Hull v PNE focus: Paul McKenna

McKenna in action for PNE. He also played for Hull City

McKenna in action for PNE. He also played for Hull City

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Former Preston North End great Paul McKenna’s sledgehammer of a shot was the most under-used weapon in PNE’s toolbox during the late 1990 and early 2000s.

That is the view of former Evening Post chief football reporter Brian Ellis, who watched the diminutive midfielder’s 13-year career at the club from the press box.

In more than 400 appearance for North End, McKenna only found the back of the net 30-odd times despite having the fiercest of shots.

“I used to call it the ‘McKenna Sledgehammer’ but he hardly every used it,” Ellis said.

“He had a tremendous shot on him from outside the box but I used to call it the most under-used tool in North End’s toolbox.

“When he would let rip, he could score from 
distance.”

A local lad, who hails from Eccleston, McKenna – 
who had a two-year spell with Hull City at the end 
of his professional career – joined PNE’s books in 1993 and made his debut four years later.

He went on to make more appearances for the club than the legendary Sir Tom Finney.

Despite him being ‘one of their own’, North End fans often used to get on McKenna’s back during games, something which often puzzled Ellis.

“He was the sort of player every team needs,” Ellis 
said.

“He used to sit in front of the back four and protect the back. I call it the dirty work.

“Paul used to do a similar for Preston to what John Welsh is doing now for the team.

“He used to come in for some stick because he would sometimes pass the ball sideways.

“He had to do the unfashionable role of tidying things up in midfield and protecting the defenders.

“A lot of people don’t see the importance of that type of player, yet they are essential to any successful team.”

The importance of McKenna was often felt when he was unavailable for selection.

“I once remember McKenna having a hernia and they took him over to Germany to a surgeon, who had this technique where they could get the player back in 10 days.

“But it didn’t work and it ended up putting him out for four months.

“North End missed him though because results were nowhere near as good when he was out.

“I remember doing a piece comparing the amount of points North End got with him in the team and the amount they got when he was out.” McKenna never managed to play in the Premier League, even though he was a veteran of several Championship play-off campaigns.

He departed Deepdale in 2009 at the age of 30 and joined one of his old managers Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest.

In his first season at the City Ground, he was part of the Forest team which lost to Blackpool in the play-off semi-final and the following year his top-flight dream ended in similar fashion against Swansea.

McKenna joined Hull in 2011 and played a part in the Tigers’ promotion to the Premier League in 2013, but was released during the summer.

“I always said about McKenna, if he had been three or four inches taller, he would have been a Premier League player,” said Ellis.