Antrim hurler Paul Shiels on the comeback trail after late club appearance
TALENTED Antrim forward Paul Shiels admits he wondered if he would ever play competitive hurling again after making his long-awaited return to club championship action last weekend.
Shiels came on for the final 15 minutes of Dunloy’s Antrim Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final exit to Ballycastle last Sunday, his first game this year after undergoing a hip operation back in January.
And while it might not have been the result he wanted - the Cuchullain’s lost by three - just getting back out on the field with his team-mates had provided “a wee bit of light at the end of the tunnel”.
“It was a bit of a gamble, just the fact I hadn’t played any league games or anything,” said the former Antrim captain of his return.
“The rehab is a long oul process, we’re coming towards the end of the rehab and it might have been a wee bit soon but, at the same time, I was back in training and I’d gone through all the stages. There’s times you think maybe you’re not going to get back, so even to have the chance to be playing was nice.”
It is not the first time this problem has temporarily derailed Shiels’ club and county career, as he went under the knife in 2009 to resolve ongoing issues with his other hip.
Bouncing back this time has been much harder, he says, with the 27-year-old admitting he found himself “in a dark place” at times along the road to recovery.
Shields added: “The early stage of rehab is long, it’s a slow process and, I suppose, the closer you get to when you think you should be back, the harder it gets and you wonder to yourself ‘am I going to get back?’.
“It’s a dark place, but I had a good team around me, keeping me right. The first time I had it done, I was only 19, you don’t really know any different. You just plough on with it and expect to get back. You don’t ever doubt yourself. The older you get, there’s other things in life outside of hurling, you don’t know if you’re going to get back.
“By no matter or means is that me back - I still have a lot of work to do. It’s probably going to be a long winter, but there’s a wee bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”
And as he looks towards 2017, the end goal is to line out once again in a Saffron jersey under the stewardship of the recently-appointed management team of Dominic McKinley, Terence McNaughton, Gary O’Kane and Neal Peden.
Shiels has been one of the main men in the Antrim team in years gone by and knows McNaughton and McKinley well from their previous time in charge of the county’s senior and minor teams.
O’Kane is a former Dunloy manager, so the new men in charge are well aware what a fully-fit ‘Shorty’ can bring to the table: “That’s the plan,” he said of a return to county colours next year.
“Get a good winter in the gym, try and get the miles into the legs and see how I react and then we’ll analyse again in January and see what sort of shape I’m in, take it from there.
“You would like to play at the highest level. If I get back playing, that’s where you improve and that’s where, eventually, you would want to play. That would definitely be on my mind.”
And Shiels has given his support to the new management team, adding: “I played minor with ‘Sambo’ and ‘Woody’, I won club championships with Gary O’Kane as a manager in Dunloy, so I have a good relationship with all those men.
“They’re good hurling people, they want what’s best for Antrim and I think it’s a good appointment to try and get everybody gelled together and put a big push on next year.”