KEIREN Westwood admits the return of Sunderland team-mate John O’Shea could prove decisive in the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 bid.
O’Shea will miss Ireland’s European Championships qualification play-off first leg in Estonia tonight, with the 30-year-old still sidelined by the hamstring strain sustained in Sunderland’s last home game against Aston Villa.
O’Shea (pictured below) was ruled out for five weeks with the same problem earlier in the campaign, yet the former Manchester United man has a chance of making a quick-fire recovery to feature in Tuesday’s second leg in Dublin.
That would provide a boost to Sunderland ahead of Fulham’s visit to Wearside tomorrow week, but Westwood believes it would also be a major plus for Ireland.
Westwood insists Ireland need the experience of the 70-time capped O’Shea to ensure they reach a first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup.
The 27-year-old stopper told the Echo: “Hopefully John will be back with us for the second game.
“Of course it’s important to have players like that for games like this.
“He’s got a lot of caps and we could do with the experience really.
“We’re a strong outfit and these two play-off matches are a couple of big games for us.
“I’m not sure about Estonia, but we’d take anyone.
“We deserve our place in the play-offs – we’re a strong team, a strong outfit and we’ll do well against anybody.
“I know that if we could make the Euros, there would be some party throughout the country.”
Westwood is expected to be on the bench in Tallinn, with ex-Newcastle United keeper Shay Given remaining first-choice despite missing training earlier in the week as a precaution.
Becoming Ireland number one is the long-term goal for Westwood, although the former Coventry man’s immediate focus is understandably on his domestic opportunities.
Westwood made his first Premier League start in Sunderland’s defeat at Manchester United last weekend after being forced to play second fiddle to Simon Mignolet since arriving on a summer Bosman deal.
“I’m just happy to be playing for Sunderland at the minute,” added the ex-Manchester City trainee. “I’m thinking about Ireland, but fighting for the number one jersey is in the future. I’m just happy to be in the squad.
“I’ve not been playing over the last three or four months so to get a game in the Premiership is the most important thing.
“It’s been frustrating, but that’s the same for any player, you’re not happy about not playing.
“You’ve just got to keep working hard in training and when you get your opportunity, take it.”