Today, April 23rd, marks the 18 year anniversary of John O’ Shea managing to slip the ball between the legs of the legendary Luis Figo. A player of Figo’s status may have expected something like this from one of the more flamboyant players in La Liga, but from a humble man from Waterford, it was the last thing he would have expected. I’d like to think that Figo, like so many of us, was happy to see just how great a servant of both Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland John O’ Shea would go on to become.
Born in Waterford in 1981, O’Shea left school early at the age of 17 to join Manchester United. After a couple of spells on loan at Bournemouth and Royal Antwerp he returned to establish himself in the Manchester United first team. During his time in Manchester, O’Shea managed to win 14 trophies including a number of premier league titles and a UEFA Champions league with a side that also featured Cristiano Ronaldo. After his very long and successful spell at United, O’ Shea journeyed to the stadium of light to join Sunderland in 2011. After a number. of years serving as an inspiring leader and captain at Sunderland, O’Shea finally joined Reading in 2018 before retiring in 2019 to settle into a coaching role, a role which he currently still holds.
As impressive a legacy as O’Shea left with Manchester United, he also remained one of the long standing names on the team sheet for the Republic of Ireland, earning 118 appearances, for many of which he would hold the role of captain. In a turbulent international career which saw him play a role in both that controversial defeat to France featuring Thierry Henry’s sly hand ball and put a late winner past Germany to ensure Ireland’s home victory over the world champions, he was ultimately congratulated by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who called him “one of the most inspirational, committed and admired members of our national teams”.
A strong leader and remarkably versatile player, at the time of John O’ Shea’s arrival he was a revelation, and has remained one to the people of his hometown. Last summer, Waterford’s local radio station, WLR FM ran a listener poll over the course of a month which concluded with John being crowned Waterford’s Greatest Sporting Hero. A true family man, John brought with him his mother, wife and children to accept the award, a beautiful piece of Waterford Crystal.
It’s obvious that Waterford will never forget John O’ Shea but it was nice to hear that along the way, he never forgot about Waterford either. Speaking on the day he said that “the support I got was incredible and I always had that in the back of my mind really, knowing that I was not only representing my family who have always given me great support, but the people of Waterford as well”
Having no doubt provided the inspiration for so many young aspiring stars to chase the dream of becoming a professional footballer, the thought of who might be the next Waterford man to reach the same heights in the beautiful game is always an exciting one. Former Brighton & Hove Albion player Dessie Hutchinson has made a trailblazing return to inter-county GAA and twenty-year-old Irish international Lee O’ Connor is currently on loan at Tranmere Rovers from Celtic. A city with the appetite for sport that Waterford has, always promises to deliver.