JOHN O’SHEA says even youngsters confined to a hospital bed have been reminding Sunderland’s players about the importance of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
The Black Cats squad have been spreading some festive cheer this week after visiting children at Sunderland and Durham hospitals, along with the cancer unit at Newcastle’s RVI children’s ward.
But despite the youngsters receiving treatment for serious illnesses, they have still managed to either encourage or goad Sunderland’s players ahead of Sunday’s clash at St James’s Park.
“It was brilliant seeing the kids on the hospital visits,” said Sunderland skipper O’Shea.
“They were wearing their colours depending on which hospital we were in, some Sunderland, some Newcastle.
“We went to the cancer wards at the RVI and the cheer that some of the fans get from seeing us, but also the grief we get, is brilliant.
“It puts a big smile on their face and it makes you appreciate what you’ve got yourself with your own family, especially at a time of year like this.
“It could be a kid going through a terrible time, but they just say ‘get a win’.
“Or it’s one saying they hope you lose at the weekend!
“But it does make you realise that while football is very important, there’s some very important things in life as well.”
O’Shea says Sunderland have attempted to treat this weekend’s derby as they would any other Premier League game.
But despite those good intentions, he admits it becomes impossible to escape the bragging rights that are at stake.
“It’s a brilliant game,” added the former Manchester United man.
“Since I’ve come up here, they’ve been fantastic to play in whether they’ve been at St James’s or the Stadium of Light.
“Everything you want from a derby is there in spades.
“We try to keep it as normal as possible.
“But around the place, around the town, wherever you’re at, you’re reminded of who you’re playing at the weekend.”