Versatile O'Shea delighted to put country before club

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The Independent Online

It was a strange sensation for John O'Shea. Before a training session ahead of today's World Cup qualifier against Israel, Brian Kerr, the Republic of Ireland's manager, gathered his players and, one by one, congratulated those who had enjoyed a successful season.

It was a strange sensation for John O'Shea. Before a training session ahead of today's World Cup qualifier against Israel, Brian Kerr, the Republic of Ireland's manager, gathered his players and, one by one, congratulated those who had enjoyed a successful season.

Among them was Damien Duff, who won the Premiership; the European Cup winner Steve Finnan; and Graham Kavanagh, who was promoted with Wigan Athletic.

"It's nice to come to the Irish squad and have bragging rights," said O'Shea, who won a Premiership medal in 2003 and the FA Cup in 2004 with Manchester United. "Unfortunately, myself or Roy [Keane] or Liam [Miller] can't do that this summer. Maybe next year."

O'Shea watched Gabriel Heinze arrive at United last season and immediately take the left-back position he had hoped was his.

"I played a lot of games," O'Shea, 24, said. "I just didn't hammer down a place and that's frustrating. But I look at the club I'm at and the fact that I'm still playing is very positive."

There has been mitigation. "I had bad luck here and there. I had a good run at right-back but got injured," he said. It means that O'Shea has, once more, been linked to other clubs. He has no intention of leaving Old Trafford. "I'm happy where I am, the club seem happy with me, so I'm happy to stay."

His country is likely to call on his versatility tonight, when O'Shea will win his 23rd cap - but where he plays remains uncertain.

With suspension ruling out Stephen Carr and Roy Keane and injury accounting for Finnan, Alan Maybury, Stephen Kelly and Richard Dunne, it seems O'Shea will switch from left to right with Ian Harte recalled.

Kerr's other option is to deploy Steven Reid at right-back, as he did in last Sunday's testimonial for Celtic's Jackie McNamara. "We've had different formations in training," O'Shea said.

Ireland will also have to cope with a tricky, bullish Israeli side whose playmaker, Yossi Benayoun, will be watched tonight by Newcastle United.

Another thing Kerr did this week was show his players a printout of the Group Four table. It could not be tighter. France lead with 10 points, just above Israel on goal difference. The Republic and Switzerland are a point behind, having played a game fewer.

The Irish visit the Faroe Islands on Wednesday and know that two wins could open up a five-point lead over the French, ahead of this autumn's meeting at Lansdowne Road.

"It's waiting for someone to take the group by the scruff of the neck," declared the defender Andy O'Brien.

The Irish know that they have squandered opportunities before - not least with the concession of a last-minute equaliser in Tel Aviv at Easter. "It did feel a bit like a defeat because we felt that the game was won," said the goalkeeper Shay Given, who dismissed speculation over his future, with Barcelona the latest link. "I can't over-estimate how massive this game is," he added.

Republic Of Ireland (probable 4-4-2): Given (Newcastle United); O'Shea (Manchester United), O'Brien (Newcastle United), Cunningham (Birmingham City), Harte (Levante); Reid (Tottenham Hotspur), Holland (Charlton Athletic), Kilbane (Everton), Duff (Chelsea); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Morrison (Birmingham City).

Israel (probable 5-2-2-1): Awat (Racing Santander); Yehiel (Hapoel Petah Tikva), Benado (Maccabi Haifa), Gershon (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Saban, Keisi (both Hapoel Petah Tikva); Tal (Maccabi Haifa), Golan (Maccabi Petah Tikva); Nimni (Betar Jerusalem), Benayoun (Racing Santander); Katan (Maccabi Haifa)

Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).

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