EFL promotion expert Jay O'Shea on why he traded Gigg Lane for Brisbane, why he left Sheffield United and his hopes for Chesterfield

The lower divisions of the English Football League hold little in the way of mystery for Jay O’Shea, so he’s taken a step into the unknown, 10,000 miles from home.

Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 16:52 pm
Jay O'Shea celebrating one of his Chesterfield goals (Pic: James Williamson)

Having completed a career hat-trick of promotions last season at Bury, amid off-field turmoil, the Irishman felt there was little left to accomplish in League One or League Two.

The attacker, who previously won League Two with Paul Cook’s Chesterfield and picked up a League One winners’ medal with Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, has been coaxed Down Under by Brisbane Roar boss Robbie Fowler.

At 30 years of age, a free agent thanks to much publicised circumstances at Gigg Lane, the opportunity to hop off the EFL roundabout came at the right time.

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“I heard about it first probably a couple of months ago,” he said.

“Obviously we were waiting to see what way the situation was going to go with Bury.

“We didn’t get paid for a while. I had triggered another year at Bury in January, but the way things were looking, we were probably going to be able to go for free, with the money situation.

Jay O'Shea training with his new club (Pic: Ant Sartori/Brisbane Roar FC)

“When I first heard about it I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be able to go for free, but it was something that definitely interested me.

“The more it went on, not getting paid at Bury, the more I started thinking about it and it was something that excited me.”

The 16 goals and seven assists O’Shea contributed to the Shakers’ successful 2018/19 promotion campaign meant there were offers on the table much closer to home.

But a phonecall from Premier League legend Fowler piqued his interest and with Championship football unlikely, he did his homework and decided to take his talent and his family to the other side of the world.

A spectacular goal for Town at Yeovil

“When you get a bit of interest off someone as high profile as (Robbie Fowler), who’s done what he did in the game, it definitely catches your attention.

“I really wanted to work with someone like that.

“I spoke to a few people before I committed to it, a few of the Irish lads currently playing in the A League, Andy Keogh and Roy O’Donovan who plays here at Brisbane Roar now as well.

“They couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

O'Shea helped Sheffield United to the League One title

“I had a good 10 years in England. I think that was my 10th season and a lot of them were playing in the lower leagues.

“I felt like I’d done as much as I could in the lower leagues and if I wasn’t going to get a chance in the Championship, then I was really going to have a look at doing something different.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about the A League, it’s quite high profile over here, all the games are televised. I know there’s a lot of big games, big stadiums, big crowds.

“It’ll be a lot different to playing in the lower leagues in England.”

Whether or not the season just gone was his last in England remains to be seen, but if it is, O’Shea went out with a bang, against all the odds.

Under Ryan Lowe’s guidance, Bury finished second in League Two, scoring more goals than anyone else and finishing just six points behind champions Lincoln City.

O'Shea was a star performer for Bury last season (Pic: Getty)

The league table tells only half the tale, however.

Financial problems disrupted the payment of wages and have ultimately left Bury facing a winding up order in the High Court.

It was a bittersweet time for O’Shea and his team-mates, who grew closer because of the experience.

“With the football side of it everything was going great, we couldn’t really have had a better season.

“There was a lot of stuff going on off the pitch.

“We were quite lucky to keep it going on the pitch.

“It was affecting a lot of lads because they weren’t getting paid.

“But I think the one thing everyone wanted to do as a team, with the gaffer and the staff, was just pull together and just get it over the line.

“We’d had such a good season up until then and I don’t think anyone wanted to throw it away.

“Obviously it was going to look better for everyone to get another promotion on their CV, that’d help to get moves for people if Bury wasn’t going to be the place where they’d be playing their football next season.”

On a personal level, O’Shea had a storming season and finished in both the PFA League Two Team of the Year and the EFL’s own Team of the Year.

Although he’s always been known as a player with silky skills, quick feet and an eye for goal, he’d only ever hit double figures once before in English football.

He scored nine in four consecutive seasons before finally notching 11 in the 2016/17 season, with Chesterfield and Sheffield United.

And after a slow start to 2018/19 – no goals in the first 13 matches – he became like a man possessed, hitting the net 16 times in the space of 26 outings.

It was a triumph built on foundations laid last summer, in the wake of bitter disappointment.

“I think after the (2017/18) relegation, that hit me quite hard, I was very determined to come back and do really well,” he said.

“I didn’t feel like I should have been playing in League Two but that was just the way things went.

“I turned down a contract with Sheffield United in the Championship and within 12 months I was in League Two.

“It wasn’t nice for me, but I was mentally prepared to go and have a really good season.

“I needed to bounce back after that, it was a big disappointment for me.”

Moving to Bury in the first place was perhaps an even bigger decision than swapping League One for the A League.

O’Shea was expected by many to remain at Bramall after helping them clinch the 2016/17 League One title.

He turned down the opportunity, however.

“I just didn’t feel like the contract that was offered was right for me.

“You get a feel for where you’re going to be in terms of the pecking order and I just thought at the age I was at, the feel I was getting from the offer was that I was probably just going to be a squad player and wasn’t really going to be around it.

“At 28, 29 I just wanted to be playing every week and I chose to go and try play every week somewhere else.”

Like he said himself, 12 months later he was playing in League Two, while United were steeling themselves for what turned out to be a glorious 2018/19 campaign and a return to the Premier League.

There’s no hard feelings on the player’s part, however.

“The club was unbelievable when I was there, the club and the staff were brilliant.

“I would have loved to have stayed there but it just wasn’t right for me.

“The work they’ve done, recruiting players, not spending a lot of money and getting the best out of players, they deserve to be where they are.

“I hope they do really well this year in the Premier League.”

Conversely, another of his former clubs haven’t had such a good time of it since he departed in January 2017.

Chesterfield have suffered relegation from League One and League Two in the period they’ve spent apart from O’Shea, who scored 42 goals in 204 as a Spireite.

He, like so many others, can’t quite fathom what’s gone on at the Proact, where he enjoyed the halcyon Cook-era days.

But they too have his best wishes.

“It’s not nice,” he said.

“I went back there for Tommy Lee’s testimonial and when you see the people who were working there when I was there, they were a bit down compared to when we were there.

“I just couldn’t believe what had happened.

“When you look around, the pitch was perfect, the stadium is lovely and it’s a great club.

“It’s not nice to see and hopefully they can bounce back as soon as possible.”

The A League begins in October, long after the Blades and Spireites get their Premier League and National League fixtures underway.

But O’Shea and the Brisbane Roar will be back in Football Federation Australia Cup action next month.

By that time, O’Shea will have been joined in Australia by his family and their new life will have begun in earnest, a world away from the Proact, Bramall Lane and Gigg Lane.

“I’m only here a week (so far), we’ve not really done much football, just a bit of running and obviously getting used to each other.

“(The family) are all moving here.

“We’re just in the process of doing it now.

“I got here a bit earlier to get everything set up before they come over. They’ll be over shortly.

“It’s going to be good.

“I’m really looking forward to it.”