Time for Shields

Sun, May 05 2019

Chris Shields Credit: Clare McCahill (ETPhotos)

Casio, Seiko, TAG Heuer. All know the importance of accurate timing. In the League of Ireland, Dundalk appear to share a similar trait over the past six seasons or so. Their league title successes of 2015, 2016 and 2018 were all shaped by a well-timed sequence of results. 

2015 saw 11 wins from the opening 12 league games, amassing 34 points out of a possible 36 to set a strong early pace and they could afford to finish the campaign with three draws in their last four games.

In 2016, following a draw at home to Derry City in their sixth game of the season, they went on to win the next eight games, leaving them with 37 points from a possible 42 which provided a solid platform for their league success.

Again, last season, following three draws in their opening five games, the Lilywhites won six of their next seven games. They did lose two of the next three before picking up 13 wins in a row to effectively end the title race before September.

This year there has been a change in management personnel at the champions and, as expected, it has taken some time for the workings to readjust to the new time set by the coaching team of Perth, Gill and Higgins.

However, even when cogs are in gear and hands pointing in the correct positions, it still requires power to get everything turning in the right direction and moving forward. 

In September 2003, Claudio Ranieri spoke of his Chelsea team as being a fantastic watch, with Claude Makelele as the battery. Indeed, over a decade later the same metaphor could have been applied to his midfield dynamo N’Golo Kanté as Leicester won the Premier League. 

In Dundalk’s case, it’s the metronomic Chris Shields who has provided the energy to a lacklustre Lilywhite outfit so far this season.

After crashing to successive defeats without their influential midfielder, away to St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers, Dundalk were drawing scoreless at home to a resolute Bohemians side when Shields was summoned from the bench to replace Joe McKee.

Dundalk went on to grab a last gasp winner courtesy of a Patrick Hoban penalty, Shields started the next four games and Dundalk won five in a row to close the gap on Shamrock Rovers at the top of the table.

On Friday night, in a similar manner to last season's clash, Dundalk held a 2-0 lead against Derry City at Oriel Park before succumbing to a 2-2 draw.

The home side dominated proceedings for long spells and should have been ahead at the break, only to be denied by a couple of fine stops from their former netminder Peter Cherrie - the Scotsman twice denying ex-Candystripe Michael Duffy. 

The second half saw Patrick Hoban take centre stage with a brace of strikes to set up a platform for Dundalk which they ultimately couldn’t build on as Darren Cole and a late penalty from substitute Eoghan Stokes saw Declan Devine’s men snatch a point.

Throughout the game, several players including Hoban, Cherrie and Sean Gannon stepped into the spotlight for their team but all the while in the background it was Chris Shields who was breaking things up and starting Dundalk’s phases of attack.

Still sporting strapping on his knee, the ‘Clondalkin Colossus’ was tasked with keeping the ‘Ramelton Ronaldinho’ - Barry McNamee - the Derry City skipper, quiet. 

Playing in his most effective number 10 role, the Donegal man was shackled throughout the 90 minutes by Shields - breaking free on a rare occasion to shoot over Gary Rogers' crossbar - for the most part Dundalk’s former skipper intercepted intended passes before they could cause trouble for his team mates.

His timing for these interceptions is exceptional, often drawing vociferous praise from the home crowd in a stadium where he is firmly a fan favourite.

It wasn’t always like this, but Shields has worked hard to bring his game to a level where Dundalk are a different team without his presence. When this was put to him after the game, unsurprisingly given his selfless nature - on and off the field - he shrugged off the inference.

“I wouldn’t say it’s all down to me now!” he said and instead he spoke of the importance of experience in midfield.

“We're just getting players back at the right time” and he went on to note how the returning Patrick McEleney has played an important role in the team's current run.

“Myself and Patrick are experienced players and it looked like we came in at the right time.” 

Frustrated at the result, Shields spoke about it being a 'blip', much like Dundalk’s First Team Coach Vinny Perth who referred to the fact that was now 16 points from a possible 18.

Given that their current title rivals, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers have both suffered a trio of defeats in the same period, Dundalk are still well placed to mount a serious challenge to keep a hold of their title. 

While the 2-2 draw with Derry last season didn’t springboard their title challenge initially, it’s worth noting that when Darren Cole, scorer of Derry's first goal last night, netted against the Lilywhites last year, it was followed by a victory for the Lilywhites at Dalymount Park and coincided with a long unbeaten league run which provided the foundation for last season’s victorious campaign. 

Timing can be  funny as next up for Dundalk is a trip to face Bohemians next week – where they will be without the suspended Patrick Hoban - and you can be sure Chris Shields’ dynamic presence will be powering Dundalk’s next performance in his usual understated way.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.