Don't give up on this generation just yet says John O'Shea
John O'Shea departs the Republic of Ireland scene after tonight's friendly with the United States and is hopeful that the game will prove to the fans that there is reason to be optimistic about the future.
O'Shea will win his 118th and final cap in the Aviva Stadium encounter (8.08pm) and feels there is still reason to be optimistic about the crop coming through even if they may not currently play at the highest level.
The defender believes that emerging members of the squad are well placed to take a step forward in their career and reckons that getting to the Premier League is the essential step in their development.
He is thrilled by the emergence of Declan Rice - who he can see going on to reach the 100 cap mark - and also gave a positive mention to new faces Conor O'Malley, Darragh Lenihan and Graham Burke, who could all feature against the US.
"You are thinking, 'This could be a tough one' but next thing, in the space of three or four months, we have a few more options than we realised. That's up to the boys to kick on and show they are up for it," said O'Shea.
"Look at Declan Rice. Kevin Long is playing now, Ciaran Clark and the lads who are not here, you have Darragh Lenihan progressing after jumping up from League One, but there's talk of moves for lots of the boys too.
"It's important that the spirit in the group continues - that's the key factor. They are very good kids and it's important that they play at the highest level possible. Playing in the Premier League is going to be the key for us to be challenging for major tournaments
"In defence and midfield, you have a few boys to come back in. Up front, maybe Seani Maguire can keep pushing. Jonny Walters is staying on and that's great.
"There's Shane Long and James McClean who can do a different shift up top at times. If someone like Graham Burke could keep pushing and scoring goals then you never know; he's shown lots of quality. Quality-wise in goal, there's competition and young Conor (O'Malley) from Peterborough has come from nowhere."
O'Shea believes the League of Ireland is essential in the longer-term development of the senior team due to overseas competition in England's academies and he hasn't ruled out coming back to coach at home himself in the future.
Yet he is still of the opinion that talented youngsters can follow in his footsteps and make the grade at Manchester United. His fellow countyman Lee O'Connor is knocking on the door at Old Trafford.
"I still think if the kid is good enough and they do the right steps, they will get that chance too," he stressed. "Lads forget how important a loan spell is (O'Shea went to Bournemouth and Royal Antwerp) and that's a test from the manager because he's saying if you can't cope with that, you have no chance of getting into the first team."
Martin O'Neill paid tribute to O'Shea's influence yesterday and confirmed he will start his swansong before being taken off before the interval.
"He mentioned the goal he scored," said the former Northern Ireland captain with a smile.
"It is 118 caps tomorrow? And he has that fantastic record of three goals, considering the amount of times he went up for corner kicks.
"I used to tell him, 'Don't go up, John. Don't bother'.
"I had him at club level for a little while too and I know people shower praise on someone who's just about to leave, but he's been a great influence."
He will be facing up to a USA side that also missed out on the World Cup and has brought a team filled with young players starting off on their respective journeys; several of them are on the books of English clubs.
Shane Long is out of the game through injury but Jeff Hendrick and Harry Arter are fit.
The former's absence has opened the door for Burke to play a decent part in the game but O'Neill said it was Shamrock Rovers that made the running in allowing the 24-year-old to miss his club's game with Dundalk last night.
"I didn't put it to them; I didn't ask them that," said O'Neill.
"It was a nice gesture for him not to play a very, very important game.
"He will certainly participate (against the USA) and hopefully for a decent period.
"This should give him an amazing boost of confidence if he really wants to return to the game across the channel and really make it.
"Honestly, he's done really well in training.
"He has taken things in his stride and hasn't been overawed."