Sunderland's survival ranks highly on O'Shea's list of career achievements (From The Advertiser Series)
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Sunderland's survival ranks highly on O'Shea's list of career achievements
HE has won five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, three League Cups and was in the squad for the 2008 Champions League final when Manchester United were crowned champions of Europe. He has also won 93 caps for the Republic of Ireland and played in the European Championship finals.
Yet when John O'Shea ranks his achievements during a career that has stemmed a decade-and-a-half, the events of the last month will be close to the top of the list.
There is no silverware to celebrate, no medal to hang around his neck. But by helping to keep Sunderland in the Premier League when they looked dead and buried with just six games of the season remaining, O'Shea has played an integral role in one of the most remarkable footballing stories for quite some years.
Pride would perhaps be the wrong description given that no one anticipated Sunderland being in such a situation at the start of the campaign, but the satisfaction that was evident as the Black Cats guaranteed their safety with a 2-0 win over West Brom on Wednesday was nevertheless justified. When all looked lost, O'Shea and his Sunderland team-mates refused to give in.
“It's very close to the top of what I've done because of the points we were down and the games we still had to play,” said the 33-year-old. “But we've done it, and we've done it stylishly as well.
“It would have to rank up there amongst it all because we were dead and buried, and everybody had written us off. But we've come good with great football, great results, and done it with a game to spare.
“Congratulations is a strange word because it's (relegation) something we feel we shouldn't be near. If you're talking about the squad that we have, the belief and the quality, we shouldn't be down there.
“And yet after seven or eight games, to have one point, we were looking up the table for 99 per cent of the season. It was difficult, but credit to the manager, the staff and the squad because we stuck to the ideas the manager was trying to get across to us.”
Tomorrow's final game with Swansea City will now be a celebration of all that has been achieved since last month's defeat to Everton left Sunderland needing to overhaul a seven-point deficit with six games remaining, yet there is still a need for a major inquest into what went so spectacularly wrong this term.
There are a multitude of reasons why Sunderland found themselves propping up the table for the majority of the campaign, not least the disastrous decisions to appoint Roberto de Fanti and Paolo Di Canio and the chaotic recruitment campaign that saw 14 players arrive at the Stadium of Light last summer.
But O'Shea has flagged up the presence of so many players who were either in the final year of their contract or set to leave at the end of a loan spell as something that should not be repeated in the future.
“It was tricky here, you can imagine,” he said. “Lots of lads were out of their contracts and didn't really know what they were doing with their futures and different things.
“It was difficult for a lot of them, but they showed great character in training, and obviously one or two of them are playing. They showed fantastic attitudes and that was what we needed.
“Hopefully, if that can be less volatile (in the future) than it was this season, that will definitely help. It's important because sometimes when a team has been relegated, afterwards there's ten players out of contract and you think, 'Could that be a reason? Were their minds elsewhere?'
“You could never accuse any of the lads at this place of that because I've witnessed at first hand how hard they've worked and the players themselves, they're so professional.”
As well as greater stability on the field, Sunderland could do with considerably less upheaval off it. Poyet's appointment made it three different managers in the space of seven months, and this season has also witnessed the departure of a director of football and the appointment of a new sporting director.
“You can't keep changing your managers,” said O'Shea. “Hopefully we can all come together now and build for the summer and the months ahead, and it's fairly clear that we should stick with the current manager.
“He's a young, hungry manager, and he's learned his trade. He was a fantastic player, an unbelievable player, and he's learned from some great players and managers.
“He's been a number two along the way and learned his trade. He's taken a step up, and done very well. He was very close to taking Brighton up, and he's hungry to succeed and has good ideas he sticks to.
“He could easily have abandoned them and lost his wits, but he stuck to his guns and that says a lot about the team he has around him as well.
“He's very controlled, although he's passionate as well, which is the South American coming through. He can use that when he has to – although not always – and hopefully it'll be beneficial to us in years ahead.”