Sunday brings to an end a truly marvellous playing career. John O’Shea will hang up his boots after the season closer against Birmingham City at the - the conclusion to a story that goes back two decades.
The sheer length of time he’s been in the game is put into context when you consider when he made his debut - mid-October 1999 in a 3-0 loss to Aston Villa. At the time, Reading had only been at the Madejski Stadium for just over a year and recent goalscorer Danny Loader wouldn’t be born for another 10 months.
Since then, John O’Shea has achieved more than most in the game, and came to Reading with probably the best CV we’ll ever see at this club. Over the course of his 12 years at Old Trafford, O’Shea would play almost 400 times, scoring 15 times and assisting 23 goals from defence, and winning pretty much everything he could have.
Between 2003 and 2011, he took home the Premier League (x5), FA Cup (x1), League Cup (x2), Champions League (x1), Community Shield (x4) and even the Club World Cup (x1). As Aidan Boland from Man United site The Busby Babe says, O’Shea won a “special place in fans’ hearts” during his time at Old Trafford.
“As a young boy in the early 90s in County Waterford, John O’Shea might have been forgiven for daring to dream about what a professional football career might entail. Each ambition might seem loftier than the last. O’Shea achieved a career in English football to be envied, arguably becoming the most decorated Republic of Ireland footballer of his generation.
“Not only did he play for the Republic of Ireland and Manchester United with great aplomb, winning domestic and European glory at Old Trafford, he carved a special place in fans’ hearts with important and iconic goals on enemy territory for United, at Highbury in 2005 and at Anfield in 2007.
“While the scene has changed in Old Trafford since O’Shea left and fans have grown discontented, perhaps the greatest compliment that you could pay the Waterford man is that they never grew discontented with him. Never an automatic starter, but there was an understanding that no team with John O’Shea was ever a weakened team. The ultimate club man, and fondly remembered by all his former clubs.”
Fellow Man United fan Sibs echoes that. Although O’Shea left Man United with plenty of stand-out memories, it was one made at Anfield that went down particularly well.
“For a player of limited ability, O’Shea has an incredible career highlights reel. Moments like nutmegging Figo, going in goal away at Spurs, the fabulous chip at Highbury (and his ‘did I just do that?’ celebration), the winner in a European semi-final, but his best moment is the winner at Anfield.
“Liverpool had dominated the game and we were down to 10 men, hoping to hang on for 0-0. In stoppage time we get a free kick and you’re thinking ‘take it to the corner’, but Ronaldo whips it in, the goalkeeper spills it and who’s there unmarked to slot it home? O’Shea.
“A 1-0 smash & grab away to your biggest rivals is a moment to savour in its own right, but the circumstances made it extra special. It all but secured the title after four years of rebuilding, and he was the man responsible. A moment no MUFC fan will ever forget.”
In 2011, O’Shea swapped Old Trafford for the Stadium of Light, moving to a Sunderland side that was then managed by Steve Bruce - another former Man United defender. His stay there was light on the silverware, although the Black Cats would finish as League Cup runners-up in 2014.
It would also end in disappointment. Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League in O’Shea’s sixth season at the club, before dropping into League One during the following campaign. Nonetheless, as Graham from Sunderland site Roker Report recalls, O’Shea is still “heralded as a bit of a cult hero on Wearside”.
“Oh John O’Shea. What a wonderful bloke you truly are. It’s been a year since you left the shores of Wearside, but boy oh boy have we missed your wonderful dulcet Irish tones and the way you used to look like you’d ran through treacle.
“My abiding memory of big Sheasy is - rather unfairly - sweating my arse off on a hot sunny day in mid-April in the South West Corner, watching him blowing out of his backside and been given the runaround by the only winger in the world who seemed able to make falling over the ball look fancy - Yannick Bolasie - as he went on to score an 11-minute hat-trick.
“It was at that point I felt, surely, we’d find an adequate John O’Shea replacement in the coming season. Alas, Sheasy remained captain and number one centre half for another two seasons.
“In truth, John O’Shea was a fantastic servant for Sunderland AFC and a man who had many more positive memories than negative ones. He was limited in a way, but his organisation, leadership and dedication to the fans and the football club as a whole is why he’s heralded as a bit of a cult hero on Wearside.
“He captained us on a fantastic run to the League Cup final at Wembley in 2014, six consecutive wins over Newcastle (including a game where he switched to left-back ten minutes before kick-off due to Tony Revielliere getting injured in the warm-up), countless last minute great escapes and even the odd cheeky goal.
“You’ll not hear many professional footballers. coaches or managers who speak a bad of Sheasy such is the man’s class and uber professionalism and for that, we love him.
“Good luck in your retirement big man, you’ll be forever red and white.”
Once a Royal
O’Shea has spent far less time at Reading than he did at Man United or Sunderland, so coming up with one stand-out memory is a little tricky. But one game sticks out above any of the others - his league debut in the the 3-0 win over Hull City in September 2018.
It was certainly an important result for the club - our first home win of the season - and O’Shea played a key part in it. The Irishman won hearts and minds with a dogged performance at the heart of defence alongside Liam Moore, showing his commitment by shoving a wad of tissue into his mouth so that he could carry on after receiving a deep cut.
John O'Shea spent his last twenty minutes of #REAvHUL running about with a big lump of tissue paper in his mouth after getting a kick to the teeth. It didn't stop him yelling though - great organising and coaching throughout the match. pic.twitter.com/kbsfgmUMvb— El Muesli (@El_Muesli) September 22, 2018
If that wasn’t enough, he took one for the team by taking out former Royal Chris Martin. The striker was through on goal but, rather than let him score and ruin the team’s clean sheet, O’Shea brought Martin down, getting sent off in the process. The Mad Stad faithful gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the pitch.
O’Shea would play a further seven times for Reading (at time of writing), helping us pick up two more clean sheets - 0-0 draws at Wigan Athletic under Paul Clement and Queens Park Rangers under Jose Gomes. He may not have played regularly, but his positive influence and professionalism have never been in doubt.
He’s more than earned a warm send-off on Sunday from what should be a bumper home crowd.
Happy retirement, Sheasy.