John O’Shea says managing Republic against Belgium will be ‘incredible honour’

John O’Shea will not allow the emotion of his journey from Under-15s player to Republic of Ireland manager to distract him as he prepares to guide his country into friendly battle with Belgium.

The 42-year-old former defender won 118 senior caps for Ireland during a distinguished playing career which brought him five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, three League Cups and a Champions League in his 12-year spell at Manchester United.

Having been placed in temporary charge of the national team as the Football Association of Ireland prepares to unveil Stephen Kenny’s successor early next month, O’Shea, who grew up as a footballer under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson, will head into Saturday’s clash with the Belgians concentrating only on the 90 minutes in front of him.

John O’Shea (centre) enjoyed a trophy-laden stay at Manchester United
John O’Shea (centre) enjoyed a trophy-laden stay at Manchester United (Martin Rickett/PA)

“The chance to be involved coaching with the Under-21s and the senior team and now being manager, it’s amazing, one that myself and my family are really proud of.

“When you first get the players together and chatting to them the first time as well, that’s the key part and sets the tone for the week ahead. That’s where I just kept it in my head very simple in terms of the staff that I brought in.

“I will be able to touch into those connections afterwards, as well in terms of the learnings from the two games and how you progress.

John O’Shea won 118 senior caps for the Republic of Ireland
John O’Shea won 118 senior caps for the Republic of Ireland (Martin Rickett/PA)

O’Shea, who worked with the senior team under Kenny after stepping up from the Under-21 ranks and will serve as head coach for Saturday’s game and Tuesday’s friendly against Switzerland, plans to inform the players of his team selection on Friday, and then take a low-key approach ahead of kick-off.

He said: “I’ve worked under many managers that have played at different levels, and it’s just a case of you’re trying to get a connection as soon as you can with the players to make them feel relaxed because, ultimately – as I’ve stressed before – they’re the key to everything.

“They’re the key to performing to winning matches and you just have to try and get that connection with the group. And whatever team is selected, they’re backing each other up no matter what.”

O’Shea could hand senior debuts to in-form Blackburn forward Sammie Szmodics, Lyon defender Jake O’Brien and Middlesbrough midfielder Finn Azaz, while Southampton defender Ryan Manning has joined up with the squad after recovering from injury.

He said: “The good thing is there are good players in form and it’s a nice problem to have in a good few positions.”

Belgium, who are ranked fourth in the world by FIFA, will be without injured superstars Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku as they defend an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

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