Paul McShane: Ireland's redemption man

Paul McShane: Ireland's redemption man

IT WAS not your typical Fairytale of New York but when Paul McShane walked out at Yankee Stadium last Tuesday, he was able to put a full stop to a period of his life when he wondered if the game he loved would become one he’d hate.

Starting for Ireland against the world champions was a seismic shift from where his head was a year previously. Then, the glass-half-full person considered packing up and going home.

The storybook dreams of his childhood hadn’t materialised. He was on Hull’s payroll but not their wish-list and a couple of managers didn’t hide the fact they wanted rid of him.

So off he went, to Barnsley, to Crystal Palace, a piece of meat easily traded.

“It is an unsettled life, being a footballer,” he says. “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.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a professional footballer. Now, I am one, so I’ve got to do my utmost to progress.

“Yes, it gets tough at times in this game. Not playing is a low, sitting on the bench and seeing the lads out there. That’s hard but every player has been through it.”

By the time McShane went through it for the fourth year out of five, he considered something mad. All that money — £20,000-a-week and counting — wasn’t enough to soften the emotional blow of rejection.

He thought about retiring until an old-fashioned manager saw old-fashioned virtues in a player Roy O’Donovan once described as ‘the ultimate selfless guy who looks out for everyone else’, and gave him another chance.

The payback was promotion — a song of redemption for Steve Bruce, who was using Hull as a form of managerial therapy, after his dismissal by Sunderland, and a reminder to McShane that life has its ups as well as its downs.

“I’m thrilled to be going back to the Premier League,” he says. “When I first went there, I wasn’t as mature as I am now. I’d make naïve mistakes whereas now I hope I have learnt. The big thing, though, is to enjoy playing again.”

For a while, however, there was no fun. He’d get abuse from the man on the terrace and dropped by the man wearing a shiny suit in the dug-out. He spent the best part of two years sitting on a bench and sorting out his head.

“Over the years, I’d been a bit too honest,” he says. “If I saw a teammate out of position, I’d try and do half and half, my own position and his.

“That has been my downfall, but with time I’ve become experienced enough. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, and as a footballer you’ve got to keep learning all the time. I’ve certainly done that.”

The education process was instigated by an unlikely mentor.

Dean Kiely, coming to the end of his playing days at West Brom, fell in with a red-haired Irishman starting off in the game. Together, they shared a hidden library, reading self-help books to bring their game onto a higher plain.

For a while, McShane was a willing disciple but time, and Hull, has eased his intensity. “I had to give it a rest. It was blowing my head off. Those books can help sometimes but they can also be brainwashing.

“And this might actually sound like a quote from a book but I think you can actually grip the bat too tight. Sometimes I try and do too many things. You have to ease off.”

Perhaps now it is time people eased off McShane too. As a player he will never be Lionel Messi, yet his form for Ireland in the last year or so suggests he has removed the rough edges from his performances.

“I’m delighted with the year I have had and the way I have played,” he says. “Because once your belief is gone, I think you’re finished. I’ve always believed in my own ability and have never shirked responsibility.

“But what happens is managers come in, have their own ideas and want to have their own stock of players. As a footballer, you take knocks. Well I suppose you take knocks in life in general, but you need to use it as fuel and just keep going.

“When you put your head down it’s hard to get it back up and stay positive.”

Sadly life has given him enough reason to be negative. Two years ago, he got an untimely knock on his front door early on a Friday morning. No one knocks on his door on Friday mornings. Something was wrong.

What he didn’t appreciate was how terribly wrong things were. His father, Sean, had died suddenly.

“It was hard going, such a shock. There was no preparation for it. He’s been bringing me to games since I was six or seven. We had a close relationship and spoke every night on the phone. So it’s quite hard when that is taken from you at the drop of a hat.

“Everything I do now is for my dad’s memory. I never saw him hurl but he told all the stories, some very good ones.”

Now McShane has his own stories to tell and wants to add another chapter to the book.

“I’m still living a dream,” he says. “And I dream of the Premier League.”

His goal for Hull, in their final day draw with Cardiff, helped them get there. Now, to join them on the big show, a contract has to be sorted. “I think it will be,” he says. “There are no real doubts.”

A year ago, there were. He’s answered them.