th anniversary of the Ireland Under 16s winning the UEFA European Championships in Scotland and it is fitting that the current U17 squad are now competing on the same stage,” he observed.
“I still look back at that particular triumph as the real starting point for my international career. I’m sure the young lads making up Colin O’Brien’s squad will be loving every minute of the (European Championship) tournament; just like I did under Brian Kerr and the late Noel O’Reilly.
“There have been many highlights, such as leading Ireland out as captain, featuring at two UEFA European Championships, and getting to share a pitch alongside so many committed and talented players over the years.
“It is a similar sentiment with regard to my managers at international level – Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr, Steve Staunton, Don Givens, Giovanni Trapattoni, Noel King, and Martin O’Neill placed their trust in me and I hope that I paid them back in a small way by always giving everything on the pitch.
”I would also like to acknowledge the support I have always received from Sunderland and, prior to that, Manchester United, in particular, Sir Alex Ferguson who is in my thoughts at the moment — get well soon Boss!” Touchingly, he also spoke of those he, and we, have lost.
“I’ve never taken anything in life for granted and the passing in the last year of my Dad, Jim, and my friend & team-mate Liam Miller has shown me that every moment in life (not just football) should be cherished.
“I would like to thank my family especially, my Mam, Mary, and brother Alan, who have given me nothing but support over the years, my friends, my underage coaches, especially at Ferrybank and Bohemians (Waterford), my schools Ferrybank BNS and De La Salle college, my team-mates, every staff member who has helped me through the years, my managers, and, most importantly, the Ireland supporters – it was always a real privilege to play in front of you!
“To my wife, Yvonne, I thank you for your constant support, and to my kids, Alfie and Ruby, we can look forward to watching Ireland games together as supporters.”
The Green Army will doubtless relish its opportunity to return the thanks early next month but, already, Martin O’Neill will have spoken for many grateful supporters by highlighting O’Shea’s dramatic late equaliser against world champions Germany in Gelsenkirchen, en route to Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2016.
“He doesn’t score too many goals so that made it even more special,” said O’Neill of a finish that would have done justice to a striker supreme.
The manager added his best wishes for the future and — reflecting O’Shea’s influence in the dressing room as well as on the pitch over the course of a 22-year career in international football which makes him the third most capped Irish men’s player behind Shay Given and Robbie Keane — predicted that the veteran will go on to become an “excellent” coach. “And if he wants to I’m sure he has the capabilities of becoming a manager too,” O’Neill added.
Also paying tribute, FAI chief executive John Delaney said: “We have been very fortunate to have had some truly outstanding servants pull on the Republic of Ireland jersey and John O’Shea is most definitely one of those. When you watched him play it was clear to see how much it meant to him to be representing his country and that kind of commitment inspired players and supporters across many generations.
“John is one of the most decorated Irish players of the modern era due to his tremendous success with Manchester United, but he will be known more for his leadership — on and off the pitch. Whether it was with Sunderland or Ireland, John led by example and others followed. Just like his father, Jim, who was a gentleman, John has and always will be a passionate supporter of Irish football.
‘Gentleman John’ — but always ‘Josh’ to his team mates — is sure to get quite the send off at the Aviva on June 2. A class act, he deserves nothing less.
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