New twist sug­gests ‘Shep’ saga isn’t over



IT was to be Stephen Kenny’s very own Dwight Yorke sign­ing but the pro­posed trans­fer of Karl Shep­pard to Dun­dalk now has more than a hint of John Obi Mikel to it.

Back when Sir Alex Fer­gu­son signed Yorke for Manch­ester Utd from As­ton Villa in Au­gust 1998, the leg­endary man­ager said he had signed the striker be­cause he was the one player he most hated play­ing against.

It would prove a re­sound­ing suc­cess. Yorke fin­ished his de­but sea­son at Old Traf­ford with 29 goals in all com­pe­ti­tions and United with the tre­ble.

Dun­dalk sup­port­ers may not have been as ex­cited about snap­ping up Karl Shep­pard as United fans were about Yorke al­most two decades ago but there was merit in the move.

A re­turn of 75 goals from 267 ap­pear­ances in all com­pe­ti­tions for a com­bi­na­tion of Gal­way Utd, Sham­rock Rovers and Cork City might not make Shep­pard the most pro­lific of play­ers the league has seen in re­cent sea­sons.

Yet a delv­ing into those fig­ures gives you an in­di­ca­tion of why Kenny was in­ter­ested. Of those 75 goals, nine have come against Dun­dalk - a fig­ure Shep­pard only matched by a sim­i­lar re­turn against Bray Wan­der­ers.

Since first hit­ting the net at Oriel in a 1-1 draw in May 2011, the 26-year-old has been a ma­jor thorn in Dun­dalk’s side. He scored a brace af­ter com­ing off the bench to end the Li­ly­whites’ FAI Cup hopes at the quar­ter-fi­nal stage in 2014 - still the last time the club have lost in the com­pe­ti­tion in nor­mal time. There were other goals in be­tween but an­other brace in the 2-1 win over Dun­dalk at Turner’s Cross back in March was piv­otal in Cork’s stun­ning start to a sea­son which would ul­ti­mately end with a league and cup dou­ble.

Shep­pard’s trans­fer to Dun­dalk was al­ready a done deal by the time the two sides met in a po­ten­tial ti­tle-de­cider at Turner’s Cross in Septem­ber - with only Rob­bie Ben­son’s late goal pre­vent­ing John Caulfield’s side from be­com­ing cham­pi­ons that night.

It was ahead of the FAI Cup fi­nal, how­ever, that it be­came widely known with some in the me­dia ques­tion­ing whether the Port­marnock man should play. Given his per­for­mance in Turner’s Cross a few weeks ear­lier, that was a stupid ar­gu­ment but it stung Shep­pard to such an ex­tent that he hit out at his doubters af­ter the game. A game he had a big part in de­ter­min­ing the out­come of with an as­sist for Achille Cam­pion’s equaliser and a the open­ing penalty of a shoot-out his side would go on to win.

Still, de­spite his re­ac­tion it came as a huge sur­prise last Tues­day when Cork City an­nounced that Shep­pard - who had in­tended on re­lo­cat­ing to Bal­brig­gan - had signed a new twoyear deal.

Rebel sup­port­ers hailed an­other big win over their fiercest ri­vals but this is a bat­tle that may not be over just yet.

A state­ment from Dun­dalk in the days af­ter con­firmed that Shep­pard had signed a pre-con­tract to join them.

Quot­ing man­ager Stephen Kenny, it gave a time­line of events from his point of view.

It read: ‘Karl Shep­pard ap­proached a mem­ber of our staff to say he was mov­ing to Bal­brig­gan and would we be in­ter­ested in sign­ing him. He’s a good player. He can play in a num­ber of po­si­tions. Ne­go­ti­a­tions were con­cluded quickly and a pre-con­tract agree­ment drawn up by the club’s so­lic­i­tor in Septem­ber.

‘Karl trav­elled up to the City North Ho­tel to sign the pre-con­tract agree­ment. A pre-con­tract is a big com­mit- ment both ways as, for ex­am­ple, the club would have been li­able for this salary for the next two years if he had got in­jured for Cork. How­ever, we un­der­took to do that.

‘At that time, we could have an­nounced that sign­ing as a pre-con­tract sign­ing how­ever out of re­spect for Karl we didn’t. There had just been per­sis­tent ques­tions in the weeks lead­ing up to it. We didn’t con­firm it but we just couldn’t keep deny­ing it.

‘It was like a sit­u­a­tion with other play­ers in the league. It wasn’t any dif­fer­ent - like Greg Bol­ger go­ing from Cork City to Sham­rock Rovers or to Tobi Ade­bayo Rowl­ing go­ing to Cork City. There was a lot of spec­u­la­tion about it but we didn’t con­firm or deny it.

‘Af­ter the Cup fi­nal, Karl had a change of heart. It’s al­ways dif­fi­cult for a player to leave and go to a ri­val to be fair and as a man­ager there’s noth­ing you can do in that sit­u­a­tion. It’s in the club’s hands now. The club will deal with it as they see best.’

Kenny re­fused to com­ment fur­ther on the mat­ter when asked about it by The Ar­gus this week. The club have re­ferred the mat­ter to their solic­i­tors and he didn’t feel it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to say more.

His Dwight Yorke trans­fer was now more akin to Fer­gu­son’s move for John Obi Mikel. The Nige­rian signed a con­tract to join Man Utd in April 2005 and was even pic­tured in the club’s jersey ahead of a pro­posed trans­fer from Nor­we­gian side Lyn the fol­low­ing Jan­uary. A se­ries of events fol­lowed that ul­ti­mately led to him join­ing Chelsea with the Stam­ford Bridge out­fit pay­ing £12 mil­lion to United in com­pen­sa­tion.

The Shep­pard story isn’t iden­ti­cal to Mikel’s but the pos­si­bil­ity of com­pen­sa­tion means it is one that Dun­dalk, from a sheer busi­ness point of view, will now look to pur­sue.

The club’s im­age has been di­min­ished slightly by the saga while if there is money to be made, they can­not turn their back on it.

There is a prece­dent in this re­gard. When Ciaran Mar­tyn agreed to join Shel­bourne in 2004 but later did a U-turn to re­main at Derry City he was forced to pay the Tolka Park out­fit £8,000.

Even with­out tak­ing into ac­count cur­rency con­ver­sions or in­fla­tion, that’s a fig­ure that no League of Ire­land side can af­ford to turn their back on.

That’s why we most likely haven’t heard the end of the Shep­pard story. He has yet to break his si­lence on the mat­ter either other than to re­veal his de­light at re­main­ing on Lee­side.

It en­sures the Dun­dalk v Cork City ri­valry is set to rum­ble on over the close sea­son and will put their num­ber 19 firmly in the spot­light when the sides meet again in the Pres­i­dent’s Cup in early Fe­bru­ary, a game most likely to take place at Oriel Park.

Ex­pect a fiery re­cep­tion for Shep­pard that day. Af­ter events last week, that could be the least of his wor­ries though.

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