“What’s rare is wonderful!”- RTÉ commentator George Hamilton celebrating John O’Shea’s 27th minute goal which saw Ireland take a 2-1 lead against Kazakhstan in the final qualifying round match for World Cup 2014.
That goal turned out to be the turning point of the match, a late own goal sealing the 3-1 victory in the final minutes. What Hamilton failed to mention was that O’Shea’s goal, his only competitive goal in a green shirt (he did score once before, against Australia in a 2003 friendly), was scored in what could very well be his last international match.
By far and away the most successful Irish international in years, O’Shea is now 32, and with a new club manager and Sunderland in a less-than-enviable league position, this year looks like it will be anything but easy for the Waterford man.
After breaking onto the scene at Manchester United (we all remember THAT nutmeg on Luis Figo), O’Shea established himself as the utility player in Alex Ferguson’s squad. Equally adept at playing anywhere across the back four, as a holding central midfielder (or even in goals), Johnno was partly a victim of his own adaptability.
After finally nailing down a spot in the heart of defence at his new club, the last thing O’Shea will want is to see the Black Cats relegated. He may feel that, with an in-coming Ireland manager and youngsters like Ciaran Clarke and Shane Duffy waiting to make the step up, now may be the time to call a halt on his Ireland career.
Many who play under Alex Ferguson tend to retire from the international game early, in an attempt to prolong their playing careers. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are just two of many who prioritised their club over their country, and looking at the ever-green United pair now it is hard to fault their choice.
With Shay Given, Damien Duff and Kevin Kilbane already gone, Richard Dunne crippled with injuries and eager to cement his place at new club QPR, and with Robbie Keane nearing 34, O’Shea may feel that now is the right time to leave gracefully and let a new manager build his team with the long-term in mind.
Dunne’s retirement, if O’Shea does decide to call it a day, would give the new boss a serious hole to fill in the middle of his defence. With Clarke still learning the ropes, and Shane Duffy far from the finished article, it would fall to the supporting cast to fill the void.
While enough has been written on Paul McShane’s short-comings to fill several articles, he remains an integral part of the Ireland squad. With Darren O’Dea deemed unfit to serve in a poor Celtic team and now plying his trade in Toronto, Stephen Kelly a square peg in a round hole, and Damien Delaney nearly 33, it may indeed fall to the Hull City man to lead a new-look Ireland team into the Euro 2016 qualifiers.