Shields up as Dundalk prepare to fight
SOCCER: HE SEEMS far too young to have experienced anything like this before but as he prepares for Sunday’s Ford-sponsored FAI Cup semi-final and what will be a critical few weeks for Dundalk, the club’s 21-year-old skipper Chris Shields is in a pretty good position to tell his team-mates what to expect.
Shields, a Dubliner who started his career at St Francis before heading to the Carlisle Grounds, was a regular for Bray Wanderers by the time he was 18 and having soldiered a couple of very difficult campaigns there he knows all about life with a club that’s bumping along at the bottom of the table.
In 2009 Wanderers finished last but avoided the drop due to the problems at Derry City and Cork. They also made the semi-finals of the cup only to get beaten by a Liam Buckley-managed Sporting Fingal side that was still very much on the up.
Twelve months later the club ended up battling Monaghan United in a two-legged play-off to stay up. Shields, a fiercely determined and hard-working midfielder, played a decisive role in the second leg; first scoring an own goal that looked set to relegate his side then going down the other end to set up a late equaliser for Jake Kelly – now with St Patrick’s – before stepping up to score the winning penalty in a shoot-out.
“Yeah! I scored all the goals,” he says with a laugh. “I’ll never live that down. And I’m used to the play-offs, alright, after being with Bray a couple of years. That was a big night but if it came to it and staying up again, I’d take it every day of the week.”
Staying up is certainly the priority for everyone around Oriel Park and looks, on the face of it to be more achievable than success in the cup, but Shields’ experience from that previous semi-final three years ago provides some cause for hope too in its way.
“It (the game at Morton Stadium) went terribly wrong on the day,” he recalls. “I don’t know why but I’d say nerves and the occasion got the better of some people, and we probably underestimated Fingal at the time.
“Some lads would have thought, ‘Ah, they’re a First Division club, all we have to is turn up’. That clearly wasn’t the case. We turned up and got a hammering (Wanderers lost 4-2 having been three down after 25 minutes) in the semi-final.”
The positive that can possibly be drawn from it is there is always the potential to punish a side that goes into a game suffering from over-confidence.
And the circumstances might just lend themselves to the visitors coming down with a bout of that this weekend.
Dundalk’s league form has been pretty miserable for months now. They have gone seven games without taking even a point and have conceded 11 times in their last two games. They are also without Mark Griffin, the man who got them through the quarter-final at Dalymount Park by scoring a stunning free kick.
Still, insists Shields, “I’m upbeat, I believe we can pull off a shock in this competition. Pat’s are a good team, they’re not second in the table for nothing. They play good football. They look to get it down and pass and move it. They’re a lot like Bohs but a step up.
“But I think the lads will be pumped up, the attitude will be that we’re not just here to make up the numbers.
“Semi-finals are always different occasions. We’ll be going in as underdogs but we’re used to that. We’ve been underdogs all season so hopefully we can pull something out of the bag and get a big day out at the Aviva.”