Cork’s Michael Shields ready to pit his wits against Dublin’s best forwards again
Former Australian Rules player glad to be home and representing the Rebels again
Cork’s Michael Shields tackles Kerry’s Paul Galvin during the Munster final at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
This was hardly a subtle line of questioning. It was put to Michael Shields, the one-time Australian Rules exile, that he was hardly complaining when Galway’s snappy young forward Danny Cummins pulled up lame during last Saturday’s qualifier.
Shields was marking Cummins. He wasn’t in a panic but the bigger, established full back looked set for a torrid evening when Cummins ran him across the width of Croke Park before popping a neat point.
Shields got a hand on him but little else. On 22 minutes Cummins was gone, replaced by Shane Walsh who wasn’t long kicking two wides.
Soon enough Shields was striding up the right wing, ball tucked safely under his wing. By the finish he even landed a slick point of his own into the Hill.
“Yeah, he got a nice point. He’s lively, he’s fast I suppose so it was a blessing in disguise. It was nice to see him going off.”
Seven days on, the St Finbarr’s man may be faced with a similar will-o-the-wisp proposition in Kilmacud Crokes’ Paul Mannion.
His duel with Bernard Brogan in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final is well documented already. Brogan was the Dublin attack that day, everything went through him, and Shields was shipping water from very early on
“I think he kicked three or four off me that day so I suppose the key was really to break as much ball as I could or get out to as much ball as I could. But that day was kind of a funny game really.
“He kicked some great scores. It was just a matter of sticking with him. I think I did a reasonable job for that year. I don’t think too many teams could keep him.”
Dublin’s attack is vastly different now.
“He’s still creating a lot. So while he might not be scoring as much, he’s doing a lot off the ball.”
Both Kerry and Galway have stitched 1-16 into the Cork defence. How come?
“I can’t really put my finger on it. Kerry are Kerry. They use the ball well. We need to stop the ball coming in from the outside. Galway and Kerry used it quite well against us, even though it was disappointing to concede so many scores in the end.”
He will meet Ciarán Kilkenny for the first time this weekend but they have one big decision in common. After the briefest of stints in Australia, both men decided the oval ball, professional life wasn’t for them. Home birds.
Shields followed the Ó hAilpín brothers to the Carlton Blues in 2007 but didn’t stay long.
“I struggled big time with it. I was homesick. I wanted to go home. I missed my family. I would say Ciarán was similar. He missed his club. He missed his hurling. He missed his football. It doesn’t surprise me that he came back.
“It took me seven or eight months, maybe even a whole year, to get back being able to kick the round ball well.”
“Even the reading of the game, it definitely took me the guts of a year to get me back to where I was.”
“The biggest thing is it’s professional. You’re doing weights four times a day. They’re serious athletes in the teams. When you work as a group, it’s a bigger pitch, it’s a different ball.
“There are similarities in terms of the type of player. But it’s a different game altogether.”
Another reason for coming home was finally realised in 2010. “That was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was brilliant. I wouldn’t swap it for anything. That’s why you want to get back to again. That’s what we’re training for all year.
“I made the right decision to come back.”