Paul McShane has vowed to emerge stronger from his difficult Barclays Premier League baptism with Sunderland after enduring the toughest season of his career.
The 22-year-old defender has won plaudits from new Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni in the last week for his performances in the two training games his side played during their trip to Portugal.
He will hope his form can earn him a chance in the friendly clashes with Serbia and Colombia next week despite Richard Dunne’s return to the squad following their arrival back in Dublin this afternoon.
However, McShane will head back to Sunderland for the start of pre-season training knowing he will have to prove himself to club manager Roy Keane all over again.
McShane, a £2.5m signing from West Brom in July last year, began the season in good form despite playing out of position at right-back as his club got off to a promising start.
However, as things started to turn for the Black Cats, he found himself under pressure.
He managed to survive a 7-1 drubbing at Everton in November which set the alarm bells ringing on Wearside, but when Keane went back to former club Manchester United to recruit Phil Bardsley and central defender Jonny Evans on loan once again, the writing was on the wall.
McShane was to return to the first team for the derby trip to Newcastle almost three months later with both Bardsley and Evans injured, and Michael Owen took advantage of his understandable rustiness to head the Magpies into an early lead they never looked like surrendering.
Sunderland eventually made sure of their top-flight status with two games to spare, but as the players headed off at the end of the campaign, the talk in the city was of which of them might not return and who would be recruited in their place.
But for McShane, the trials and tribulations of a difficult campaign have simply served as a motivation to improve himself as a player and force his way back into the picture.
He said: “It is probably the hardest period I have gone through in my career so far.
“It has been a steep learning curve over the last three months or so to see how the game works. I have also had the chance to just sit back and look at our team and look at other teams play.
“I have become stronger from it. It’s not a nice thing to do, but that’s the way it was.
“It started very well and I was really enjoying it. Then I found myself out of the team in January and I didn’t really get back into it.
“That’s football for you, it happens. I did everything to get myself back in, but it didn’t happen.
“But chin up, we go again next season.”
If McShane needs any encouragement, however, he needs only to look at international team-mate Liam Miller, who found himself transfer listed in February for persistent lateness but back in favour as the season drew to a close.
He said: “I just have to wipe last season out of my head now and just go into the new season raring to to.”
If McShane has a point to prove to Keane, he has gone much of the way to doing just that this week with legendary Italian boss Trapattoni having commented favourably on his performances against both Portimonese and Lagos on the Algarve.
However, he will not allow himself to be carried away by that as he attempts to put himself in contention for the forthcoming friendlies and the World Cup qualifiers which follow in September.
McShane said: “I don’t know if he (Trapattoni) has spoken about me, but that’s nice to hear. It’s always nice to hear a manager speak nicely about you.
“It’s a great opportunity for everybody. When a new manager comes in, you start afresh, so it is a great opportunity for myself and all the new players coming into the squad as well.”