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Paul Shiels calls time on his Antrim hurling career

Antrim's Paul Shiels has hung up his inter-county hurl Picture by Cliff Donaldson

THE Antrim hurlers have been dealt a major blow by the shock announcement of Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels’ retirement from the inter-county game.

Regarded as one of the best players of his generation, it was anticipated the Dunloy ace would spearhead Antrim’s challenge in Division 1B next season.

But, just weeks after winning the Antrim senior championship with his Cuchullain’s club – ending an eight-year wait - the 29-year-old has decided to bow out of the county scene.

Antrim’s joint manager Terence McNaughton said work and family commitments were at the heart of Shiels' decision to step away.

McNaughton has never hidden his admiration for ‘Shorty’, describing him as one of his "favourite hurlers.

“He had a brilliant hurling brain,” said McNaughton.

“As a person and a friend ‘Shorty’ doesn't owe Antrim anything. Everything comes to an end. He's one of the nicest guys I've ever managed.

“’Shorty’ was low maintenance, a very intelligent hurler. More often than not, he always made the right decision in possession.

“He could put it in long, he could put it in short, on the ground. He would never get caught on the ball. He was just a brilliant player for Antrim.”

Shiels battled back from two career-threatening hip operations that cost him two entire seasons – in 2009 and 2016.

He returned in 2017 to play a pivotal role in Antrim’s successful promotion push.

McNaughton added: “I know he had trouble with either hip and had to get them operated on. My own son (Shane) had a similar thing. So that’s probably played a part in his thinking too.

“‘Shorty’ would be approaching 30 now and was among the minors we brought through so I was there at the start and there at the end with him.

“His decision is more to do with time pressures and he has a young family.”

McNaughton also highlighted the increasing demands placed on GAA players to compete at the highest level.

”Don't forget, nobody sees the sacrifices these young fellas are making. It's a big commitment. If the guy down the road is training four nights a week, you have to train four nights a week to match him.

”You're not going to compete going two nights a week and having a few pints at the weekend. That’s the way the game has gone.”

Antrim, who have recruited Tipperary All-Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy to their backroom team, face a massive task to retain their Division 1B status in 2018 – and it has been made more difficult by Shiels’ retirement.

“Of course we'll miss him,” said McNaughton, “especially playing in the higher division but it's like when you concede an early goal, you have to knuckle down and get on with it.

”It's a chance for some other young fella to take his shirt. You have to look at it from a positive point of view.”

Asked about the prospect of changing the player’s mind, McNaughton wasn’t hopeful.

“’Shorty’ is the type of fella when he makes up his mind, that's it.”

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of Dunloy’s county final win over Cushendall in Ballycastle on September 24, Shiels was ecstatic at winning his second county medal 10 years after his first one.

“[Because the hip injuries] There were stages where I didn’t know whether I was going to play again,” said the midfielder.

“But this is the reason why we do it. There are so many people here and I’m so happy for the club.

“I missed the ’09 final through injury. I played in ’07 when we won it but this win makes up for it a wee bit.

“This means everything to the club. Dunloy is a small village and the hurling field is right in the middle of it. Everything revolves around hurling.”

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