Dara O’Shea emerged from his senior Republic of Ireland debut with mixed feelings after fulfilling his dream on a night of bitter disappointment.
The 21-year-old West Brom defender won his first cap in Finland on Wednesday evening after being drafted into a squad decimated by coronavirus protocols and injuries, and looked far from out of place as Ireland slipped to a 1-0 Nations League defeat at the Olympic Stadium.
For a man who was playing for Hereford in the South League Premier Division four seasons ago, the rise has been little short of meteoric.
O’Shea said: “It’s been mad. If you look at where I came from two or three years ago, playing in the seventh tier of English football to playing in the Premier League now and getting a call-up and a cap for my senior team, it’s amazing.
“It’s just what I dreamt of, really, it’s what I’ve been working for since I was a little boy. I’m just very proud to have played tonight, and obviously it’s amazing for my family.
“I know how big fans they are of Ireland as a nation and obviously to put on the shirt and play is a great feeling.”
O’Shea, who has been ever-present for the Baggies in the Premier League so far this season, was in Pisa with the Under-21s preparing for Tuesday’s European Championship qualifier against Italy when he got the call to meet up with the senior squad.
He said: “It’s been a mad couple of days, obviously preparing for Italy and then getting the call to fly out and meet the lads in Ireland for potentially playing against Finland – it was something that I’d dreamt of, really.
“You dream of getting that call-up again and obviously I was picked in the initial squad, so it’s nice to get called in. But mentally, I just knew myself that if called upon, I had to perform and had to give a good account of myself.
“I suppose that’s all I had to do and that’s what I tried to do. Obviously the result didn’t help, but I really enjoyed it.”
Ireland were ultimately undone when Norwich striker Teemu Pukki pounced on a rare error by keeper Darren Randolph to feed Fredrik Jensen to score the game’s only goal.
Although things might have been very different had Enda Stevens’ 63rd-minute effort not come back off the crossbar or had either Matt Doherty or substitute Ronan Curtis been able to take late chances.
O’Shea, who played for the Under-21s under new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny, said: “That’s it. You’ll get punished at this level if you make mistakes, so that just goes to show. But we’ve just got to pick ourselves up now and continue the good work.
“It’s definitely frustrating. We should be winning games like that. We didn’t deserve to lose the game, so that’s why it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth.
“We created chances and the ball just wouldn’t go in the back of the net.”
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