It’s May 2017 and in an otherwise uneventful 1-1 draw with Swansea City, John O’Shea milks the applause from all around the ground as he is substituted for a fresh-faced Tom Beadling in the 89th minute.
The stalemate ensures that Sunderland finish a respectable 12th place in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce and in a post-match interview an emotional O’Shea states that after a season of providing cover for the formidable defensive partnership of Lamine Kone and Younes Kaboul, he feels the time is right to move on.
Of course, this is a purely fictional tale, but if somebody had proposed such a scenario to you in the days after we defeated Everton 3-0 to secure our Premier League in 2016, it wouldn’t sound too implausible.
Unfortunately, history will record that John O’Shea played a pivotal role in two of the most disastrous seasons in Sunderland’s history. This came on the back of five years of being a part of a side who were mediocre at best and at their worst, downright awful.
This naturally led to some suggesting that the Irishman was a contributing factor in the club’s repeated struggles, with some even labelling him a member of the much maligned ‘rotten core.’
Although, I can understand that people will take comfort in pinning much of the blame for our struggles at the door of the likes of O’Shea and Cattermole who have been the only constant starters right the way through Sunderland’s Chinese water torture style decline, I feel that to do so is unfair on the skipper.
As I stated earlier, had we not been such a car crash of a club and brought in more accomplished defensive options; he would have been moved on or given a role more befitting of his advancing years. Instead he made a total of 41 appearances in all competition last season and 33 the previous campaign.
This is indicative of our poor record in the transfer market over the past few seasons. Every summer we have hoped that O’Shea would find himself surplus to requirements on Wearside, but year after year we would get to about October before realising that our incomings had been even worse, and O’Shea would come back into the starting X1.
Yes, he has made mistakes, but to play such a volume of games at his age is testament to the professionalism he has shown over the years and I would argue that he’s played a crucial role in our great escapes over the years.
A succession of managers have all paid tribute to his character and positive influence on the dressing room and he has never shirked his duties as a senior member of the dressing room. He has always fronted up to defeats and our decline has clearly hurt him.
There’s no doubt that his performances have not been good enough to warrant a new contract and although I understand the reasoning behind the calls from some quarters for him to be added to the coaching staff, I think that in the interests of the club making a fresh start it is best for O’Shea to move on. However, he departs with my best wishes and from a personal perspective, I thank him for his service over the years and I hope that the majority of our fanbase would echo those sentiments.