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McShane: Red Hands will take their own path to glory

 

By Declan Bogue

The village of Leckpatrick is in itself not all that remarkable, but its two most famous sons in a Gaelic football sense have left their mark on Tyrone GAA.

Declan McCrossan was the moustachioed captain of the county minor team of 1997 that won the All-Ireland a year after the loss of their team-mate Paul McGirr, and he still had the honour in 2000 when the Under-21 edition of that team, managed by Mickey Harte who progressed up the ranks along with them, won another All-Ireland title.

And now, a young clubmate of McCrossan's - Cathal McShane - is compiling something similar in his trophy cabinet.

The 23-year-old student teacher was a stand-out performer in Feargal Logan's triumphant Under-21 All-Ireland-winning team of 2015. The following year he won his first Ulster senior title, and last year doubled the tally along with the most unlikely of Sigerson Cup wins at the heart of St Mary's romantic feat.

In a small club, trailblazers like McCrossan can have an inspirational effect.

"I would have watched him a lot on TV and all the rest," said McShane of McCrossan.

"I used to go down to Owen Roes (the club name), I wouldn't have been playing but I would have been training so I could see him play a lot. He was a fine player, a lot of skill and ability about him."

Tonight, McShane can become part of a notable achievement as Tyrone target seven consecutive Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cups.

That it is Donegal in the final standing in their way makes McShane smile. He has played Ulster deciders at all age grades against them and the nearest tip of the county to him is a 10-minute drive in the direction of Lifford.

"I have relations down in Donegal and it is always special when you are playing them," he grinned.

It's been a mixed bag for him in those encounters. He made his senior county debut just two weeks after winning the Under-21 All-Ireland title, plunged straight into a game full of spite and venom as Donegal won on a 1-13 to 1-10 scoreline. McShane's day was cut short - he was subbed off for Padraig McNulty.

The following year, the same sides met in the Ulster final, but while the Red Hands made a late push with astonishing points from Peter Harte, Sean Cavanagh and Kieran McGeary, McShane was in the stands by then, dismissed on a black card having been adjudged to have tripped Eamonn McGee early on.

"At the time, you are obviously devastated. I was 100% sure I hadn't done anything wrong," he protested.

"There were a few different rumours about that I had said something to the referee and they were false as well.

"It was for the trip but I knew it wasn't a black card at the time. Coming off the ground that day, having trained so hard for the game, and to be taken off for that decision was tough.

"But it was all about us winning Ulster and that's what happened. I was a very happy man at the end. I was nervous watching, especially towards the end, but I was never as happy to see Tyrone winning and that was the plan. It managed to come off."

Personal disappointments aside, the plans have by and large come off for McShane in football. Almost every competition he has played in, he has won significant honours.

"To be fair, it has been a good experience. I have won a lot and then a few McKenna Cups, I have a few of them as well," he admitted.

"But even in the minors too, we didn't manage to get any medals, but we got to the Ulster and an All-Ireland final. So yeah, it has been good and it is a matter of working hard to make sure that continues and trying your best for Tyrone in the future."

Honing in on the seven in a row has brought Tyrone's approach to the pre-season competition into sharp focus.

Examining other sides that target an All-Ireland is instructive. This year, Mayo had to assemble a brand new panel for the FBD league as their squad was in Malaysia for a team holiday.

It was the same with All-Ireland champions Dublin, Jim Gavin handing over the O'Byrne Cup to Paul Clarke's development squad as the senior team sunned themselves in South Africa, while Kerry have decided to quit playing the McGrath Cup altogether.

Despite that trend, McShane insists Tyrone are going to go their own way.

"I think in the McKenna Cup, we see it as very important because it gives players a chance to step up and contest positions," he stated.

"We worry about ourselves, we can't worry about other teams, but the McKenna Cup is a great platform for the league and that's how we see it.

"And winning silverware, you want that to become a habit, so we use the McKenna Cup to get ready for the league and then there is the chance to win more silverware.

"We find that winning becomes a habit so we know that if we keep going, we will look towards the end of the season and get a few more victories."

Looking back to their All-Ireland exit last season and that 12-point defeat to Dublin in the semi-final, McShane insists the memory is well flushed from the system by this stage.

"It probably took a bit of time," he conceded.

"Everybody was disappointed with how the way the game went. Dublin played very, very well that day, while we needed Dublin to have a bit of an off-day and we needed to have a perfect day. It didn't work out that way.

"It did take a while to get over it but we are well over it now. Our season is well under way now and we are preparing now for the McKenna Cup final."

They go again. What else can they do?

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