John O’Shea’s long-term Ireland role could be as assistant with Lee Carsley back in frame

Interim Republic of Ireland coach focused on upcoming friendlies and non-committal on goalkeeper question

Finally, some progress in the extended FAI search to replace Stephen Kenny as Marc Canham almost announced a new Republic of Ireland manager at the Aviva Stadium on Monday afternoon.

Canham, the association’s director of football, is withholding the name until early April due to “existing contractual obligations” but a few certainties are now apparent.

For one, it will not be John O’Shea.

O’Shea’s return to the FAI payroll as interim coach for March friendlies against Belgium and Switzerland comes four months after he left Abbotstown to work with Wayne Rooney at Birmingham City. He was Kenny’s fourth trainer in three years until that management team was dismantled in November.


As a player, the 42-year-old featured at two big tournaments for Ireland, won 118 caps and scored an unforgettable equaliser against Germany in Gelsenkirchen.

“In my head I’ve been preparing for an opportunity like this since my late 20s,” said O’Shea. “I would feel I’m ready.”

But the next permanent Ireland manager will not be the former Manchester United defender. However, the five-time Premier League winner could be retained as an assistant coach.

“I am absolutely open to that,” said Canham. “We have had different conversations about different people with different candidates. I won’t share specific names but absolutely John could be a key part of that … [it] will be partly up to the head coach and partly up to John.”

Canham is handcuffed by his own “confidential process” until after the incoming international window.

There is no update from England under-21 coach Lee Carsley, but the former Ireland midfielder could conceivably switch allegiance after March 26th, the night Ireland host the Swiss and Carsley’s charges play a Euros’ qualifier against Luxembourg.

The new manager will start full-time in April, Canham confirmed, so securing Anthony Barry would require the Liverpudlian’s early release from Bayern Munich and Portugal.

“It’s a full-time job, for the senior team, absolutely, it needs to be full-time,” said Canham about the prospect of an overlap in employment. “That may have worked in the past but I don’t think with all of the demands of a head coach now and all of the things that go around it, all of the players you need to see, I just don’t think that’s possible.”

O’Shea announces his first and potentially only senior squad on Thursday, March 14th.

The recruitment clock has been ticking since FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill said last December that a manager could be appointed before the Nations League draw on February 8th, which revealed Dublin dates against England and Greece in September.

Hill and Packie Bonner assisted Canham in interviewing candidates.

“We had a clear process and roadmap of how we wanted to do this,” Canham said. “We always knew that if we got to a certain point there would be an interim structure in place.”

That interim team is O’Shea, along with Crystal Palace coach Paddy McCarthy, Glenn Whelan and Brian Kerr as technical adviser.

“We said previously that we had hoped to have a permanent solution in place for the draw,” said Canham. “That wasn’t possible so it was always part of our thinking that maybe an interim solution would be needed because speed wasn’t a measure of success for this process. It was more about looking at what we want to achieve, who do we want to get that meets that profile, and being really clear and sticking to our principles, even if it takes a little bit longer.”

Seemingly, after 103 days, the FAI are “very close to the end”.

O’Shea mentioned two players, Andy Moran and Evan Ferguson, without a prompt but he avoided being drawn on Sammie Szmodics, the EFL Championship’s top goal scorer, who is eligible to be capped by Ireland, Hungary or England.

“He is scoring lots of goals,” he said of Szmodics. “Obviously a very important player for Blackburn. Young Andy Moran has linked up with him for plenty of goals as well this season. We will wait and see over the next couple of days.”

On the goalkeeper debate, Caoimhín Kelleher or Gavin Bazunu, O’Shea wasn’t giving anything away. Who starts against Belgium? “It’ll be a very good goalkeeper. Obviously, Caoimhín has stood out over the last couple of weeks – the level that he’s been playing at and the demands being put on him. I think Gavin has been showing amazing consistency in a Southampton team that in general has been doing very, very well.”

With the trickiest fences cleared, the Waterford native could remember his managerial influences, from winning an under-16 Euros’ title under Kerr to being signed and sold, 12 years apart, by Alex Ferguson.

“When I heard Brian’s name, I was like, ‘yes, that sounds right to me’ because I know, having spoken to him, his enthusiasm. His knowledge will be invaluable to the players. I know he will be a big boost for everyone involved.”

Kerr’s precise duties are being ironed out between his representative Fintan Drury and Canham, who was also vague about the employment status of the entire back room beyond March.

“I had a missed call from a no-caller ID on Thursday evening and the only one who still calls me on no-caller ID is Sir Alex,” O’Shea added. “Anytime I’ve gone into a club or got involved with something, he’s always got in touch. I know he’s in good form and jet-setting around the world winning trophies within the thoroughbred industry.”

Comforting to know that the current Ireland manager has the fiery Glaswegian, now 82, on speed dial.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent