Paul McShane sacrifices Spanish lessons to keep football dream alive

After his release by Reading in May, Irish defender Paul McShane was left hunting for a club to get his career back into gear. Brian Barry-Murphy’s Rochdale provided the kickstart he needed, writes David Sneyd.

Paul McShane sacrifices Spanish lessons to keep football dream alive

After his release by Reading in May, Irish defender Paul McShane was left hunting for a club to get his career back into gear. Brian Barry-Murphy’s Rochdale provided the kickstart he needed, writes David Sneyd.

Paul McShane has had to put life as a newlywed on hold to ensure his five-month glimpse into a future without football didn’t become permanent.

Released by Reading on May 10, after an injury-plagued season in which he only played four times because of hamstring tendon trouble behind the knee, the Republic of Ireland defender faced into an uncertain summer.

Now 33, and searching for a new club while still regaining full fitness after breaking down three times during his recovery that campaign, he enlisted the help of the club’s former fitness coach to work with him on a one-to-one basis.

Bristol Rovers, a 90-minute drive from his home in Ascot, opened up their training ground to him a couple of times a week as his brother-in-law, Kevin McHugh, is on Dubliner Graham Coughlan’s coaching staff.

And in order to keep his body clock in tune to being put through its paces, he even went for long runs every Saturday morning.

McShane also got married a month after being told he was no longer needed by Reading, but the honeymoon period was put on hold as he waited, and waited, for another opportunity to continue his career.

But they weren’t the only sacrifices.

“I’ve been trying to learn Spanish since I was at Hull and those lessons had to be knocked on the head,” McShane rues.

“I got involved in evening classes with James Chester and it developed from there.

McShane in his Hull days.
McShane in his Hull days.

“When I came to Reading (four years ago) I had evening class on Mondays but it didn’t really work with Tuesday games.

“I had tutors coming to the house for lessons, then I started another evening class but I didn’t like the teacher so I knocked that on head,” the Wicklow native explains.

“I did some one-on-one lessons again and started to read books by myself. I watched Money Heist in Spanish with subtitles, but it would take me three days to watch one episode because I would have to pause and practice and see what was going on.

“It’s hard but it’s the only way to learn, to try and immerse yourself in it and that’s why I had to stop over the summer.

“I just didn’t have the head for it with all the rehab work I was doing,” McShane continues.

I had to live for football, so I prepared every day as if I was at a club and that was probably the thing that was keeping me sane, to be honest.

As time ticked by and the phone didn’t ring, McShane refused to give up hope.

“I knew it would be hard, I’m not deluded. It seems that age is getting more and more of an issue for people. That comes to every player, when you have a three at the start of your age people start thinking you’re coming to the end.

“But players play to their late 30s and some have their best years as they get to that stage. I can understand people having doubts or if people think I’m over the hill once you pass 30, but I feel good and really fit.

“Last year was the worst of my career for injuries so I could understand why people were asking questions.”

As positive as McShane remained, self-doubt was never far away as worrisome thoughts crept in.

“Of course there were. Was I confident in my own head that I would get back and be able to continue? Definitely. But I won’t lie and say I didn’t wonder.

“You do ask questions of yourself, and you do also think ‘is this what the end fees like? Is this what it’s like when it all finishes?’

“All these things started happening one after the other, so I definitely had doubts.”

Bottling them inside and pretending everything was OK was never an option.

I spoke to people close to me, definitely. At the same time, well I sort of had the mentally that I didn’t want to overthink it; just see it through, see this period through was my way of coping.

“People close to me, Stephen Quinn had issues with his knee, I spoke to John O’Shea, he was at Reading with me. John was rarely injured which was brilliant for him so he was like ‘Nah, I feel great’. So he was no help,” McShane laughs.

“I struggled but I did know in my head that I could see it through and could come out the other side.

“That’s why I felt right, ‘just get back playing as many games as possible and show to people that I’m not finished and can still play’.”

So, after weeks of phone calls and messages of support from Brian Barry-Murphy, he joined the Cork man’s revolution at League One Rochdale on October 10, exactly five months after his departure from Reading was confirmed.

The English third tier is not where McShane wanted to end up.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I held out thinking that maybe when the transfer window closes, someone goes down injured somewhere and I’ll be brought in. But nothing was happening, and it got to stage where I just dying to play,” he admits.

Rochdale boss Brian Barry Murphy.
Rochdale boss Brian Barry Murphy.

Everything else paled into insignificance, so much so that McShane, who married Gemma in June, eventually moved from the family home in Ascot to set up base over 200 miles north in Rochdale, for what is a short-term deal until January.

Gemma has remained down south where she works so the pair are dealing with a very different set of circumstances to most newlyweds. “That’s part of being a footballer,” McShane reasons.

“You’ve got to be prepared to go up and down the country, wherever is needed. Maybe I could have signed local to where I live but that didn’t feel right. I don’t care whether it’s a local side or the other the side of the world, if it appeals to me it appeals.

“We were settled in Ascot, but I was like, ‘right, I have to go back up north’. We had a chat and bounced ideas off each other, thankfully she is very supportive of me. Football is a very short career and you’ve got to make most of it while you can. She understands that and the last few months have made me realise it even more.

“Ascot, that part of the world, it’s very comfortable, you can easily slip into a comfort zone and that’s not what I needed.

You do appreciate things more. When I was out of the game, I looked back thinking how I played at a very good level for my whole career and was lucky to do that. When you’re out of the game and look back, you realise it’s a tough industry to be in.

“That gives you more desire to succeed when you do get back. That’s how I feel now. Brian has created a greatenvironment to be a part of,” McShane continues.

Rochdale had a bad day at the office on Saturday, losing 3-0 at Oxford. Nevertheless the club remains in positive mood.

“Everybody is in it together here and wants to improve. I’m not going through motions, the club are doing things the right way and when I spoke to Brian about coming here it just felt right.

“It was a relief to get that first 90 minutes, it was my first since August 2018, and now I’m ready for more. I feel like I have a new lease of life and want to make the most of that.”


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