Few players can walk straight into a new club and be handed the captain’s armband straight away, but that’s exactly what happened when Paul McShane joined Reading from Hull City in 2015. Perhaps it was the lack of leaders in the Royals squad following the departures of Jem Karacan, Alex Pearce and Adam Federici, but it was also representative of the experience, character and commitment he would show in his time at the club.
McShane’s four years in Berkshire have seen change constantly occur around him. There’s been five permanent managers (plus two caretakers) and in total he has had eight different centre-back partners. This is hardly an ideal environment, but the Irishman stuck around and became a key part of the set-up at Reading. Only three other members of the current squad - Jordan Obita, Garath McCleary and Chris Gunter - made their debuts before him.
In his first two years at Reading, McShane quickly became a fans’ favourite with his light-hearted nature, likeable personality and displays of passion on the pitch. Whether he was wheeling away with glee after scoring his first goal for the club at a vital time against West Brom in the FA Cup, describing the promotion race as “as tight as a snakes arse in a sandstorm” or pulling off wizardry that Lionel Messi would be proud of against Rotherham, there was little to dislike about the centre-back. When you also consider his consistently impressive performances at the heart of the defence, as he lead by example with a number of crucial blocks, tackles and clearances, there was certainly a period when McShane was one of the best players in Reading’s team. Indeed, he was in the top three for the fans Player of the Season vote in 2015/16 and 2016/17, winning the vice presidents’ award in both years.
Of course 2016/17 ended in despair for both McShane and the Royals, as Huddersfield defeated us on penalties in the play-off final - a game which McShane missed after getting sent off against Fulham in the semi-final. In truth, he has not been the same player since trudging off the pitch at Craven Cottage. Largely due to injuries, he has only played nine games since the start of 2018.
It makes his exit this summer largely unsurprising, considering we have effectively been playing without him for the last 16 months. McShane himself will admit it’s been a nightmare couple of years, and could be seen jokingly lugging 2018 out of the door on an Instagram story on New Year’s Eve. In his absence, Liam Moore has filled in admirably as captain, while there are a number of promising young centre-backs coming through the club’s academy. Furthermore, with a close eye being kept on finances this summer, it simply wouldn’t make sense to keep hold of a 33 year old with a patchy injury record and wages likely to be some of the highest at the club.
Off the pitch though, McShane has remained the perfect ambassador for the Royals. He was named as Reading’s PFA Community Champion for 2017/18, and was consistently part of the club’s visits to local hospitals. Only last month, he spent the afternoon playing bowls with the Reading Association for the Blind. Furthermore, you only need to look at the messages on social media from current and former Reading players at what a popular figure he was in the squad.
It is unlikely we’ll miss Paul McShane the player, but we’ll certainly miss Paul McShane the man.