KIERAN SHANNON: Leave off the begrudgery and salute McShane

He still gets blamed for Paris nearly as much as Thierry Henry, just because Roy Keane once said he should never have let that ball bounce in the penalty area.

They tried to take the moment away from him. When Paul McShane notched the goal that sent Hull City back to the Premier League, Twitter lit up with the musings of the miserly, in both spirit and mind.

“Commiserations to Hull City on getting relegated next season,” remarked one twit. “Paul McShane in the Premier League? You’re having a laugh.”

A Tyrone Gaelic footballer who has done nothing in sport compared to some of his more illustrious team-mates and indeed McShane himself joined in on the beating. “Surely Paul McShane will not be on match of the day (sic) next season?”

But then that player was pretty much saying what multitudes were saying on the same network. In the tweet of another twit, “It will be a sad day if Paul McShane is playing in the Premier League.” Anyone with a real grasp of and love for sport could only think the opposite. It’s a joyous day when Paul McShane is back in the Premier League because he personifies so much of what makes it so life affirming.

McShane nearly quit football a couple of years ago. He was at his seventh club in eight years, wasn’t getting a game, not even a hello from his club manager. “I was really contemplating it,” he’d tell reporters last weekend, “just getting in my car, getting on the boat and going back to Ireland because it was just wall after wall that I kept hitting.”

Even there he wouldn’t have much respite. In this country he’s become a public punch-bag.

Someone went to the bother of putting up on YouTube a nine-minute nightmare reel of the defender with the intentionally-ironic title ‘McShane: The God of this era’.

Another website deemed him the worst player to ever play for Ireland. A so-called comedian tweeted that one service was “as unreliable as Paul McShane”.

It’s an increasingly-common phenomenon of Irish life and sport. If you want to gain a cheap laugh, have a pop at a footballer playing in England. Paul Green — ha, ha, ha. Conor Sammon — ha, ha, ha. And Paul McShane — ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! To this day he still gets blamed for Paris nearly as much as Thierry Henry, just because Roy Keane once said he should never have let that ball bounce in the penalty area.

But as McShane has pointed out, someone as skilful as Henry had to handle that ball to keep it in play. If McShane had tried to get a boot or head to it, people would have wondered why didn’t he just let it go out.

People who know the game would know that. But most people don’t. They think professional footballers have it easy, that they’re so much softer than their rugby-playing counterparts who don’t make a fraction of the money.

There’s a reason that rugby players don’t make a fraction of the money soccer players in the Premier League and Championship do. Only a fraction of people play rugby compared to soccer. For any player to secure a professional contract in his 20s with a Premier League or Championship club in England is harder to do than secure a place on the British and Irish Lions. Paul McShane is in a higher percentile of football players worldwide than Donncha O’Callaghan is in rugby. Yet compare how one has been lionised while the other has been ridiculed.

Contrary to the stereotype, professional football is not a soft, cushy business. As McShane once observed, “It’s not a nice industry. It’s a horrible business.”

And it’s a hard-nosed one. To win that next contract, to stay in the game, to survive, you have to be talented, thick-skinned, resilient.

Most of us at some stage in our lives dreamed of playing professional football, went to school imagining ourselves being another Best, Dalglish, Cantona, Rooney, whatever generation we were, the Match of the Day theme-track accompanying our stepovers and piledrivers along the way.

But only an elite, select few ever make it over there. Like Paul McShane from Greystones, County Wicklow. Think of how exceptional he must have been to be signed Manchester United, to play on their FA Youth Cup winning team. To be selected for Ireland at 20 years of age when his performance against the Czech Republic had the scribes hailing him as another Kevin Moran.

As the years have shown, McShane has proved to be no Kevin Moran. He’s been a journeyman pro. But there’s no shame in that and that journey has now taken the man back to the Premier League. Though his contract expires in the next few days, Steve Bruce has already said McShane is the first player he’ll be offering a new contract.

“He’s had some stick and a difficult couple of years,” said Bruce, “but he never gave up and has a big heart.”

“I still have that hunger and drive,” McShane himself said last year.

” I’m just an honest lad.”

Scorn not his honesty. Instead rejoice that he’ll be back on Match of the Day, the show we all wanted to be on but just weren’t as good as him.


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