O’Shea’s father, a banker, moves the family to Dublin when he is age 11. He is schooled in CBC Monkstown and is a sports fanatic playing rugby at school and a keen golfer and tennis player in Monkstown. He remains a keen fan of rugby, tennis and golf, playing tennis every Saturday and also giving opinions on Irish sports to radio and newspapers. He goes on to study Economics, English and Philosophy at University College Dublin (UCD) and has a career as a sports journalist in the Evening Press for many years after meeting Tim Pat Coogan while studying.
In 1977, O’Shea begins his charitable organisation with a 10,000 punts donation for a feeding project in Calcutta after which he founds GOAL. The charity has a major sporting backbone. John McEnroe, Pat Cash and Gordon D’Arcy are amongst the sport stars to have become “Goalies”(volunteers).
In its 36 years of operation, GOAL has distributed €790 million and has had over 1,400 volunteers. It has operated in over 50 countries worldwide. O’Shea cites watching the “Goalies” working around the world as the best part of his years involved in the charity. He believes that governments of developed countries should be far more involved in the distribution of aid.
A sometimes controversial figure, O’Shea is known for his forthright public statements, particularly when he feels political correctness is getting in the way of assisting those in need, and a hands on approach to tackling poverty related issues. He has been criticised by some in the INGO community for advocating military invasion and intervention in Sudan by the United States, UK and NATO, under the guise of humanitarian intervention. He has also been critical of perceived inaction by the UN in humanitarian crises in conflict zones and of governmental aid agencies in giving aid directly to allegedly corrupt African governments. He has advocated using private companies to provide aid and military forces to directly force aid on countries. Most other Irish Aid agencies disagree stating that every type of aid channels must be used and have described his policies as recolonisation.
O’Shea’s list of achievements and awards include the People of the Year Awards 1987 and 1992, The Ballygowan Outstanding Achievement Award 1988, MIR Award 1992, The Late Late Show Tribute 1995 and 2007, Texaco Outstanding Achievement Award 1995 and the Tipperary International Peace Award 2003, Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2005.
In 2008, O’Shea is conferred with an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Notre Dame in recognition of his work. He is shortlisted in the top 40 of the 2010 RTÉ poll to find Ireland’s Greatest person.
O’Shea currently gives talks at NUI Galway and interpersonal skills class UCD. He has become involved with the university for a few years where he shares his story. He is an advocate for social (non-profit) entrepreneurs and tries to convince students to go down that path.