Chris Shields programme article

Posted : 18th March 2023

‘Look at Linfield’ this week catches up with buoyant midfielder Chris Shields, who is still on a 'high' after scoring a penalty in Linfield’s 2-0 win over Coleraine in last week’s BetMcLean Cup Final in front of 11,038 spectators, as the Blues won the prestigious trophy for a record eleventh time.

Shields scored from the spot on 59 minutes for his seventh goal of the season and says it was a battle of minds between him and Coleraine ‘keeper Gareth Deane.

“Given I’d scored a penalty against Coleraine a few weeks prior, Eetu was pointing to the same side which was just part of the pantomime, and in the end, I’ve thankfully outsmarted the ‘keeper. Goalkeepers will always try to put you off, so it was a battle of the minds.

“You see the best players in the world miss penalties. It’s not an easy craft, but I enjoy taking them. I missed one in the Irish Cup defeat to Larne but all you can do is to score your next one, and I’ve now scored two since then – both in pressurised games, so I am happy to get back 'on the horse'.

“I thrive on high-pressure situations. I knew if I missed, it might have handed Coleraine a lift when they were very much still in the contest at 1-0. To score in front of that big crowd was brilliant, especially with my wife there to watch. These are nice memories to pick up, along the way through your playing career.”

Having exited four competitions via penalty shoot-out defeats this season, former Dundalk captain Shields says there was a tinge of relief after the game, as the Blues didn’t want to be known as the nearly men this season.

“There was pressure on us going into the game because it could have easily become a season of ‘nearly’ moments, had we not won. We fell at the final hurdle in Europe when we lost on penalties, lost the County Antrim Shield final on penalties, the League campaign hasn’t gone swimmingly so far, and we exited both the Irish Cup and SPFL Trust Trophy on penalties as well.

“It’s been a long season. Some players are approaching 50 appearances for the season and we still have at least seven matches left. Had we gone further in the Irish Cup, we’d have been playing every possible game that was available to us. For everyone involved, the League Cup win is a nice boost, given what we’ve already put into this season.

“The longer it stayed 0-0, the more you’d have started to wonder would it be another one of those days, but thankfully, we came to the fore and showed our intent. We were well aware that people outside the Club probably wanted us to fall on our backside at the final hurdle, so we were glad to avoid that. I thought we could have seen out a 1-0 lead, then when it went to 2-0, I thought we were quite comfortable.”

The 32-year-old had a successful nine-year stay at Dundalk between 2012 and 2021, winning five League titles and three FAI Cups. However, when he arrived at Oriel Park in 2012, the Club was in a relegation battle. Therefore, coming to Windsor Park has been different for him, in the sense that he joined a Club who are expected to be successful continually and he admits he was a little taken back by it at first – but it is something he relishes.

“The demands put on the Club by fans and internal people here are very big. When I was successful with Dundalk, we had created that success ourselves by building it up out of nothing, whereas at Linfield, success is all this Club has ever known and I knew I was coming to a place where you need to win silverware.

“I remember early on in my Linfield career, we were knocked out of the League Cup and then lost to Crusaders at Seaview the same week, and there were certain questions being asked of David Healy which was unbeknown to me, because I have followed the Irish League for a long time and have always considered him a top manager, so I quickly realised then that you need to win every week, or it’s like a crisis.”

In what was his first season at Linfield last year, the Dubliner swept up the Player of the Year awards in the Blues’ League-winning campaign. This year, his goal tally is the same but he admits the amount of games has been a challenge.

“It’s hard for me to assess my form this season. Perhaps I haven’t reached the levels of last season, but you have to take into account how long the season has been going, and as a team we had that massive blip around October time when everyone seemed to be out of form. However, we clawed it back quite well and we aren’t out of it just yet.

“Have there been times when I have played when I haven’t been quite one-hundred-percent? Absolutely – I’d love to be stepping on the pitch some day when nothing would be sore, but until the day I stop playing, I can’t see that happening. You play through pain – that’s part and parcel of the game.”

Looking ahead, the combative midfielder is hoping last week’s League Cup success can add to Linfield’s momentum, as they try and claw back a seven-point gap on League leaders Larne with only seven matches remaining.

“We want to win these two games before the split and then assess where we’re at. The split will be massive – the League is so competitive and you just don’t know what can happen. Of course we know we will require favours, but we just have to make sure we are looking after ourselves. Our mindset is that we more-or-less need to win every game.

“I watched from outside when Linfield clawed back a 12-point gap on Crusaders to win the League in 2017, so you have to draw on the boys’ experience, given that we are in a similar scenario now. Those boys who were part of that team and who remain at the Club, will tell you it’s never over until it’s over.”

Congratulations to Chris on last week's enjoyable League Cup success and best wishes to the popular midfielder for the remainder of what's been a long and challenging season.
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Queen's University
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