Shields aiming for more cup success
It’s a big week of cup football in Oriel Park, with Dundalk FC in the middle of two crucial knockout games that could help shape their season.
The Lilywhites booked a place in the EA Sports Cup final for a third time in six years on Monday night with a terrific 6-1 win over Bohemians at Oriel Park, leaving them in good spirits ahead of a trip to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium on Friday to face Derry City in the FAI Cup second round.
Chris Shields is a veteran of five cup finals with Dundalk, with three FAI Cup final appearances, including two victories, in the last four years – he missed the 2017 final through injury – to add to EA Sports Cup success in 2014 and 2017.
With last season’s shock defeat to Cobh Ramblers at the semi-final stage still fresh in the memory, the midfielder was delighted to book a place in another EA Sports Cup final on Monday.
“The semi-final defeat last year in Cobh has been referenced enough times this year to be known within the squad. You don’t get these opportunities to get to finals all that often,” said Shields.
“You don’t know how many you’re going to get throughout your career, so don’t want stuff them up and always be wanting to get to finals and be in with a chance to win cups. I’ve won the league cup twice here and I’ve enjoyed it both times. You want to win as many medals as you can.”
Dundalk booked their final place by firing a six-goal salvo past Bohemians on Monday, with striker Patrick Hoban bagging a four-goal haul, including a 10-minute hat-trick that started with the opening goal on four minutes.
Following a 5-0 win over Finn Harps on Friday night, that’s 11 goals in two games for the Lilywhites, and Shields is delighted that the side has got back into the groove in the attacking third.
“It was a good win on Monday and it’s good to get back in the goals. I’m sure Pat’s a happy man. He can be a humpy man when he’s not scoring, but he got four goals and he was brilliant throughout the night, so he deserved it.
“It’s good to see Fats [Patrick McEleney] has got his mojo back as well and then Daniel Kelly keeps chipping in with goals. We’ve got the right people scoring at the right time of year and another final to look forward to.”
The Lilywhites are now on a run of 20 games unbeaten in all domestic competitions, with their last defeat coming against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds over four months ago.
After the disappointment of the Europa League defeat to Slovan Bratislava last week, Shields has been pleased, though not surprised, by the response of everyone within the squad.
“The standards that we set ourselves and the ambition we have within the squad and the club, when Europe didn’t go the way we wanted and the manner that we went out, it was disappointing.
“It could have had a bad effect on the following weeks, but we’ve shown that we’ve the capability to bounce back and we know how important it is to be successful domestically and that’s what we’ve shown in the past few days.
“Our squad quality has really shown this season. In recent weeks in Europe, back when we had a heavy schedule in April and May, and now you see it this last week. Six and then seven changes in the last couple of games and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at it.”
Now all focus turns to the FAI Cup, with preparations underway for Friday’s trip to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium, to face Derry City in what is being hailed as the tie of the round.
Shields knows that nothing that nothing but a top performance will do for the cup holders against a side with a great history in the competition, but he’s confident that the Lilywhites can get the result they need on Friday night and take one step closer to another final.
“It’s a huge game coming up. Derry have a great prestige with the FAI Cup. It’s a real sentimental trophy to them, and with us being the holders, we want to get to a final again. You can’t beat walking out in the Aviva on the first weekend in November and playing in front of that crowd,” said Shields.
“It’s going to be a hugely difficult game on Friday, so we’ve got to knuckle down now, recover well, do our homework and go up to Derry and hopefully win.
“But we’re confident. We’ve scored eleven goals in two games and the boys in front of me make it look so easy. It’s really free-flowing at the moment. Our confidence is sky high, the group is really together and that will only push us on further and further throughout the year.”