The great Paul McShane debate
LAST Saturday, Paul McShane was sitting at Glenn Whelan's wedding with a table of Irish footballers, feeling slightly left out as they talked about the excitement that lies ahead at Euro 2012.
This Saturday, he will line up alongside them in Lansdowne Road, buoyed by the news that he is now on the plane to Poland, even if he's still not guaranteed to be a part of Giovanni Trapattoni's 23-man squad.
If he produces a strong performance against Bosnia tomorrow, then the Hull City defender could leave Trapattoni with a dilemma before the manager submits his final panel to UEFA.
It's better than being on a lads' holiday in Spain, wondering what might have been.
Wicklow-born McShane is well liked within the Ireland dressing-room and they will be happy to have him around.
It's fair to say that the majority of Irish supporters hold different views. News of his call-up this week ensured that he was trending on Twitter and the general tone was uncomplimentary. Amateur comedians seized the moment.
It's a far cry from the hype that surrounded his debut in 2006 when, as a raw 20-year-old, he starred in the centre of defence against the Czech Republic in a 1-1 draw at Lansdowne Road just five days after the nightmare in Nicosia.
With the senior players taking a kicking, the fiery-haired newcomer was hailed as the future, and compared to Kevin Moran with his aggressive, all-action, uncompromising style.
A lucrative £2.5m move to Roy Keane's Sunderland was secured the following summer, and some wondered if the ex-Manchester United trainee would one day make Alex Ferguson regret showing him the door.
That seems remarkable when you consider the perception of the player today.
He struggled in a leaky Sunderland rearguard and a defensive approach to criticism didn't always help his cause.
After a 7-1 thrashing at Everton, where he was culpable for more than one goal, he pointed out that the highlights package failed to show the number of times he kept the home side out with saving tackles.
At that level, players are remembered for their errors, and the aforementioned strengths began to be regarded as weaknesses, with the doubters questioning whether he had the finesse to cut it at the highest level.
A switch to Hull offered him a chance to stay in the Premier League, but he boarded the wrong ship there and sank to the Championship, cast as a full-back rather than a central defender.
Trapattoni abandoned trust and drafted in Sean St Ledger, although he retained enough faith in McShane to keep him around the squad. That's why he was first in line off the bench in Paris, but he was blamed for his positioning in the build-up to Thierry Henry's handball.
It led to a proliferation of social media pages poking fun in his direction. The abuse veered from light-hearted to personal. He has even taken some from strangers in bars, which does seem unfair given his commitment to the cause compared to others.
Strangely enough, his last outings in an Irish shirt were among his best. No-shows dominated discussion this time 12 months ago and McShane came in and produced solid displays in the wins over Scotland and Italy. The general reaction was surprise, given the deterioration of his club situation.
What's happened at Hull? Last November, he hinted that the departure of Nigel Pearson might provide a clean slate. The implication was that he didn't receive a fair crack of the whip, although he was in line to start the season opener before damaging a calf and spending eight weeks on the sidelines.
After that, it was back to the periphery. Remarkably, he has only lined out 50 times for Hull since making a loan move permanent in the summer of 2009.
The only saving grace is the crazy money they were throwing around. McShane is believed to have signed on a salary in the region of £25,000 a week, so you can probably understand why he has stuck around, despite failing to get on the right side of successive managers.
He spent the second part of last season on loan at Barnsley and the business end of this campaign at Crystal Palace.
With a year left on his contract, he is approaching a crossroads in his career. Another stop-start season would dramatically reduce his earning power, so retaining his place in the Irish set-up is of crucial importance.
His standing in Trap's plans seemed assured last June, but somewhere along the line, he became expendable. In February, he was excluded from the squad for the meeting with the Czech Republic and when a couple of bodies dropped out, Trapattoni turned to rookie Everton defender Shane Duffy rather than reach out to the 22-times capped international who skippered the side in that unexpected friendly success over Italy last June.
His schoolboy pal Andy Keogh and Liam Lawrence were also dumped from that squad, and the latter didn't even make the standby list for the finals.
McShane was listed, but evidently didn't hold out much hope and therefore contemplating joining his friends in Spain this week. On Monday, he decided to book a flight. Typically, the call from Ireland came within 48 hours, with parallels to 2002 when Steven Reid was en route to the airport and a holiday in Barbados when Mick McCarthy called to say that Mark Kennedy had picked up an injury.
Last month, McShane admitted that he 'half-expected' the Czech omission because of his club situation. "I've had a poor season and I've always felt if you're not playing then it's going to be hard to be picked," he said, honestly.
As a forthright speaker who cares passionately about his country, it's natural that he is irked by the manner in which he has become a figure of mirth.
He's not a bad footballer; he wouldn't have played so many games in the top two divisions without ability, but it's clear that he's lost his way over the past couple of years.
As a hard worker who is known to put in the extra hours in the gym, the decline in standing with both club and country must have chipped away at his confidence.
He's known for a good sense of humour, but the prospect of sitting on a beach while his peers enjoyed the highlight of their professional lives, provided little reason for summer cheer. Instead, the misfortune of others could steer a faltering career back towards the right track.