FOR MANY YOUNG BOYS, the prospect of playing for what is arguably the greatest football club in the world is what dreams are made of, and for Manchester United defender John O’Shea, the dream came true.
The former altar boy from the parish of Ferrybank, in Co Waterford, took time out from his busy training schedule recently to chat with The Universe.
O’Shea has never shied away from his Catholic upbringing in Ireland and he can regularly be seen attending Mass at the parish of St. Joseph’s in Sale, Cheshire.
Like many other young United hopefuls, John lived in Sale when he ?rst joined United and retains a great affection for his adopted parish, which is close to the Old Trafford club’s training ground at Carrington and his home in south Manchester.
O’Shea, well-known for being one of the game’s more approachable players, said he attributed his success and attitude to life to his Catholic faith and his belief that “you are here for a reason”.
When he was growing up in Waterford, Gaelic football was the predominant sport in John’s parish, but many boys were also interested in soccer.
Many of their fathers were keen United fans, as was John’s father, Jimmy, who was a key in?uence on the young O’Shea.
From Jimmy’s own sporting interests came John’s desire to one day play soccer for Ireland and, hopefully, a big team in the U.K.. From an early age, he hoped – but never thought – that the team he would go on to play for would be United.
His faith helped to play a part in sustaining him when it looked like his dream of making it as a professional was over when he reached his mid-teens.
It was at this stage in his career that he was overlooked for the Irish under-15 team, and John argues that it is by “playing for them that really gets you noticed”.
Perhaps it was divine intervention when the rules were changed and he quali?ed to play for the under-15 national side the following year. He was picked and his undoubted talent began to get noticed.
Despite his hopes of playing for United, at the age of 17 it looked like he was heading to Glasgow Celtic. At the last minute, United invited him over to England for trials – a proud moment for Red Devils fan Jimmy.
John’s mum, Mary, was not so keen for her youngest son to go to England, but despite her initial fears, John made the grade at United and played his ?rst senior game in 1999, aged 18, against Aston Villa.
“Running out at Old Trafford those ?rst few times was nerve-racking but the senior players helped a great deal,” he said.
John went on to achieve his other sporting aim of earning a full cap for the Republic of Ireland when he made his debut for the national side against Croatia in 2001.
During the game John gave away a penalty, but his contribution to the team has since been rewarded by 50 caps, for which he is rightly proud.
One of his claims to fame at Old Trafford is to have had the honour of playing in every position for the club, including as goalkeeper.
United’s regular goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, suffered a broken nose during a game against Tottenham Hotspur in 2007, giving Sir Alex Ferguson a problem as all three substitutes had been used.
Although he didn’t quite jump at the chance to play in goal, he pulled on the keeper’s jersey and gave the Old Trafford faithful another reason to admire the Irishman.
- By Bernie O’Brien, THE UNIVERSE