signed professional terms with United in August 1998 and made
his first team debut just over a year later, away to Aston Villa
in a Worthington Cup defeat.
After making twenty appearances and scoring
two goals for the Reserves over the 1998/99 and 1999/2000 seasons,
John joined Second Division Bournemouth on loan in January 2000,
making his League debut for the Cherries against Colchester
Some assured displays earned John rave reviews
on the south coast, with Bournemouth manager Mel Machin saying,
"I thought John O'Shea was fantastic for us considering
that he is still only eighteen. He has got a good future and
can play on both sides of the defence."
After ten starts and one goal, against Millwall,
O'Shea returned to Old Trafford in March 2000, determined to
break into the first team. Despite two more appearances in the
Worthington Cup, away at Watford and Sunderland, it didn't quite
happen for the big man, so instead he embarked on another loan
spell in season 2000/01.
This time he followed in the footsteps of Luke
Chadwick, Danny Higginbotham and Ronnie Wallwork by joining
Royal Antwerp. Although he was first choice central defender
for United's partner club in Belgium, he still found time to
play international football for the Republic at Under-21 level.
John stepped up to earn his first senior cap
on 15 August 2001, when he came on as an 84th minute substitute
at home to Croatia. Unfortunately, the debut ended in disappointment
when John gave away a penalty in injury time, enabling the visitors
to make the score 2-2.
John really made his mark on the United first
team in the 2002/03 season, proving his versatility by playing
at left-back, right-back, centre-back and central midfield during
the Reds' successful Premiership campaign. His forays down the
flanks - always accompanied by nut-megs on opponents - saw the
birth of a new fans' chant - "When Johnny goes running
down the wing, O'Shea, O'Shea."
John ended up with 32 Premiership appearances
in 2002/03, at the end of which he picked up the first medal
of his senior Reds career.