McShane: ‘You always live in hope’

McShane: ‘You always live in hope’

THIS is how it ends. You’ve been together for over six years, stayed true to each other through thick and thin.

And then - without warning – it is over. The phone rings. You recognise the number. You say hello. Steve Bruce says goodbye.

“There were a lot of surprised people,” Paul McShane says in reference to his departure from Hull City last month, the club he joined in 2008. “But I could see it coming. That's football for you - there is no romance in the game.

“Still, I do feel a little bit let down. I spoke to Steve (Bruce), who said the club had no money to offer me. But I don't know (about that). All I know is that is what was said to me. I said 'ok thanks. I'll move on'.

“And that was pretty much it. I had to fly straight home to Cork after the league ended, so it was done by phone. Six-and-a-half years. I was the longest serving player there. I had a good bond with the club, a good bond with the players, the fans – everyone around.

“So it's a little bit disappointing but that's football. You move on to the next challenge.”

The next challenge will be at Reading, back in the Championship where he made his name as a young man at West Brom, before Roy Keane and Sunderland tempted him north. “When I first played in the Premier League, at Sunderland, I was a naïve player,” he admits. “You have to learn on the job – and that can be difficult in such a demanding League.

“Then, when I dropped out of it, I feared I’d never get back. It was always an aim – but as the years passed, you’d wonder.”

What made him wonder all the more was the fact that long before Bruce came along, other Hull managers tried to sell him. Twice he was farmed off on loan, once to Barnsley, to Crystal Palace on the other occasion.

“It is an unsettled life, being a footballer,” he once said. “You don’t know where you’re going to be, moving from club to club. It’s the journey and you’ve got to enjoy the journey. I know I might not be painting the best picture of it, and it is a bit of a pain in the backside, moving and moving.

“There were times when the game wasn’t enjoyable – the times when I was not getting a look in. But I fought my way back.”

Bruce, ironically now, was a key part of that fight-back. He played McShane when no one else would and together they celebrated Hull’s promotion in 2012, a redemptive moment for the manager who had been sacked from his previous job and the player who’d been cast aside.

Hull’s fans recognised the journey he’d taken, too. They liked the fact he kept coming back to them and liked him more for the honest way he played the game. So much so that when Bruce left him out of the Hull side midway through last season, they took to Twitter to criticise their manager. McShane, brazenly, retweeted their messages.

That course of action didn’t go down well. Bruce dropped him to the development squad. "I heard all this nonsense about what's on Twitter and the rest of it, but it's quite straightforward: Paul knows exactly why he's training with the Under-21 squad at the moment," said Bruce at the time.

"He has been quite quick to reveal that he is in there and I hope he comes out and tells the reason why.

"If he apologises to myself and to the squad then he will come back into the fold. It's entirely up to Paul."

And that is how McShane likes it – when he has sole responsibility for his actions. A determined, level-headed character, he forced his way back and by the end of the ‘rollercoaster’ season, was a first-team regular again. Hull’s fans even penned a song for him.

“Don't sell McShane,

Super Paul McShane,

I just don't think you understand

That if you sell Paul McShane,

Super Paul McShane,

You'll have a f***ing riot on your hands.”

“It was great to have that bond there,” said McShane. “The fans saw the journey I was on with the club. The last three years I played, I was doing well and the fans took to me.

“They knew I really appreciated their support. I'll miss them and the people at the club. They sang my song in every game and it was a great feeling. But you have to move on. I’m 29 now. The next move is a big one. I gotta make sure I get it right. I wouldn't say I'll leave England, there's a lot of unfinished business here.”

What he ultimately wants is to win the second promotion of his career and play Premier League football for a third and final time. “I want to play at as high a level as I can. I felt that when I did get my game with Hull last season that I held my own. I feel very confident in my ability to play in the Premier League again. I want to be back there, as does every player, as it's the highest you can go.”

If that status of having the words Premier League footballer placed in brackets beside your name represents an emotional Everest, then the stigma of being part of a team that got relegated from the top-flight is a label he’d rather not have. “Devastation is the only way to describe it,” he says. “It always sticks with you. I don't think I'll enjoy my summer as much as I would have if we stayed up. It's always in the back of your mind and you think back on different games and think 'if this happened, or that happened', we could have survived. You ponder things a bit but life goes on and you have to keep going.

“On a personal level too, there were some battles that I had to deal with and I came through them all. I ended up playing the last 15 games of the season.”

He pauses, leaves you with that thought.

And that ability to keep on keeping on sums up the life and career of Paul McShane. Rejected by Manchester United, he fought back at West Brom.

Criticised and dropped by Roy Keane, he returned as a Premier League footballer with Hull. They wanted to let him go. And he ended up as a cult hero. Amid all this he has been dropped by successive Irish regimes and yet they keep coming back to him. And this is before we mention the scars left by the sudden death of his father. “I just never give up really,” he says. “You always live in hope,” he says. “I’ll never give up on that.”