Pat McShane Sunday Life article

Posted : 23rd January 2019

The following excellent article by the leading local sports journalist Alex Mills was published in a recent issue of Sunday Life and is reproduced here with the kind permission of both the writer and the newspaper.

IRISH LEAGUE LIVES
PAT McSHANE


LEGEND is a term perhaps used flippantly at times, but it sits snugly on the shoulders of Pat McShane.

A no-nonsense, tough-tackling full-back, Pat spent a golden 14 years at Linfield, reeling in a total of 21 winners’ medals, including six Irish League titles and four Irish Cup victories.

It’s been over a decade since he last pulled on the famous blue shirt, but he is still adored and worshipped by the Windsor Park fans.

Pat’s romance with the club remains as strong as ever – he is currently a valued member of the scouting team working feverisly under manager David Healy. He began his football odyssey with Lisburn Youth, but was a member of the Manchester United Academy since he was 12 years of age.

“Eddie Coulter was the scout and he initially brought me to Manchester along with Keith Gillespie and Colin Murdock. I duly signed schoolboy forms,” remembers Pat.

“Things were looking good. They started putting me up in digs to see if I could handle it, in terms of home sickness – I was still only 14. I remember the Class of ‘92 at United. . . Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers.

“I was included in the squad for a youth tournament in Switzerland along with all the lads who went on to have a fabulous career at Old Trafford.”

When his full-time ambitions were scuppered, Pat returned to Irish League club Portadown.

“Bob Nesbitt was coach at the Man U school of excellence – he was also coach at Portadown,” he added. “United pushed me in that direction. I was small and thin, and they were worried about my development.

“Alex Ferguson actually came over to meet my family. He wanted to see the stature of my older brother Damien. He said if I grew to his size (he was five years older), I’d be fine. I was a skinny rake, I lived on cornflakes. I just didn’t like food. My mum tried everything, but I wasn’t interested.

“When Fergie was over, he told my mum to start getting spuds into me because I needed built up. It wasn’t until I was about 17 or 18 that I began to fill out. By that time United had lost interest.”

In three years at Shamrock Park, Pat failed to break into the first team, so he decided to move on.

“Cliftonville boss Frankie Parkes invited me to train with them. I was there for a couple of weeks but wasn’t convinced,” he added. “Then, I received a telephone call from Trevor Anderson, asking me to meet him and Jim Emery at the Beechlawn Hotel in Dunmurry.

“Even though I was from West Belfast and the Troubles were prominent, I had no hesitation. My dad said, if the biggest club in Ireland make it their business to ring, they must be interested.

“It was very formal and professional. Trevor invited me to train . . . have a look at the place. I remember telling my mates. They asked if was I nuts.

“The first night I went into the reserve team dressing room, I knew a lot of the boys, having played against them. I was made so welcome from the first minute.

“I knocked Trevor’s door after my first night and told him I wanted to sign. He urged me to wait a few weeks. He called me in a fortnight later and asked what I thought. I said my thoughts hadn’t changed. He said, ‘you’ll do me’.”

Although Anderson had won the League title the previous year, the team was going through a transitional period, which ultimately led to David Jeffrey being appointed in January 1997.

Even then, it took the big man a couple of years to work the oracle and bring success the club.

“Some people to this day would say I saved his job,” smiles Pat. “We were a very close-knit group. The pressure was on because we hadn’t won anything for a few years.

“We were not going well. A lot of the Press boys arrived at Windsor this Saturday, ahead of our game with Dungannon Swifts – they reckoned one more defeat and that was it for Big Davy.

“You could have cut the tension with a knife. For around 70-odd minutes, we were brutal.

The players were nervous, and we weren’t performing. I remember Mark Picking going down the right wing and pulling the ball into the box. I read the flight of it and I met it about 25 yards out. It flew into the net.

“There was only one person I was going to celebrate with and that was Big Davy. The rest of the boys joined in. From that moment, things literally took off.

“We began churning out results week in, week out. We won the League title up at Coleraine at the end of the season and the rest, as they say, is all history. From that day, it was a roller-coaster of success.

“I’ve many highlights, but the Clean Sweep season is up there at the top. We completed it by beating Glentoran in the Irish Cup final. At the final whistle, I just didn’t know what to feel. Everyone was celebrating, but I was thinking, what do we do now? We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve – we’ve written ourselves into the club’s history books.

“The Setanta Cup win the season before that was also high point. We lost the league the previous week, so no one gave us a chance going down to Dublin to face Shelbourne.

”They invested heavily in their squad. But our game plan worked a treat, with Peter Thompson and Glenn Ferguson getting the goals in a 2-0 win.

“If I was to pick a perfect game – that was the perfect game. It helped take us to another level. We had some party afterwards.”

Pat was 33 when he realised his days at the club were numbered.

“I knew I was starting to go down hill,” he admitted. “Davy, being the professional he is, had recognised that. I had to be honest with myself – I knew I couldn’t do it any more at that level.

“At the end of the season, I met David and the Board, but I had already made the decision. Even if Davy had offered me one more year, I wouldn’t have accepted.

“We had an open and honest discussion. There were a lot of tears, hand-shakes and hugs. There were still a lot of the boys in the dressing room who were there to discuss their own contracts, but I couldn’t face them. I was broken and distraught.

“I walked down the stairs and met Gary Eccles, who is a very good friend. We just stood and cried – it was a difficult, difficult time. There was no more going to Windsor on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – it was life changing.”

When Warren Feeney was appointed manager in 2014, he was immediately on the telephone to bring Pat back to the fold.

“He asked me back in any capacity, possibly scouting . . . I told him I’d carry the water bottles if he wanted,” concluded Pat. “My role is to identify players that can fit into our style. It was described to me, if I throw 20 footballs into the air and catch one or two, I’ll be doing well.

“It takes a big character to pull on the blue shirt. Some people are not prepared to give the commitment which is a big, big thing. I want players who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and fight for the club – mentally and physically.

“I may have been from West Belfast, but I would have gone through a brick wall for the club, the manager and my team mates. That’s the type of player I want to bring to the club.”

Did you know?

Pat made a total of 411 appearances for Linfield (28 as a substitute). He scored 11 goals in his 14 years at the club. He made 53 appearances in Linfield’s Clean Sweep season in 2005-06, scoring twice.

Pat walked down the aisle to marry his wife Jamie on May 17, 2008, two days after leaving Linfield. Within a week of returning from honeymoon, he was persuaded my manager Pauk Kirk to join Lisburn Distillery.

The highlight of his time at Ballyskeagh was the League Cup success. In the company of his former Linfield team mate Glenn Ferguson, Pat helped the Whites to a memorable 2-1 win over Portadown at Mourneview Park.

In his final season, Pat finished his playing days at Donegal Celtic, under Stevie Small and then Packie McAllister. But it was the only blot his impressive football CV because the Hoops were relegated after being beaten in a promotion/relegation play-off by Warrenpoint Town.
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