Former Republic of Ireland international Keith Andrews had paid tribute to John O’Shea as he prepares to make his 118th and final appearance for his country.
O’Shea, 37, will run out against the USA in Dublin on Saturday evening to receive the acclaim of the nation he has represented at senior level with such pride for almost 17 years, and will do so having left a major impression on his old team-mate.
Andrews, speaking at the Spar FAI Primary School 5s national finals at the Aviva Stadium, said: “I just always remember his dedication and his humility.
“For playing at that level and then coming into an environment where he would be playing with Championship players, 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, and there was just nothing big-time about him whatsoever.
“Was it ’09, the Champions League final? We were all in the hotel watching him [playing for Manchester United against Barcelona] and he was coming in to us tomorrow or the next day…
“The dedication and the humility are the ones that strike me more than anything. What a servant and what a player he’s been over such a long, long period.”
O’Shea has been a key member of a golden generation of players, along with Shay Given, Kevin Kilbane, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, to have provided the backbone of the Ireland team, and his influence has been retained even in the last two or three years when his involvement on the pitch has receded.
Andrews said: “They were such a huge part of the starting line-up, those four, five, six players for such a long time, pivotal players. John has been a key, key figure in our history.”
O’Shea has indicated his intention to play on in the short-term, but Andrews is confident his time at Sunderland has given him priceless experience of what is required if he decides to move into management one day.
He said: “The experiences he’s had there, the managers, the ups, the downs and the downs and downs, he will have got so much from that, from going from a top-four, 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.”
O’Shea’s departure from the international stage comes with a man Andrews regards as a potential long-term successor just two appearances into his senior career.
West Ham’s Declan Rice has impressed in both defence and midfield against Turkey and France at the tender age of just 19.
Andrews said: “For me, he will probably be a centre-back eventually, but it’s about game-time, it’s about experience and the fact that he alternates between them [central defence and midfield] at such a high level just shows you what a good player he is, his reading of the game.
“You see Declan Rice bossing people around, which is very unusual for a kid in that environment to be able to do, and I have seen him for West Ham to the likes of Zabaleta and senior players. He’s an organiser, he’s a leader already the way he plays and the way he communicates.”
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