THREE YEARS ago he tasted Premier League football for the last time, and Paul McShane must surely have wondered if he'd get to play in England's top flight again.
But Hull City will once again be of significant Irish interest next season after Steve Bruce's side sealed automatic promotion to the Premier League, at the expense of Watford, on a final day of drama.
McShane tossed out words like "rollercoaster" and "unbelievable" to sum up a day of drama for the club, on a day when the Wicklow man became a very unlikely goal-scoring hero for Hull City, as his goal in a 2-2 draw against Cardiff – and a defeat for Watford against Leeds United – means automatic promotion for Hull and their Irish contingent of McShane, David Meyler, Robbie Brady and Stephen Quinn.
The 27-year-old had scored just one goal this season before Saturday's season finale in the Championship, so any goal threat from the defender was not expected by opponents Cardiff, who were already assured of promotion to the top flight.
Heck, McShane wasn't even supposed to be on the field, as he had been written off as an injury victim just weeks earlier, only to stage a remarkable recovery. It's something McShane has done time and again – at various stages, even his career at Hull appeared to be over, as the club dispatched him out on loan to Crystal Palace last season, such was the extent of his irrelevance to the manager.
But McShane is nothing if not persistent, as his international record shows: bear in mind that he turns up for every Ireland squad when picked and has never stormed off in a sulk at his lack of game-time under Giovanni Trapattoni, even though he has not played in a competitive game for Ireland in almost four years (his last cap in a game which was not a friendly was as a sub in the World Cup play-off against France).
So when McShane was relegated to the Championship with Hull at the end of the 2009/10 season it was doubted that he'd ever get back to the top flight. But now his club have done it and it would be remarkable if manager Steve Bruce did not now offer a new deal to McShane, who is out of contract at the end of the month.
"It was a rollercoaster," said McShane. "Cardiff scored first, then we levelled and then I managed to get one to put us in front. We then had a long old 20 minutes and then we got a penalty and people thought it was going to be over and done with.
"It got saved and then you can't write what happened after that – it was right up there with the final moments in the Premier League last season. It was unbelievable.
"When Cardiff scored their penalty, I was starting to think about the play-offs. We then came in and had to watch the last 15 minutes of the Watford game and all credit to Leeds because they had nothing to play for.
"Watching the end of that was surreal and we all went wild – it was just surreal. To win promotion means a lot to the whole city. This is the first club I've been at where I've experienced the Premier League and the Championship.
"It's an amazing feeling to be back up there now. This will give the whole city a boost and it's great for the fans that stuck with us. You couldn't really have written this script."
A Premier League return will be welcomed by McShane. It will also be seen as vindication of moves this season by compatriots Brady and Meyler.
They could have stayed on at their clubs (Manchester United and Sunderland respectively) while knowing that they were not rated as Premier League material by their managers at the time. However, now they are on their way to the top flight while Meyler could end up waving at his former Sunderland team-mates heading the other way, the Black Cats still in danger of dropping down a division.
What is in Hull's favour is that they have been here, in terms of the Premier League, before and will probably plan better than big-spending failures like QPR.
"We have a good squad of players, unlike a lot of other teams, and that has made the difference in the Championship. When we lose some players because of injury, we still have a good squad," said Hull's owner Assem Allam.
"That is what makes us different to the rest. I will now sit down with Steve Bruce, Nick Thompson and the board and plan for the future.
"The sustainability of the club is important. We will need to make sure we do not do the same as a lot of clubs – spend a lot and end up back in the Championship."
A new deal for McShane should be one of the first items on the agenda of that meeting.