HAVING been made to wait ten years for it, John O’Shea admitted he thought his chance of playing in a major tournament had passed him by.
The versatile defender is one of three Sunderland players in the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012. They open against Croatia in Poznan tomorrow.
While Keiren Westwood is back-up to former Sunderland and Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given and James McClean will be used as an impact substitute, only O’Shea is expected to start.
With Giovanni Trapattoni having named his team last week, the 31-year-old needs only to stay fit to finally make his debut in a major championship.
O’Shea won the first of his 75 caps in 2001 as a golden era for the country was coming to an end. The Republic have only reached four previous major tournaments, all between 1990 and 2002.
Since then O’Shea has had to withstand a litany of hard-luck stories.
“Without a doubt, I thought the chance had gone,” he said. “I just broke on to the scene for the 2002 World Cup and everyone is telling you you’re going to get in the squad.
“I kind of knew inside myself I had just been a little bit too late for that. But after that you just concentrate and think it will happen sooner or later. Next thing you know that campaign goes by and we’ve missed out.
“And then we were so close against France (when only an illegal goal knocked them out of the 2010 World Cup play-offs).
“Thankfully we are here now. To get to a major tournament is one of your goals as a kid – whatever country you’re from.”
At one point it looked as if O’Shea’s curse might strike again. He limped off in Sunderland’s last Premier League game of the season – his first on Wearside after moving from boyhood club Manchester United last summer – with an ankle injury.
Although it has hampered his preparations, such is his importance to Ireland they have waited for him.
Spain and Italy, who play one another tomorrow, are the other teams in a difficult group to progress from. O’Shea thinks they have a chance, thanks to the vast experience of their 73-year-old coach.
“For him to still have unfinished business is incredible,” added O’Shea in an interview with Uefa.com.
“So far we have achieved just a small goal, but hopefully there is a bigger one to realise: getting out of the group.
“We know it is going to be tough, but the one thing we can take from the manager is the self-belief and discipline he has had throughout his career that has brought him success.”
Of the four Sunderland players at this summer’s Championships – Sweden’s Sebastian Larsson is the other after recovering from an end-of-season hernia operation – McClean has prompted the most excitement.
The Derrry-born winger only made his international debut in February. Trapattoni’s loyalty to Sunderland target Aiden McGeady means the next chapter of the McClean fairytale will have to wait just a bit, but club manager Martin O’Neill has done nothing to dampen the expectations around the 23-year-old.
“You never know, James McClean might end up being really brilliant in the tournament,” said O’Neill, who famously plucked him from the reserves in December to give him his Sunderland debut and start his meteoric rise.
“His own reputation could be enhanced even further.”
Meanwhile, Marcos Angeleri has blamed former manager Steve Bruce for his Sunderland career never getting off the ground. The Argentinian right-back, who is in talks with Independiente over a move back to his homeland, failed to make a first-team appearance in two years at the club. “I didn’t get on with the previous manager and therefore hardly played,” he explained.
Bruce joined Hull City as their new manager yesterday.