Midway through Sheffield United’s appearance at the Proact Stadium in November, as Chris Wilder’s side were bewitching their way towards an emphatic victory, Jay O’Shea paused for a moment to admire the intricacy and venom of the visitors’ attacking play.
“The exchanges between the forwards were so impressive. It was horrible to be up against but, in a strange way, excellent to watch. I was thinking ‘this is a team I’d love to play for.’ That really stuck with me.”
O’Shea got his wish earlier this week when, following some top secret negotiations, he arrived at Bramall Lane on loan from Chesterfield. Whether or not the move becomes permanent - there is talk a deal, worth around £50,000 in fees to the Irishman’s former club, has already been agreed - depends upon his performances between now and the end of the season. But, after being unveiled on Tuesday evening, O’Shea is already plotting a long and successful stay.
“I’ll be out of contract in the summer and I’m going to be doing everything I can to try and catch the eye,” he said. “I’m playing for my future, whether it be here or somewhere else. But it would be nice if I could make it permanent here, that’s the aim for myself. That’s the over-riding target for me.”
O’Shea, aged 28, has developed into one of League One most dynamic midfielders during four-and-a-half seasons at Chesterfield. Previously of Birmingham City and MK Dons, he averages a goal every five matches and, together with fellow new signing James Hanson, will be charged with reinvigorating United’s promotion challenge following a disappointing sequence of results. Although Wilder’s squad remains well-placed to secure a top two finish - they are two points ahead of second-placed Scunthorpe and seven above Bolton Wanderers in third - a run of three matches without a win has given renewed hope to the chasing pack.
Despite his phlegmatic response to Tuesday’s defeat by Fleetwood Town, Wilder acknowledged their dealings during the January transfer window were in part designed to “freshen up” a group of players, the majority of whom have already played over 75 per cent of United’s league fixtures so far this term. O’Shea’s industry and invention should ease the burden on Kieron Freeman, Daniel Lafferty and Mark Duffy to create openings with the latter appearing both mentally and physically tired of late. Hanson, who at six feet four inches is now the tallest outfield member of United’s squad, brings a different dynamic to their attacking threat. A valuable alternative given that, after entering the meeting with Uwe Rosler’s side averaging over two goals per game this term, Wilder’s charges were shut-out for the first time in 10 outings.
O’Shea took an unconventional route into English football, having progressed through the ranks at Home Farm before spells with Bray Wanderers and Galway. But, like fellow Dubliner and former United centre-forward Conor Sammon, he believes experiencing the rigours of semi-professional competition has proved beneficial.
“I’ve taken the long route. I didn’t come over as a teenager, like a lot of lads do, and play academy football. I had to play men’s football if you like and then come. To be honest, it probably worked to my advantage. You see and hear of lots of lads going over and then coming back because they’re homesick. I was able to stay around my family, get comfortable playing proper football and getting used to the man’s game. It meant I was more prepared when I did come over at 21.”
After a brief flirtation with Derby County, O’Shea attracted attention from the likes of Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Watford before agreeing terms at St Andrews. He moved to north Derbyshire, via stadium:mk, in November 2012 and forged a close relationship with chief scout Paul Mitchell. Described by Chesterfield’s director of football Chris Turner as “one of the best in the country at what he does,” Mitchell is now United’s head of recruitment and is believed to have been instrumental in luring O’Shea to the club.
“It’s a massive club and, at this stage of my career, if I didn’t make the move now then I might not have got the opportunity to play for a club of this size again,” O’Shea said. “I’ll try to bring goals and assists, that’s something I’ve always looked to do in my game. But first I’ve got to try and get into the team because that’s not going to easy. It’s going to be very difficult in fact because it’s a good side.”