New twist suggests ‘Shep’ saga isn’t over
DUNDALK FC NEWS
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.