|Paul McHale: good day, good sir.|
Paul McHale’s disappointing spell with Stenhousemuir was unexpectedly cut short last night after the player was instructed by manager Davie Irons to "stay away" from the club for the remainder of the season. The Warriors released a brief statement on their website confirming he would not return to Ochilview following a discussion between both parties at training last night.
Before the club published their statement, McHale appeared to have announced his departure over Twitter. With several players chattering about the evening's training session, McHale tweeted a number them, including club captain Willie Lyle and Andy Rodgers, the words: “Was a pleasure lads”. Sean Dickson replied, saying: “All the best bro! Sad day. Keep in touch! #uscdiscounts”. One fan directly tweeted McHale asking if he had left the club. He didn’t respond.
The reasons behind Irons’ decision have not yet been made clear and until someone from Stenhousemuir can confirm why McHale has effectively been expelled from the club, supporters will be left to pick through an assortment of Twitter and Facebook comments from the player and speculate as to what had happened at last night's training.
Throughout the season, McHale has seemed to use social media as a way of expressing his frustration at how he was being managed at Stenhousemuir. For example, during the opening game of the league campaign against Brechin City, McHale spent most of the game on the bench and was introduced with 16 minutes remaining. The next day, he wrote on Twitter: “My anger over yesterday still hasn't passed, going to the gym then few magners watching football.”
Later in the year, after he was left on the bench in the 3-1 defeat at Stirling Albion in the New Year, he wrote on a Facebook conversation between a handful of players: “Was a good night mate, flew in though. Yeah buzzing for the dingwall journey. Few choice words at training tomorrow.”
“McHale you are an angry boy I thought I was bad but you could take the title lol,” replied a teammate.
“For good reason,” asserted McHale.
My own theory behind his expulsion is quite simple. McHale, unhappy with his peripheral role with the club (his last appearance for Stenhousemuir was almost a month ago, in the 2-1 home defeat to Albion Rovers), voiced his concerns with Irons and after a frank exchange of views (possibly with the player questioning his manager's ability, I don't know), he was told, in no uncertain terms, not to return to the club. This notion may be a little simplistic, but given the two examples above, it seems entirely plausible.
McHale’s departure, purely from a playing perspective, is of little consequence. The majority of fans would have selected him as “first out the door” come the end of the season. Despite a reasonably promising start for the club (his performance in the 3-1 victory over Cowdenbeath was quite fantastic), his season was disrupted by poor fitness and poor form. A fine player with the ball at his feet but utterly ineffectual without it, he would drift through games offering the team virtually nothing. Teammates Iain Thomson and Brown Ferguson may lack his finesse and range of passing but they could never be accused of hiding. McHale cowered from his defensive responsibilities and rarely contested 50/50 challenges. His absence will not be mourned.
Perhaps more concerning is that McHale’s departure suggests a divisive dressing room at Stenhousemuir. The club still have an outside chance of finishing the campaign in the playoff positions and can ill-afford such disruptions. Are darker forces at work here? Has Irons "lost the dressing room"? Or is he weeding out troublemakers and strengthening his own position? Goalkeeper Chris McCluskey (who described Irons as “the biggest cunt in football” to one supporter after the Scottish Cup tie with Ross County) was quietly released from his contract last week with little fuss. If Irons is still the manager for next season, his movements over the summer will be of great interest.
It may be of little consequence, but the last player who was told to “stay away” from the club was Colin Cramb. Cramb was told to never come back to Ochilview by Des McKeown after an infamous 3-0 defeat to Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park. After apparently apparently feigning injury, he was substituted and instead of watching the remainder of the match, he nipped into the nearby social club to watch the Grand National. Many fans lamented Cramb’s expulsion – he was, on form, an extraordinary player and one of the best to have played at Stenhousemuir in recent years – but few will feel the same way towards Paul McHale.