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No boot deal, no ego, no time off: How Dara O’Shea’s old-school values won over Slaven Bilic

‘Dara has everything. He’s like, mentally, he’s thinking about every minute of the training. Whatever you tell him, he is there.’

Dara O'Shea in action for St Kevin's Boys in 2012 (L) and for West Brom in 2019 (R).
Dara O'Shea in action for St Kevin's Boys in 2012 (L) and for West Brom in 2019 (R).
Image: Inpho/PA

IT IS THE day before West Bromwich Albion travel to face Derby County – a game they will draw 1-1 – and 20-year-old centre-back Dara O’Shea is moving.

Not back to Exeter City, where he spent last season on loan in League Two, but just a few yards down the hall at the club’s training ground from the U23 dressing room to join his new peers in the first team.

It’s taken four games as an unused substitute in each of their Championship outings until this point for the Dubliner to earn the promotion. A fifth follows at Pride Park the next day.

There is no big fanfare and no grand ceremony at O’Shea’s ascension. “It’s just hard work. I’ve had to work to get here. Nothing is going to come easy. That was drilled into me from a young age. Every chance I get I want to try and impress, I’m hungry to play minutes,” he says, having been beckoned by fellow Dubliner, kitman Aidan ‘Jacko’ Smith, just before he must attend a team meeting prior to training.

dara-oshea Dara O'Shea during Ireland U21 training earlier this year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The first-team canteen is pretty quiet before that 11.30am gathering. Egyptian international Ahmed Hegazi sits with a teammate having a late breakfast by a window looking out at a training pitch.

The defender is continuing his recovery from ankle surgery over the summer and, in his absence, O’Shea has overtaken others who were deemed to be ahead of him in the queue to step up as an understudy.

Unlike some of the more vaunted local stars coming through the ranks at the club, the former St Kevin’s Boys schoolboy hasn’t got a boot deal. When reps from Nike and Adidas visit regularly to hand out the goods it has taken the initiative of staff to make sure the O’Shea gets looked after.

Such perks don’t appear to interest him.

dara-oshea

james-holland-with-dara-oshea-and-paul-clearly O'Shea in action for St Kevin's Boys during the 2012 U13 National Cup final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

His sole taste of first-team action came in the EFL Cup defeat to Millwall earlier this month, but he has made quite the impression on new manager Slaven Bilic.

O’Shea was offered an extra week off by the club following his participation in the Toulon Tournament with Ireland’s U21s but refused it. “I came in knowing I would have an opportunity [with the new manager] and to try hit the ground running,” he explains.

He has maintained the work rate, and discipline. The youngster, who only turned 20 in March, is first through the door almost every morning and one of the last to leave.

James McClean was a confidant while he was a team-mate here. “When he was here he helped me out. Watching him for Ireland, the work ethic, the pride he plays with,” O’Shea says, before smiling as he recalls the short time spent with Wes Hoolahan.

“Different level. They called him ‘The Magician’ around here.”

dara-oshea O'Shea during Ireland's U21 qualifier vs Luxembourg in March. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There is no secret formula to how he forced his way into Bilic’s plans. “What can I say about him? Since we came here, from the first day he was basically as fit as he is now. His first day,” the former Croatia manager adds proudly.

There are always a couple of players who are above the others in terms of fitness, that’s Dara. Straight away it can start. Dara is focused, he is ready, he is fit but also, [that is only] one part; the other part is the quality and he is showing the quality. That is why he is with us.

“We can count on him,” Bilic continues, citing O’Shea’s reliability as a reason why he did not try and recruit another defender.

We didn’t want to force to buy a new centre-back because of him, because we believe in him so much.

“Unfortunately, in today’s world it is not a virtue, it’s a flaw if you are focused, if you are fit, if you work hard. Not in football, in every way of life. It’s kind of cool to be lazy and all that but Dara is, like a few of them, they are all good boys but for young kids. They are old-fashioned in a good way and that is the key for a young player.”

west-bromwich-albion-v-bournemouth-pre-season-friendly-the-hawthorns Slaven Bilic. Source: Nick Potts

Bilic was a similar age to O’Shea when he made the breakthrough at Hadjuk Split 30 years ago, and he also saw an 18-year-old Richard Dunne up close when the pair were together at Everton in the late 1990s.

Richard was a similar kind [to O’Shea], saying ‘I want to do it’, and all that. Dara has everything. He’s like, mentally, he’s thinking about every minute of the training. Whatever you tell him, he is there.

“A lot of things you don’t have to tell him. When I came here, Dara wasn’t mentioned to us as one of the cornerstones of the new season. He made it by himself in a very short period that we are counting on him. The best thing for Dara would be to go somewhere and play regularly but we need him that much and so he is very important for us.”

A long season beckons and it’s clear O’Shea has the stomach, as well as the drive, for the fight that is ahead.

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About the author:

David Sneyd

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