Still more questions than answers for John O’Shea as players approach prime time

According to John O’Shea’s predecessor as Republic of Ireland manager, this group of Irish players should be entering their prime years.

If Euro 2024 was meant to be the tournament that reintroduced a competitive Ireland team to the global game, the Euro 2028 group stages in Dublin would be their peak.

Of course, Stephen Kenny’s master plan came unstuck in 2022 and 2023 as failure to qualify for this month’s European Championships led to a calamitous recruitment process by the FAI. Kenny, meanwhile, has returned to the domestic scene with St Patrick’s Athletic.

The point he continually made as Ireland manager was that a cohort of young players would have accumulated 20-plus caps by the time June 2024 rolled around. Players such as Jason Knight (28 caps), Dara O’Shea (24), Adam Idah (25) and Troy Parrott (21) would be accustomed to the international arena, and this much appears to be true with all three featuring in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat of Hungary at the Aviva Stadium.

Idah and Parrett even scored goals, the latter spectacularly in the 92nd minute, to highlight a list of centre forwards that are the envy of many nations attending the Euros. The injured Evan Ferguson, Michael Obafemi and the uncapped Tom Cannon complete the roster of five young strikers with aspirations of featuring in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

Instead of that plan becoming a reality, Ireland have provided the warm-up opposition for Belgium, Switzerland and Hungary before facing Portugal next Tuesday in Aveiro.

“It’s hard to know,” said O’Shea when asked if the Irish squad in 2024 is superior to 2021 due mainly to the accumulation of caps by young players on Kenny’s watch. “That will happen but there’s also new lads coming on the scene to push that accumulation of caps, there’s a constant development in the sense of the squad.

“I’ll be clear on it,” O’Shea continued. “If it’s a certain scenario that I do get the job, or myself and the staff did get the job, there’s lots to be positive about in terms of planning and prepping. But also know there’s still players that can do a job for Ireland that are maybe thinking, ‘is my time done?’ No, we need experience, we had experience on the pitch [on Tuesday] to win the game.”

The interim head coach, who could be replaced by a manager with international experience before the Nations League opener against England on September 7th, was talking about 35-year-old skipper Séamus Coleman, Shane Duffy (32) and the injury-prone Robbie Brady (32), who O’Shea recalled and started in his three games in charge.

“I was worried [Coleman] was going to get involved with [Dominik] Szoboszolai, that was the big thing,” said O’Shea of a wholesome interaction with his captain at full-time following a mini Merseyside derby clash between the Everton defender and Liverpool attacker.

“It was brilliant, I think Séamie kind of needed it to fire his system up again for the last 15 minutes if you know what I mean. He loves a battle, he loves a challenge, there was plenty of verbals with Szoboszolai. It was brilliant for Séamie to have that, to get the system going.”

When he was asked whether victory over Hungary gives him a realistic chance of being offered a longer-term contract by FAI director of football Marc Canham, O’Shea could not provide a definitive answer.

“I’m a step nearer to the game against Portugal and we’re going into it with a win and hopefully we’ll have more answers on that. Look, it’s straightforward for me, we’re doing all we can, we’re prepping and planning the team as best we can.”

O’Shea refused to confirm last week whether he would be part of Wayne Rooney’s management team at Plymouth Argyle. Last year Rooney hired O’Shea as an assistant coach during a brief stint as Birmingham City manager.

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