From bottom of the Premier League table to top of a World Cup qualifying group — it might sound like quite the giant leap but for John O’Shea it’s something closer to business as usual.

“Obviously I’ve had it the last few seasons, so it’s not as if it’s new,” says the Sunderland man with a rueful laugh. 

“It’s something you just adapt to, no problem.”

The difference these days, of course, is that the veteran is no longer guaranteed a starting place when he flies into Ireland, although this Friday against Wales he will again be required to answer his country’s call in the absence of central defenders Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark.

Asked how it sits with him not being a regular after all these years, O’Shea — who turns 36 next month — offers another grin and says: “Well, it sits with me because of me age.” 

Counting himself “a realist”, the Waterford man describes his conversation with Martin O’Neill about continuing on for another campaign after Euro 2016 as “straightforward.”

Even if he was going to be used more as cover for Ireland in the future, he felt his ongoing involvement in the ultra-competitive Premier League would stand him in good stead if he continued to make himself available for selection by O’Neill.

And then there is the one big unfulfilled career goal.

“Obviously I’ve not been to a World Cup,” he points out, “so that’s been a driving ambition. If you could get to that situation, for myself personally, totally from a selfish point of view, that would be amazing.

“Whatever happens, happens. I’ve done okay in my career. But obviously not getting to a World Cup so far has been annoying, to say the least, especially with how close we’ve come a couple of times. 

"Not that it’s tough watching, but you always wish you were there. You get on with it, you move on. We’ve qualified for the last couple of Euros but the World Cup has just evaded us.

“But it’s step by step, and first and foremost you put yourself forward to be used and needed when required. 

"I’m obviously around the place to help out as well but the most important thing is to be on the pitch. That’s the most important thing for me still.”

And so cometh the hour on Friday, cometh the 116-cap man again, making it one of those nights O’Shea would have been at home kicking himself for missing had he decided to hang up the green shirt in the summer.

“I definitely would have been thinking, ‘why didn’t I go on?’, that’s for sure,” he says.

Nor, with all his Premier League and international experience, will he be remotely fazed by the prospect of playing his part in the quest to contain Gareth Bale.

“Look, that’s why you’re playing,” he says. 

“It’s a collective unit, as always, when you’re facing individuals. Everyone has a job to do. It’s about combinations and being compact in midfield and defence so we can close down the spaces that he enjoys. 

"A few weeks ago you’re playing against Aguero, Costa, Kane. They’re all good players and that’s who you want to be playing against. We look forward to it.”


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