"Put ourselves in the history books" - League completed, Shields eyes FAI Cup victory

15th November 2023

Familiarity breeds contempt but that cannot be said for Dundalk FC following their fifth league title win in six seasons as the celebrations while joyous were muted somewhat an hour or so following the final whistle. The players know the focus now

Familiarity breeds contempt but that cannot be said for Dundalk FC following their fifth league title win in six seasons as the celebrations while joyous were muted somewhat an hour or so following the final whistle. The players know the focus now shifts to Cup Final week with the suits hung ready for collection in Dundalk the players know the next step is to the Aviva.  One player who has been there done that and certainly bought all the t-shirts has been midfielder Chris Shields. The corner stone of the Dundalk team and the elder statesman of the side at just twenty-eight it's hard to believe that when he reaches thirty he is eligible for a testimonial at the club. Loyalty in football is rare but Shields has shown that loyalty that has reaped the rewards of a lifetime.  “Its kind of unrivalled since I've been a league of Ireland fan and player. It’s great for the group and the squad we have five titles together, there are people who have four. It’s important we do have a core group that keeps driving that on.” Reflected Shields as he emerged from the dressing room in Oriel, like a lot of the players they were in no rush to leave, talking to the reporters basking in the win for that little while longer is what makes a night like this all the more special.  “We never take these nights for granted because they are so special they can easily be taken away from you so it's great to be part of it again.” Dundalk is on course of a domestic treble but what lies in their way is the Tallaght powerhouse of Shamrock Rovers, for the first time in this era of dominance Cork City will not be the foe to face Dundalk in the Aviva. This brings a new buzz of excitement to the final but Shields knows the challenge that lies ahead to gaining the treble dream. If you look at the difficulty in context only one has ever achieved a domestic treble in England and that happened last year with Manchester City - its a very difficult feat. “It’s something we have let slip twice in our time in 2015 and last year and it will eat away at you so this is a perfect chance although it's probably the most difficult chance we have at doing it. But it to be a goal for everyone in the squad to put themselves in the history books it’s only been done once before by Derry in ’89. It’s a great incentive and it adds to an even better occasion than it is next Sunday." November 2, 2012, Chris Shields and a young Lily-white side celebrated Premier Division survival by defeating Waterford in a promotion/relegation playoff. When Shields walked off the pitch that night the realisation of a harsh new world was upon him as he was unsure as to what was to happen to him or his teammates, players left but Shields along with John Mountney were the only two survivors to remain from that night, what a journey it has been but Shields believes this year was one that really capped it all off.  “Not at all I didn’t even know if I was wanted back at the club, or what my future held for me. It was kind of a turbulent time as a young player in the League of Ireland career, I didn’t know what my next step was. Luckily Stephen came in and I was part of the incredible journey we have all been on since 2013 and now this year is probably a little bit extra special because when Stephen left at the start of the year his job at the FAI, there were huge question marks around us, people doubted us and it was great to show that this group had a great character to go forward and win a league. Especially after suffering such a deficit at the start of the year, big injuries and a huge points tally to turn around and we have gone and done it and won it by a fair few points which was brilliant.” That points deficit was thirteen in April of this season, it was unfamiliar for Dundalk to not be top of the pile but Shields knew the panic buttons were not to be hit.  “There was no panic within the squad, I remember having a conversation with my dad and he was saying ‘Well, what’s the camp like?’ And I was saying ‘There was nobody panicking’ we had two games in hand and we had Rovers coming to Oriel so we knew what we had to do.  “We are an experienced enough squad that we knew what we had to do at the time and we did do it and went on a phenomenal run-up until winning the league. Since the Sligo game, we didn’t lose a game to go and win the league in the manner that we did was absolutely fantastic and a credit to everyone involved." Year on year, Dundalk strives to bigger and better things, both internally the players drive the team forward to be better and to better. Shields knows the importance of not taking all of this for granted. If you want to remain you have to keep looking forward, basking in past glories will get you nowhere with this group. One of the aspects of this team is that they put everything on the line and sacrifice so much, it’s not lost on Shields that he has had to forego special occasions for training but nights like tonight make it worth it.  “My personal thing was that it was important to improve or you will be left behind in this group and that’s the fact of it. The work that we put in and how hard everyone comes in Monday to Saturday say its phenomenal and this year I don’t remember having a weekend off we were that constant Friday-Monday, Friday-Tuesday travelling so it was a huge ask this year. Not ask - because you do it anyway, it takes a toll I’m sure on your family life. You’re missing things like weddings, christenings and everything but you do be that determined and that self-driven to go and win. The league is our main focus every year and whatever comes along with it is a special bonus.” There is still cup finals to play for with the FAI Cup Final and then the new Unite the Union competition coming swift after, in truth, Dundalk could have four trophies in the cabinet this year but as always the message is the same with the players - we just focus on the next game.  “We have picked up the first two and we have one more - a huge one next Sunday and then we have the little cherry on top as a new competition as in the Unite the Union. I was at the launch its an exciting prospect so you have games coming out of everywhere. Three games to go and we will relish every single one of them.”