White-hot McShane knows score as he carries on repaying Tyrone's faith
Tyrone v Cork, All-Ireland Super 8s: Croke Park, Saturday, 5.00pm
Tyrone's Cathal McShane made it to the top of this year's All-Ireland Football Championship scoring charts with his eight-point haul in the victory against Roscommon at the weekend.
Five frees and three excellent points from play have moved the Owen Roes man level with Adam Tyrell of Kildare and edged him ahead of Armagh's Rian O'Neill. Given both of those players' respective sides are now out of the Championship, McShane is in definite contention to be the leading scorer of the year.
His nearest active challengers are Cork's Mark Collins, who while having played just three games to date has compiled 1-29 against Limerick, Kerry and Dublin, and Meath's Mickey Newman, who has 3-20, helped along by his penalty conversion on Sunday against Donegal in their opening Super 8s loss.
The reinvention of Tyrone has coincided with the reinvention of McShane.
A coltish midfielder with the Under-21 team that won the All-Ireland in 2015 by beating Tipperary in the final, he was immediately promoted to the senior ranks in time for that summer's bitter Ulster Championship preliminary round loss to Donegal in Ballybofey.
Over the first few seasons of his senior career, he was mainly used in the role of water carrier, stuck out on the wing trying to knit together moves. It wasn't until the departure of another player that his true worth began to be appreciated.
With Mark Bradley opting to take a year out, Tyrone needed a target man, a reference point for the attack to work off. Earlier in the year, McShane often had Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte rotating in and out alongside him but since the defeat in the Ulster semi-final to Donegal, it has been McShane by himself.
With that responsibility, he has flourished. And as pointed out by former Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke in his guest appearance on 'The Sunday Game' after Tyrone beat Cavan, while Bradley's movement was elusive, it generally went away from goal - McShane has the size and strength that he can remain close to the opposition goal and win his own ball.
Self-effacing as he is, he doesn't dwell on the impact his positional switch has had on his own game, and that of the Tyrone strategy.
"Yeah, again it works for you some days and then other days, it doesn't," he said after the game in Dr Hyde Park.
"Here, it was all about being patient. There were men back there and it is not going to be on all the time.
"When it is on, you need to be ready and I think we did that, in the second half especially. We managed to get the ball over the bar and that was important.
"We knew to come away with the two points would be massive to get our Super 8s campaign under way and it was a positive result."
Already, the chemistry between McShane and fellow attackers Harte, Donnelly and Darren McCurry is strong.
"The better the link, the better the chance for us to get the ball in closer to goal and get scores," said McShane.
"We gave away a couple of scores there, I think the Roscommon goalkeeper pulled off a couple of saves and obviously we hit the bar as well.
"We have things to work on, we stepped it up in the second half but we know we can be much better the next day."
Indeed, they had goalkeeper Niall Morgan to thank for stopping efforts from Cathal Cregg and Enda Smith in a frantic first half.
"Credit to Niall, he made them. Roscommon started well and they got in behind us a few times and Niall in fairness stood up," added McShane.
"That's the kind of goalkeeper he is and not only has he got shot-stopping skills, but he also has the accuracy with kickouts and can come up and take frees. He is an important part of this squad and he did very well."
Tyrone have Cork this Saturday in Croke Park in phase two of the Super 8s. While the Rebels put up a serious effort against Dublin last Saturday evening, there is a suspicion that the Red Hands will have the game to beat them and ample evidence that Cork cannot cope against a team with as much experience of the counter-attacking game as they do.
Another thing about Tyrone is how the backdoor sharpens them. Roscommon had waited a month for this game, while the Red Hands were battle-hardened.
"It's good to be playing at this time of year. We know how we went last year, we got a good run through the backdoor," said McShane. "This year is similar, we wanted to get to the Super 8s, and we have got off to a good start. I think that is important and it is all about pushing on now."