JOHN O’SHEA has backed Keiren Westwood to establish himself as the Republic of Ireland’s number one following Shay Given’s retirement.
Sunderland stopper Westwood will start Ireland’s friendly in Serbia tonight in his first chance to prove his credentials as Given’s heir apparent.
Given announced his international retirement earlier this week in the wake of Ireland’s disappointing Euro 2012 campaign after winning 125 caps for his country.
But defender O’Shea, who has spent the last decade playing alongside Given on the international stage, is confident Sunderland team-mate Westwood will grasp his opportunity.
O’Shea, one of three Sunderland players in the starting line-up with winger James McClean also selected, said: “Tonight is going to be very different because for the majority of my caps Shay has been the goalkeeper.
“He was a fantastic personality, incredible to have around the place and great for the young lads as well.
“But he made his decision and we have to get on with it. Now is the time for the new lads and Keiren in particular.
“I know at close hand, working with him at Sunderland, how well he has been training and performing.
“He hasn’t let Ireland down before when he has come in so fingers crossed he’ll fill the void more than comfortably.”
Ex-Coventry keeper Westwood made just nine first-team appearances in his maiden campaign on Wearside – his only spell in the side ending abruptly through illness on New Year’s Day.
But the 27-year-old is in contention to start Sunderland’s Premier League opener at Arsenal on Saturday after impressing during pre-season.
And O’Shea says Westwood is well aware that he needs to oust Simon Mignolet as Sunderland’s number one, if he is to become Ireland’s first-choice stopper.
“Keiren came back into pre-season earlier than he had to to make a point to the manager to say he wants to fight for the number one jersey,” said O’Shea.
“It’s a funny situation and Martin (O’Neill) has said himself recently he has a tough decision on his hands to pick his number one.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us because Keiren knows if he is going to be number one for Ireland, he has to be number one at club level. We’ll wait and see.”
Meanwhile, O’Shea will captain Ireland for the first time tonight, with Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne not included in a youthful Ireland squad.
O’Shea added: “I’ve captained Ireland at under-15, 16 and 18, and I might have been captain of the under-21s at some stage, so to be captain of the senior team is a fantastic honour.
“It’s just for this game, but I’m absolutely delighted with it.
“It’s something that when I finish football I can look back on with my family and kids.”