From fan to player, Dara O’Shea appreciates his Republic of Ireland journey

Dara O’Shea has admitted it is “surreal” to be playing in the same Republic of Ireland team as men he cheered on from the stands at Euro 2016.

The 21-year-old West Brom defender followed the Ireland team around France with his father five years ago and was in the stands at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille the night Robbie Brady headed them into the knockout stages courtesy of a famous 1-0 win over Italy.

On Sunday, the two men could line up together for their country in a Nations League fixture in Wales, something which still causes pause for thought.

O’Shea said: “It’s a bit surreal at first when you come in and see these players you’ve been watching for so long. They say ‘hello’ to you and your name and you’re a bit taken aback by it.

“It’s been great to learn from them, especially the players who’ve played a lot for Ireland and I grew up watching.”

O’Shea was taken to Lansdowne Road, the site of the Aviva Stadium to watch the national team from the age of five or six, and remembers those adventures with immense fondness.

He said: “It was always the excitement of going to watch Ireland. It didn’t matter who they were playing.

“It was the excitement of putting my kit on and getting on the bus with my dad to go and watch the games, just being in awe of the lads playing, standing there singing the national anthem as a kid and just everything about the whole day out.”

However, it is Ireland’s exploits in France, where they took a shock lead against the hosts in the last 16 match in Lyon before ultimately bowing out 2-1, which remain to the fore among O’Shea’s memories.

Italy v Republic of Ireland – UEFA Euro 2016 – Group E – Stade Pierre Mauroy
Italy v Republic of Ireland – UEFA Euro 2016 – Group E – Stade Pierre Mauroy

He said: “To be able to celebrate as an Irish person, it was a great time, (I was) grateful to be out there. I was at the group stage games.

“The Italy game, I remember when Robbie scored the goal, we were up in the heavens in the stand. Everyone started falling down the steps, celebrating. I won’t forget that one.

“I went over with my dad and that was amazing as well, just to follow the team around France and watch them and celebrate as an Irish person.

“It was a great time for the country, it was a really exciting time and I was really grateful to be out there cheering the lads.”