Shields seeks action replay of formula for Cork misery
IN another week, the arrival of Cork City in town would have dominated the minds of everyone involved with Dundalk as they continue their quest to retain the title.
But a quirk of the fixture list means that the arrival of John Caulfield's charges in Louth tomorrow evening is almost an afterthought in the context of the plans the champions had just three days ago.
The players of Dundalk would prefer to be finalising their arrangements for a trip to Hungary and a continuation of their Champions League adventure.
However, an exit at the hands of the accomplished BATE Borisov on Wednesday means that a pivotal league fixture goes ahead with a slightly curious prelude.
The presumption is that it's a perfect opportunity for Cork to capitalise on Dundalk's disappointment and reduce the six-point gap at the top of the Airtricity League.
Lilywhites midfielder Chris Shields is conscious of that school of thought . "We can't go in with our heads down," says the combative operator. "We'll show them there's none of that old cliche, the European hangover, because of the magnitude of the game."
These are crucial matches alright. Last year, they decided the destination of the title as Dundalk's 100pc record over Cork settled a race that went down to that memorable last day showdown in Oriel.
The first encounter this term went the way of Dundalk at Turner's Cross, with Shields prominent in a deserved victory. If Cork had managed to hold onto the lead they claimed in that match, they would make this trip level at the top of the table.
Yet they had no answer when Stephen Kenny's men came off the ropes stronger to emerge as victors and leave the Leesiders playing catch-up. Shields admits that Kenny's troops always seem to perform against their main pursuers.
"It's the big games where we play our best football," he says, "Cork have been right up there for the last year or two but we've always put in good performances against them and come out on the right side.
"But that means nothing going into the game. There's no point talking about a hoodoo or whatever. Cork are well capable of turning us over if we switch off."
Shields, who came off the bench in the frustrating scoreless second leg with BATE, is happy that the first game after the outcome is such a big one as it will help focus minds.
That view is shared in the group; the BATE experience has increased the desire to get back onto the Champions League stage again in 12 months' time. A low-key affair might have brought home the reality of the missed opportunity.
"It helps that it's quick turnaround," asserts Shields, "And it doesn't get any bigger with first v second. A win for us is huge as it would put us nine points ahead and give us breathing space.
"We don't have time to dwell on the BATE game. We competed with them all the way over the two legs and that's why we're so disappointed that we couldn't get the goal here.
"But I think we were a credit to the league, and we've got a taste of it now. We want to be back competing at the highest level again so that's why it's all about Cork now."
Unfortunately, the hasty organisation ruled out live TV coverage. There should be no shortage of highlights with so much at stake.