John O’Shea all set for a steep rise on the learning curve as he gets his chance in Ireland top job

Interim appointment as Republic boss provides an opportunity for the former Manchester United star to embellish his head coach credentials

Whoever came up with the John O’Shea “nutmeg’ advertisement for Just Eat takeaway is having a field day.

Figo and Eileen Dunne were among his co-stars in this Last Dance ‘homage’ with O’Shea occupying the Michael Jordan chair. It worked, because O’Shea normally keeps a low profile. And here he was pretending to be big time.

Now, suddenly, he is the Republic of Ireland manager. Granted, it is an interim appointment and unlike Eileen Gleeson’s six wins from six persuading the FAI to give her a permanent contract up to Euro 2025, the general feeling is O’Shea will fill the gap Don Givens-style. And nothing more.

The FAI’s director of football Marc Canham will announce a permanent appointment in April. Until then, O’Shea will keep the senior squad ticking over, strive to hold pace with Belgium and Switzerland and perhaps do enough to keep himself on the payroll as an assistant when a more qualified coach is handed the reins.


Because to give O’Shea a four-year contract might hurtle Irish football back to The Stan Years. And nobody wants a repeat of Steve Staunton relying on his coaching experience at Walsall to oversee just 17 matches as “the gaffer,” winning five before being shown the door.

O’Shea knows all about that period having started 14 of the 17 in four different positions.

He decided to turn down Stephen Kenny’s first overture to coach the senior squad in 2022, after Belgium head-hunted Anthony Barry, opting to keep plying his trade with Jim Crawford’s under-21s and Stoke City.

There are second chances in coaching for someone with O’Shea’s pedigree, maybe even a third or fourth. But his peers – Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney – learned in the harshest way possible that your name counts for nothing when professional footballers are scrutinising you every day. Not to mention your paymasters, the public.

O’Shea has two games before a packed Lansdowne gallery in March to win or learn. These international friendlies won’t define him but they could enhance his credentials when it comes to future employment.

As Rooney’s disastrous 83 days at Birmingham City exposed a great player as middling manager, O’Shea did enough to encourage Rooney’s replacement Tony Mowbray to offer to keep him on staff. He declined.

“Hopefully the future sees me taking a role of head coach,” said O’Shea in December. “I remember talking to Stephen about taking my time, not rushing into something and ensure I worked with people and learned from them. Fingers crossed, the timing is right and I take a job somewhere. That’ll be key. If it happens, it happens but if not, c’est la vie.”

Now comes the hard part. Under Canham’s direction, Irish football has a plan to rebuild. He is plotting a route back to major tournaments. The players already know what an O’Shea session looks and sounds like. Canham obviously noticed, turning to the Waterford man in his hour of need.

The gig is being sold as a “head coach”, not a manager anymore. But the head coach of Ireland needs to be a manager. He needs to know how to communicate to the public via the media, especially in defeat because this promises to be more like his Sunderland than United days.

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Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent