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The O'Shea Conundrum - SAFC & Republic Of Ireland Issues Draw Similar Comparison

He may well be nearing the end of his playing career but just what is it about John O'Shea that has people constantly pining for his return?

Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Both Sunderland and the Republic of Ireland face similar issues when it comes to their evergreen defender John O'Shea, a player who despite dividing opinion for much of the last half a decade has been seen as the crutch you go to when all hope is lost elsewhere.

And the issue has reared its head once again in recent weeks, both on Wearside and the Emerald Isle. You see, despite all of us involved in football pining for 'what is next', neither of the teams that John O'Shea still represents as a footballer seem to be able to move on from him.

Eamon Dunphy, the well-known and outspoken Irish sports pundit, has lead the charge in the Irish media for the re-inclusion of O'Shea in Martin O'Neill's side in recent days, and it was his comments which struck a chord with me.

Dunphy has began to question the decision making of our former leader Martin O'Neill, in particular his selection of Newcastle United's Ciaran Clark and Brighton's Shane Duffy ahead of O'Shea in recent times.

There is an instability about the team that is very troubling and it is all to do with the manager.

He's obviously got the hump with something, really he should look at himself. He is making mistakes every time he is picking the team.

Where was John O'Shea last night? Where was he last week?

That centre-half pairing doesn't work. It's crazy.

In truth, that quote could have been presented to you at any point in the last month - well, certainly before the West Brom game - and you would have thought that it was Sunderland fan talking about our own predicament and the team selections of David Moyes. Whilst O'Neill isn't convincing anyone that Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark are the answer to Ireland's defensive problems, David Moyes has had the same problem in trying to force the issue with Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Kone.

In the last three of so years we've seen frequent attempts at replacing O'Shea in the Sunderland side to little or no avail. Players like Sebastian Coates, Modibo Diakite, Valentin Roberge, Santiago Vergini were all signed to, in effect, replace O'Shea as a regular starter in Sunderland's team, yet still he remains and they've all moved on. Why is that? I presume it's because, above all else, what he lacks in certain areas he more than makes up for it in others, and it is those qualities that stand the test of time.

I think we often forget just how important traits like leadership and experience are when you're a struggling, mediocre side. Both Sunderland and Ireland suffer from the same problem in that respect - when you're replacing players like O'Shea with average footballers like Ciaran Clark or Papy Djilobodji, it's adding little benefit to the overall defensive balance of the side other than lowering the average age of the team. Is it worth it? We've certainly not seen it so far this season. I can bet my house on the fact that we wouldn't have fell apart in the manner that we did against Everton or gifted Spurs their winner like we did last month if O'Shea had started those games in place of Djilobodji, a player who may well come good in time but right now just isn't proving he's better than what he's supposedly replacing.

The issue we have is clear - other than when lowly Shrewsbury rolled into town for the League Cup game in August, we've yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Sam Allardyce spoke of the importance of keeping clean sheets around this time last year and whilst it bored us to tears, hitting that marker is essentially what got us on the track to survival - David Mouyes would be wise to take note of the words of his predecessor if we are to stay afloat in the Premier League once again.

And, even after three years of trying to replace him, we're back to leaning on the abilities of John O'Shea to help drag us out of this mess and into a safer place. There was a clear and obvious change in how organised we looked when O'Shea was reintroduced against West Bromwich Albion and my only hope is that we see this continue.

I can deal with John O'Shea not being the quickest or most mobile of footballers when he offers our team so much more than that.

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