Gentleman John will manage Ireland if he wants to
FERRYBANK v Rathgormack under 11s, Waterford, 1991. Unless I’m mistaken this was the first time I encountered John Francis O’Shea. By that stage of my fledgling career, I was already used to people trying to kick the life out of me because I was a striker who was usually too quick for everybody else and would just never stop running.
John was already taller than the rest of us and he didn’t need to kick me or be blatant or brutal about how he was going to stop me because he was already a brilliant reader of the game and had a calmness about him.
He was a step ahead of everyone he faced even at such a young age because he had a great football brain, which was why he didn’t need to go out kicking little nuisances like me.
He had other sly ways to hold you up and hinder you and he was always too clever in his play and positional sense. In fact he was so frustrating to play against, that I ended up trying to kick him!
It was also around this time that I met John’s dad Jim for the first time and, like so many who played for the county team, I was greatly influenced by him.
What I liked about Jim was that he treated this ‘country boy’ the same as the townies, which wasn’t always the case, and he always looked out for me. John has definitely inherited that politeness and proper way of treating people from all walks of life.
Our paths crossed regularly from then and we became great friends and team-mates for county and eventually country.
The only time I can remember him taking me out was when we played against each other for the first time as professionals, at Old Trafford 15 years later.
As I was waiting to come on as a sub for Reading against Manchester United, my manager Steve Coppell told me to ‘mark your mate at corners’.
Sure enough, when it came to the set-pieces, I don’t think he could believe this country boy had been sent on to mark him, and he went out of his way to make life as difficult as possible for me — and tried to kick me. But that was the faith my manager had in me, just as Alex Ferguson had the faith to play John in so many different positions.
Even though I was a Liverpool fan, when I was at my first club Brentford, I loved nothing more than going to watch Manchester United whenever they were in London, as part of my football education.
I even managed to cheer for John when he scored a famous winner at Anfield.
And I enjoyed watching John play and develop into one of the best defenders Ireland has ever produced. In terms of game intelligence and reading, he is up there with Paul McGrath. In fact, take away Italia 90, and John is probably better.
He didn’t need to go flying into tackles and be aggressive or demonstrative. His reading and understanding of the game did his talking, although I can’t help but feel he would be even more loved and idolised if he was that type of snarling, angry player.
At some stage, management dawns and, if he does want it, he will be manager of the Republic of Ireland one day.
With his people skills, game knowledge, experience and the respect he has from everyone he meets, he reminds me of Mick McCarthy and has all the attributes to follow him in management.
Sheasy won’t chase it and he won’t shout from the rooftops to get attention. But I am really excited to see what happens in the next stage of his life.