FLAME-HAIRED Irish centre back Paul McShane was a complete revelation during a season on loan to Brighton from Manchester United.
The 2005-06 season ended ingloriously for the Seagulls but McShane was imperious, given a platform to launch a career that continues in the second tier to this day and has seen him earn 33 full caps for his country.
Although he was given a squad number by United, and had been selected by Sir Alex Ferguson for pre-season matches, McShane didn’t get the chance to play any proper competitive football for United’s first team.
United reserve team manager, Brian McClair, a former Celtic teammate of Albion manager, Mark McGhee, could see the benefit of giving McShane first team football at a decent level and an initial half-season loan was agreed, then extended to the season’s end in January.
Brighton were missing the long-term injured Adam Hinshelwood and although veteran Jason Dodd had been signed to add experience to the defence, his season was to be plagued by injury, so McShane was a near permanent fixture alongside Guy Butters in the centre of the back four.
His passion and aggression sometimes got the better of him and the only reason he wasn’t ever present was a penchant for bookings – 12 over the course of the season – which earned suspensions, and a couple of injury-induced absences. And he was missed when he wasn’t available.
In their end-of-season player ratings, the Argus summed up his contribution thus: “Talent and determination in abundance. Rash in the tackle at times but that is a product of his insatiable hunger. Will be sorely missed next season.”
Such was the impact of McShane’s outstanding performances over the course of the season that he was selected as the Player of the Season, the first time a loan player had ever been given the honour.
Butters was convinced it was the right choice and told the Argus: “He’s done really well for us. He’s scored some vital goals. Obviously the one away to Palace springs to mind.
“He has been solid all-round. He is very aggressive, ultra-competitive and hates losing, even in training.”
It’s perhaps inevitable that any player who scores a winning goal against arch rivals Crystal Palace earns a place in Albion folklore. McShane’s scruffy effort, which appeared to go in off his shoulder, at Selhurst Park on 18 October 2005 proved to be the only goal of an intense scrap but how it went in became irrelevant as time passed.
“Crystal Palace was a special night, because of the rivalry,” said McShane. “It was a great atmosphere and scoring that goal was brilliant.”
He scored three other goals over the season, including a crucial opener in a 2-0 win away to Millwall as the Seagulls put up a valiant, but hopeless, fight to avoid the drop, but it will always be the goal at Selhurst that fans remember most.
McShane confessed in an interview with Andy Naylor in the Argus that relegation had hurt, but the season for him had been “brilliant” and “a great experience”.
He said: “It has given me a chance to get out there and make my name in the Championship and I think I have done that well enough.
“It has given me a great opportunity to get the experience I need to take back to Manchester and hopefully give it a good crack there, because I’ve learnt so much this season.
“Brighton have been brilliant to me. They’ve treated me really well. They’ve made me feel very welcome, the fans and the people around. That has helped a lot. It has been great.”
In conclusion, he told Naylor: “The club is part of me now. You never know what will happen in the future but Brighton will always have a place in my heart.”
Perhaps rather presciently, Naylor commented: “McShane’s fierce commitment is unlikely to be seen in an Albion shirt again. If he does not make it at Manchester United, there are sure to be Championship clubs interested in signing him.”
With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić United’s regular centre back pairing, and Wes Brown as back-up, it was always going to be a difficult ask to dislodge them, and in August 2006 McShane left Old Trafford together with goalkeeper Luke Steele as makeweights in the deal that took goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak to United.
McShane and Steele had both been members of United’s winning FA Youth Cup team of 2003, a side which also included Kieran Richardson and Chris Eagles, who went on to make names for themselves in the game.
McShane, born in Wicklow on 6 January 1986, was proficient at Gaelic football in his early years in Ireland but eventually began to demonstrate his soccer prowess with junior clubs and was playing for St Joseph’s Boys AFC in Dublin when United snapped him up in 2002.
After his success with United’s Youth Cup team, McShane’s first senior football came in 2004 during a brief loan spell with Walsall, where he played four games and scored once.
At Championship West Brom, McShane played 42 games in the 2006-07 season as the Baggies finished fourth and agonisingly lost to Derby County in the play-off final.
Before the new season got underway, McShane was one of 12 new signings manager Roy Keane made for Sunderland, newly-promoted to the Premier League.
He scored an own goal in only his second league game but Sunderland salvaged a 2-2 draw at Birmingham and he went on to make 21 appearances (plus one as sub) as the Black Cats finished just three points clear of the drop zone.
In the following season, McShane went on loan to Premier League new boys, Hull City, and having played 19 games for the Tigers made the move permanent the following season. The KFC Stadium would be his home for the next six years, although he was sent out on loan twice, to Barnsley in 2011 and Crystal Palace in 2012.
In the final game of the 2012-13 season, McShane scored a vital goal for Hull which guaranteed them promotion back to the Premier League, and he earned a new two-year contract from manager Steve Bruce.
However, with Curtis Davies, Alex Bruce and James Chester ahead of him, his appearances were limited, although he did get on as a substitute in Hull’s 3-2 FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal.
McShane featured 23 times as Hull relinquished their Premier League status in 2015, and he was among six players released by the club, including Liam Rosenior, who moved to Brighton, of course, and goalkeeper Steve Harper, who’d had a short loan spell at Brighton from Newcastle.
McShane wasn’t without a club for long, and joined Reading in July 2015, with manager Steve Clarke telling the club website: “I knew that Paul’s contract with Hull City was due to expire and was always monitoring the situation. When we met up earlier in the summer for a chat I knew that Paul would be a good signing for Reading FC and I’m pleased that we managed to get the deal completed.
“As well as his obvious talents as an experienced defender who is aggressive both in the air and on the ground, I felt that he was a good character to bring into our squad.
“Paul has gained good experience at many clubs and, like Stephen Quinn, was an important part of a promotion-winning team. He has a winning mentality and it will be good for our two young central defenders, Michael Hector and Jake Cooper, to train and play alongside Paul.”
McShane has since played 90 times for Reading.
Most pictures by Simon Dack in the Argus; and a screengrab of bbc.co.uk’s announcement of his departure from Hull.