Chris Shields training ahead of the Molde clash (Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
Get all the very latest news in Ireland straight to your email every single day
Sign up!When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. OurPrivacy Noticeexplains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.Thank you for subscribingSee ourprivacy noticeInvalid Email
Chris Shields claims a good ‘kick up the h***’ has served Dundalk well as they embark on this Europa League group stage adventure.
It’s not unchartered territory for a club that was swashbuckling its way across Europe four years ago under Stephen Kenny.
But with no crowds in attendance and the national news cycle dominated by Covid-19, the build-up has been far more low key.
Dundalk’s own preparation has certainly been unconventional as they scramble for a European finish in the latter stages of this season’s domestic league.
And they do so under new management with Filippo Giovagnoli riding the wave of his own scarcely believable fairytale.
Still, one of the charges levelled at Dundalk is that they are not the team of old, and certainly not as dynamic.
But Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Chris Shields, John Mountney, David McMillan, Patrick McEleney and injured Dane Massey were all there in 2016.
Back then, the Lilywhites beat Maccabi Tel Aviv in Tallaght, drew away to AZ Alkmaar in Holland and went down fighting home and away to Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg.
In all six of Dundalk’s group games, there was no more than a goal separating the sides.
But midfield general Shields does not agree that Dundalk have lost their edge and said: “I'd say that’s harsh.
“Maybe there were bigger names when Stephen was in charge and Stephen had this great reputation of performing in Europe and here domestically.
“We’re a new group of players. We can only disband that by going out and being dynamic and being the exciting football team that we know we can be.”
To reach this point, Dundalk knocked out opposition from Andorra, Moldova and the Faroes Islands. For once, the draw was kind to them.
Now Arsenal, Austrian heavyweights Rapid Vienna and Norwegian champions Molde – who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left to join Manchester United – stand in their way.
But Shields credits new Italian boss Giovagnoli for helping to put the team back on track after their Champions League exit and Vinny Perth’s departure in August.
Manager Filippo Giovagnoli
(Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
“We’ve always been a team that’s proud of how we perform and we haven't been performing that great post lockdown,” said Shields.
“It wouldn't have hurt anyone more than the squad of players we have. We're used to success so that lull we went through, it hurt us desperately.
“Filippo and Giuseppe have come in and done excellent work. They put an arm around players who needed it, and kicked others up the h*** if they needed it.
“Hand in hand, they’ve become a good suit for each other and it's showing on the pitch now.”
Shields was suspended for the playoff win over KI when Dundalk won 3-1 despite a below par performance at Aviva Stadium.
Chris Shields in action
(Image: ©INPHO/Bagu Blanco)
“I was in the easy seats but the lads admitted it wasn't their best performance, but in that part of the competition it's a result based business,” he added.
“This was the grand prize and whatever way we had to win, we had to win. Now in a group format it's more of a mini league.
“You can't be underperforming because there are bigger and better teams in this stage of the competition.
“You have to enjoy it and not let your nerves get the better of you because you never know if you'll be back in a situation like this.”