Hurling and camogie

What 'Shorty' has you cannot coach says Dunloy manager Gregory O'Kane

Paul Shiels' retirement decision shocked Antrim hurling

GREGORY O’Kane has paid a glowing tribute to Dunloy club-mate Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels after he announced his retirement from inter-county hurling last weekend.

O’Kane said: “What Paul has you can’t coach. He has natural ability that some sportspeople have.

“Sometimes you’ll find gifted sportsmen can be hard work but he is a gentleman, a role model and also a fantastic hurler.

“I’ve no doubt had he chosen soccer or any other sport he would have been at the top in those codes as well. He just has natural ability.”

Shiels’ surprise decision to quit the inter-county scene is a major blow to Antrim’s hopes of staying in Division 1B next season.

But two major hip operations – in 2009 and 2016 - family commitments and the desire to extend his playing career with the Cuchullain’s club are the reasons why he’s stepping down from the Saffrons at the relatively young age of 29.

“Paul is a smart guy,” said O’Kane, who guided Dunloy to their first county championship in eight years in September.

“He’s had two big hip operations. He had a brilliant year with the club and he’s probably saying to himself county hurling would probably take two or three years off him. If he stays fresh and healthy he can extend his club career. And obviously his family is a big consideration.

“He’s been on the road 10 or 11 years so that amount of time takes its toll.”

Shiels was one of the driving forces in seeing Dunloy over the finishing line in 2017.

O’Kane, who starred for Antrim in 1990s and 2000s, added: “Getting his body right at the right time of year is crucial because his ability is unquestioned. It’s just keeping him fresh and then he does the rest.

“His situation is probably similar to Pasty Bradley of Slaughtneil. A few years ago, he stepped away from Derry and people were thinking that injuries had taken their toll.

“Patsy probably felt if he continued with Derry his club career would have been shortened. Paul is probably thinking along those lines.

“If you asked him to go out and mark two men he’d do it with a smile on his face. That’s just the way he is. He’s a doer not a talker. He’s a quiet, reserved man and a deep thinker too.

“He makes the game look simple. If he has the ball he’s thinking two or three steps ahead. No doubt, he was a massive asset to us in Dunloy winning the championship this year.”

O’Kane also cited the travel commitments required to play inter-county hurling and insisted he had nothing left to prove with Antrim.

“I was with Antrim for years and you just need to compare the travelling Paul would have next season, sitting on a bus for four or five hours, compared to some of the top hurlers in the south.

“If you were weighing up the National League campaign, you’re doing hundreds and hundreds of miles, up and down the road. It’s the travel time.

“If you were going to America, you could be talking six or seven hours. And yet, Antrim players sit on a bus for seven or eight hours on a bus to play a hurling match. Physically and mentally, it’s draining.

“So there comes a time where you say it’s time to step away.”

Shiels came through the county minors in 2006 under Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley and although he missed two entire seasons because of hip surgery he was regarded as one of the best hurlers of his generation.

He returned to play for Antrim in 2017 and was hugely influential in helping the county get out of Division 2A.

“There were times when he was one of the top scorers in the National League when Antrim were in Division 1B so he’s done it at the highest level and has nothing to prove.

“People can build players up and the media can give players credibility but all you need to speak to are the guys that work with him and who played with him. And that’s your answer. That’s how highly he’s rated.

“I played with ‘Shorty’ in 2007 when we won the championship. He was 18. He walked straight out of minor and into the senior team – and there were a lot of top players in that Dunloy team, and he just picked up the baton and away he went. He was just a natural.”

After beating Ruairi Og Cushendall in this year’s county decider Dunloy fell to Ulster champions Slaughtneil at Owenbeg.

But O’Kane hopes Dunloy – and Shiels – will have several more opportunities to make a splash at provincial and All-Ireland level in the coming years.

“Dunloy have a very young, exciting team and Paul’s probably saying to himself: ‘This could be my time now.’

O’Kane added: “I played with ‘Shorty’ in 2007 when we won the championship. He was 18. He walked straight out of minor and into the senior team – and there were a lot of top players in that Dunloy team, and he just picked up the baton and away he went. He was just a natural.”

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Hurling and camogie