Paul McShane keeps getting knocked back and keeps fighting back.
These are now good times for McShane, still basking in the glow of promotion to the Premier League with Hull City and stepping out at Wembley with the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday for the prestigious friendly with England. But he has suffered in recent years.
McShane has a moving story to relate.
An eloquent, modest individual, the centre half sat in Watford’s training centre at London Colney on Monday morning before the Irish worked out. He talked of his father, Sean, a well-known hurler in Dublin, passing away from a blood clot.
He spoke of sporting setbacks, of moving on from Manchester United, making his way in the game, dealing with managers like Nigel Pearson and Nicky Barmby who did not pick him at Hull.
“I’ve been through a lot,’’ McShane reflected. “The last two or three years have been really hard, just kept getting knocked back and knocked back. My dad died in March 2010. He had an ankle operation because of the hurling. The hurling eventually killed him. He kept on getting smacks to the ankle and had severe arthritis.
“He was always in pain. He was just dealing with it. ‘Are you going to get it sorted?’ we asked him. He eventually agreed, had the operation, and was grand, recovering well. But a week later, he was in the kitchen and collapsed, couldn’t breathe. It was a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had formed at his ankle, travelled up into his heart and into his lung. He was dead in five minutes.
“Then we got relegated and the next season I was still grieving but I really wanted to get back promoted. I wanted to get back playing. The manager didn’t play me. Nigel just wanted his own players. He got rid of everyone. I’m the only left now from the [Premier League] team. There was a bit of a falling-out with Nigel but I carried on training hard, doing the right stuff. I wasn’t going mad and partying every Saturday night.
“I did question football. I was run-down from the grieving, picking up little injuries. I was under a lot of a stress. I was very close to my father. When he was working as a computer salesman, I’d be helping him, carrying the boxes in. He drove me in and out of our home to St Joseph’s [club in Dublin].
“My dad drilled things into me. We were in the Under-8s, and he used to bring the lads in the car, and give us the team-talk: ‘I want a goal from you today,’ he’d say to one player. ‘I want a yellow card from you,’ if the lad hadn’t been getting stuck in.’’
Sean was always advising him, encouraging him to join United. “I was still playing Gaelic football, and people found that I’d signed to United and were trying to take me out. One time, I got attacked from behind, got blurred vision and thought I have to stop playing this.”
He went to United, talking every night on the phone to his father.
“I’d be down sometimes and he’d pick me up,’’ McShane said. He learned so much at United, although never making the first team, still developing his hunger through the 2003 FA Youth Cup winners.
“Sir Alex Ferguson took a big interest in the Youth Cup. He came to all the games. We played Sheffield United in one game at Altrincham, pitch frozen, terrible conditions, barely won in extra time and were buzzing to win. He came in and absolutely slaughtered us. ‘That’s not good enough for Manchester United.’ It was a real eye-opener. It was quite scary. I was only 16. That showed the winning mentality he instilled in the whole club.”
McShane went on loan to Walsall and Brighton & Hove Albion, then moving to West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland before the rollercoaster at Hull, which included loans at Barnsley and Crystal Palace.
“One voice in my head was saying ‘go, leave’ but there was another voice, something deep down, telling me I can’t walk away. I was thinking about what my dad would say. Stay.”
Steve Bruce gave him a chance. “People talk about important games in your career and I got a chance against Blackpool [on Oct 2, 2012]. I got man of the match. That was really key. If I’d had a nightmare, I’d probably have been out the door. He [Bruce] has been a great help to me. He’s a great man-manager. He’s just a proper man, a man’s man. He’s honest. He’s got that old-school streak. He might see a bit of himself in me.
“Growing up at United, all the MUTV commentators like Paddy Crerand compared me to Steve Bruce. He showed faith in me this season. I said to him I’m very grateful for giving me a chance.”
He knows the Premier League will be tough.
“We struggled to score goals towards the end of the season. He [Bruce] will know the areas that need improvement, so there will definitely be a few signings coming in. I feel content now. I know how bad it was but you’ve got to make peace with the past and move on. There’s worse things going on in the world.”
Now 27, McShane deserves his time in the limelight. He remembers how the Irish were cheated by Thierry Henry in Paris in 2009.
“I was closest,’’ McShane recalled. “I said to Thierry: ‘You handled that.’ ‘I did but I didn’t mean to,’ he replied. He was going to say that. Then you see the replays and he’s not handled it once, but twice. I couldn’t believe nothing was done. I was gutted. We’d been in the ascendancy so for something like that to ruin it was a big downer.’’
He cannot wait for Irish action on Wednesday. “It’s a great stadium and it’s Ireland and England, I know it’s a friendly but it’s not really.”
It is the first time the countries have met since England fans rioted in Dublin in 1995.
“I remember when the scenes were going off, there was a picture used in Ireland where a kid was crying on the pitch. He was just below where things were getting thrown. I knew the young lad. He actually went to my school. He had celebrity status there for a few weeks. It was crazy scenes, so hopefully the game goes without trouble.”