CATHAL McShane was proud as a peacock after fulfilling a life-long ambition on Sunday, and who can blame him?
The Owen Roes youngster spent his formative years idolising Stephen O’Neill and Brian Dooher, from neighbouring Clann na nGael, as well as his club colleague Declan McCrossan.
While it’s fair to say that he’s already stepped out of their shadows – his game-winning goal in the All-Ireland U21 final in 2015 will never be forgotten by the diehards out there – he’s never quite experienced anything like reaching a senior decider.
Still only 22 years of age, he’s north Tyrone’s sole representative on Mickey Harte’s extended panel – Aghyaranians are westies, right? – which makes his rise to a mainstay of the starting line-up all the more noteworthy.
He said: “It’s crazy being back, I went to primary school in Dunamanagh parish where Clann na nGael is based and Stephen and Brian were always in the school.
“We always looked up to them, they were idols and the chance to go out and do what they did is unbelievable.
“You’ve boys in my own club like Declan McCrossan who was another man I looked up to, and Brendan Boggs who also played with Owen Roes.
“I remember saying it’d be great to play in an All-Ireland final. You wanted to put on that Tyrone jersey and play on big days.”
McShane plays as he talks – brimming with enthusiasm, if still a touch raw. He had yet another eventful day out against Monaghan, and a perfectly judged first-half point should be weighted against a cross-field pass which culminated in an opposition score.
Such are the breaks, but he said the team were confident that if they stuck to the system they would come up on top at the final whistle.
“Obviously it was in our head that Monaghan never lie down. They’re a good team and they pipped us in the first round of the championship.
“We knew they were very clinical and at Healy Park everything they seemed to hit went over the bar.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle but we also knew if we stuck to our game plan we were more than capable of getting the victory and that’s what happened.”
McShane recalls Tyrone’s last appearance in an All-Ireland final in 2008, with Brian Dooher’s first-half wonder-score against Kerry still vivid in his mind’s eye (“running down the wing, taking two or three tackles and pinging it over the bar”).
They will still need to improve significantly if they’re to take Sam Maguire home for a fourth time on September 2 against Dublin.
“Since I was 11 or 12 years of age, it sticks in your mind as something you want to do. You set a target to get to Croke Park, never mind getting to an All-Ireland final, and now it’s happened
“There’s a lot of pressure in semi-finals, you know that the prize is big and getting to the final was our main aim.
“At times it was tough and at times we played well, but we eventually got to where we want to be.”