Shields looking forward to testing mettle against Dublin

Cork captain pleased with the quality of the talented new young players in manager Brian Cuthbert’s squad

Cork captain Michael Shields at the launch of the Alan Kerins Projects’ fundraising event ‘Sam To The Summit’ at Westwood Gym in Dublin. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Cork captain Michael Shields at the launch of the Alan Kerins Projects’ fundraising event ‘Sam To The Summit’ at Westwood Gym in Dublin. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 


For a team seemingly destroyed by the mass exodus of so many All-Ireland winners, Cork haven’t endured the worst start to the Allianz Football League. In fact, they’ve started better than most, and Saturday’s showdown with Dublin in Croke Park will decide who takes over outright leadership of Division One.

Michael Shields is also enjoying a new leadership role as Cork captain. At 27, he now qualifies as one of the so-called veterans (not that he looks it), given the succession of retirements towards the end of last year that included 2010 All-Ireland winners Pearse O’Neill, Graham Canty, Paudie Kissane, Noel O’Leary, Alan O’Connor and goalkeeper Alan Quirke. Star forward Ciarán Sheehan also signed a two-year contract with AFL side Carlton Blues.

“Well I think a lot of those lads were going to retire anyway, if it wasn’t the end of last summer, it would have been the end of this summer,” says Shields. “And the younger players that have come in were a part of good minor and under-21 teams, so it was only a matter of time before these fellas did come in, anyway.

Good start
“And they have brought a breath of fresh air to the whole thing and it’s been a good start. We’d a hard-fought win against Kildare. It took us a while to get going against Westmeath, but we got over the line.

“Now it’s Dublin and they’re going well, after winning two games themselves. I think the most important thing for us is to have a good performance. That’s something we’ve been working on all through the league so far, try getting a good start and try finishing out games, maintaining it through 70 minutes in games. But Dublin will be a good test for us, and we’ll see where we’re at.”

It’s easily forgotten Cork tested Dublin better than most teams last summer, their All-Ireland quarter-final very close, until the very end. Cork created numerous goal chances but failed to convert any of them, and Dublin won 1-16 to 0-14. Dublin looked particularly vulnerable under the high ball, especially with Sheehan sniffing around the goalmouth.

“I suppose the big plus of last summer was Ciarán Sheehan was playing, but unfortunately he’s gone over to Oz now, so that’s gone, unless we look at putting someone else inside there. It’s something we can think about, because we do have some good inside forwards, so we don’t really need to limit ourselves. It’s all about the management really, what type of ball they want to deliver in.

Midfield area
“But that game was a missed opportunity, definitely. If you look at some of the areas that we were beaten, probably in around the midfield area, they had a lot of runners coming through, and they got a few goal scoring opportunities. I’ve watched the game in recent times and it’s not all that bad.

“ We created a lot of chances that night. We caused them problems in certain areas. It’s just probably fine-tuning a lot of things and working on other things this year. But I don’t think we’ll be far off . . .”

New Cork manager Brian Cuthbert may have lost seven former All-Ireland winners, but there was some consolation in the fact both Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan have committed to both codes this season.

“They’re both a huge boost,” says Shields. “They offer you so much, Aidan you can put on the wing, midfield. Eoin is a brilliant defender and can go full-back, corner-back or you could maybe try him in the half-back line . . . .”

Brief flirtation
Shields is currently living and studying in Dublin, and also nursing a knee ligament strain, sustained in the first round win over Westmeath, which may well keep him out of Saturday’s game, but not much longer.

He says he enjoys living in Dublin, where no one recognises him on the street – not that they recognised him in Cork either. Nor has Shields any regrets about giving up on his brief flirtation with the AFL, having also joined Carlton Blues on a rookie contract, before returning home after six months.

“It just wasn’t for me. The life was great, the training was brilliant, the sun was great. I just genuinely missed home, missed my friends, and family mainly. That’s the reason I came home. And I prefer it over here. I prefer playing Gaelic football, prefer living here.

“The skills of AFL I actually found easy enough to master, but for me it was the quickness of the game. When you have the ball, you have players running at you and you’re trying to think about kicking the ball straightaway. And I found myself in different positions all the time.

“You could nearly say I was offside all the time in AFL. I didn’t know where I was going. And in terms of being in the wrong position, that was something I struggled with.”