Sunday’s FAI Cup final is no ordinary game for Sean Gannon and Chris Shields as they join the illustrious 300 club. For Gannon, the match against Shamrock Rovers will be the 300th appearance of his career while for Shields it will be his 300th game for Dundalk. James Rogers caught up with the pair after Friday’s trophy presentation ceremony against St Patrick’s Athletic to get their views on the big game, their journey together at the club and what a win on Sunday would mean to them.
James Rogers: First and foremost Sean, what’s it like to get another league medal?
Sean Gannon: Yeah, it’s amazing to be honest. That was our goal at the start of the year, to retain the league title. This season has had everything but it was vital that we retained it and then it was great to celebrate it there tonight. Now we can move on to the game next week.
JR: Two defeats is normally a crisis at this club. I know the losses to Bohs and Cork probably didn’t matter too much but I’m sure you wanted to go into the final with a win under your belt and you did that.
Chris Shields: Yeah, it wasn’t as important as it would be if they had come at a different stage of the season but we still took them hard enough because that’s the character within the group. We don’t like losing games but I felt tonight it was good for us squad wise. It was good to have John (Mountney) and Jordan (Flores) back after their injuries. They’ve come back in and now Vinny has a severe headache for Sunday. I wouldn’t like to be in his position picking the team but it’s great to have every part of the squad back in firing and I felt tonight was a nice way to go out by popping a cork on the league campaign.
JR: He probably hasn’t had a fully fit squad at any point but for the final now he could finally have it.
CS: Yeah but that’s a credit to the squad too. There were different injuries throughout the season and a point where myself, Benson, Mountney and McEleney were all out at the start of the year and players had to play out of position and other players had to step up to the plate and keep us in the title race. That was a credit to the squad. Different people dropped out at different times but now Vinny has a tough job on picking a team for Sunday for what is the showpiece of the year.
JR: You’ll have more on your mind come Sunday but to play your 300th game for Dundalk and to do it in the Aviva, you probably couldn’t have picked a better place to do it?
CS: It feels like 3,000 more than 300 but it’s a nice little milestone and there’s no better setting in Irish football to do it in. To cap it off with a win on my 300th game and complete the treble, maybe three is going to be a special number.
JR: What does Chris add to the team?
SG: He’s vital. We all know how important he is to the team, especially myself playing as a full back because he gives me the licence to join in attacks a bit more because I know he’s always going to be there for me, covering across or whatever. He’s so important for us in how we play and he has definitely been such a huge part of the team.
JR: I’ll return the question to you Chris, what does Ganno bring?
CS: Everybody has seen Ganno over the years but he’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves because he is hands down the best right full that I’ve played with and I’d go as far as to say he’s the best right full to play in the league in the modern era. He is streets ahead of what I’ve seen play. He’s a great professional but he’s a bit of a moany b*****d but he’s a great character around the dressing room too and that goes a long way. He has a little brother now in Dickie that he has to look after every day so he’s a little busier than usual and you don’t see him as much. He’s a core member of the group who has been here since Stephen’s journey and us being so successful. To achieve all this with him has been a pleasure.
JR: When you think back to his debut against Drogheda when you lost 4-1, he has come along way since then hasn’t he?
CS: I’m no one to brag. I was playing centre half that night! It wasn’t a good night for the two of us.
SG: I should have got my P45 after one game.
CS: It was soon after that that I was pushed back into midfield and we realised we had it right. That was a bad night all round and we didn’t know what was going on but Sean has kicked on severely since then and no one has been able to match him. Six Teams of the Year in-a-row speaks for itself.
JR: The journey you’ve both been on has been incredible but the treble is probably the one that has maybe got away. I remember speaking to Patrick McEleney after he scored the winner last year and the first thing he said to me was that you had let the EA Sports Cup go. How much has it niggled at you that you haven’t done a treble before now because it probably has been on the cards once or twice.
SG: Well the first time we done a double we went out of the EA Sports Cup on penalties to Galway and then last year we went out in another semi-final as well against Cobh so you could say we let a possible treble slip before but it’s on now and we’ll go to the Aviva after a great performance tonight and a good win. We’ll be bouncing into the game next week. I think if you start overthinking the treble it can become something that you don’t want it to be and you end up playing the occasion rather than the game. I think we’ll just be going into it the same way as we did for the games against Cork. It’s a Cup final against a rival and you want to come out and top. If we do and get the treble that’s obviously brilliant but all we’re thinking about is winning on Sunday really.
JR: The Aviva is obviously somewhere that you’ve played a few times in now but I’m sure it never gets boring or never gets old?
CS: No, it still definitely takes your breath away. I always find that you try and be in the zone for the warm up but as the anthem finishes and you look around that’s when it kind of gets you. You kind of have to collect yourself a bit and say it’s just a bit of football now and you can’t take in all the surroundings. It’s a one-off game so anything can happen and as Ganno says it’s about playing the game rather than the occasion. I think we’ve some experienced professionals who have been there a few times so we do know how to handle it. There’s a few lads who, for them, it’s a first Cup final but that’s good as well because they have the exuberance of it rather than us old boring fellas who have been there before.
JR: Obviously Rovers’ strength is really in midfield and they have a wealth of options. Do you thrive on playing in them sort of games?
CS: Yeah. I think they’ve been good games all year. Even the 0-0 at the start of the year was a decent enough game. The quality that is on show from both teams, it’s probably the highest the rivalry has been since we’ve been successful. That’s no disrespect to Cork because it has been a great rivalry over the years but not it has moved on to Rovers. There always was a bit of a rivalry there but they weren’t really up to where we were but now they are. They’re a good team with good players and it should make for a great day and hopefully the FAI advertise it right and the town get behind us. We’d love to see the town black and white. That has maybe been a bit lacking this year. Maybe the expectancy has got too much but we need a push from the town because Rovers are local and they’re going to bring a big crowd so we really need for people to empty the town because it could be the highest attendance for any of the recent finals. I would expect it to be but who is to know on the day.
JR: Sean you were at Rovers so you know and got a flavour of just how much the Cup means to them. 32 years is a lifetime really to have won it. I’m sure you’d have to be at least 40 to remember their last Cup win and certainly no player will remember it but they’ll obviously be fired up for it needless to say.
SG: Yeah there’s expectancy on Rovers every year. They’re a big club and they’re the local team so they’ll have a big support. There’ll be pressure on them to win it as well because it’s their first final since 2010. They’ll be coming to win the game and it’ll be a tough game but we’ll be going there confident that we can win it. You can talk about the Cup and Rovers and things like that but we’ve got a great recent history in it and we want to keep that going.
JR: In terms of this season with Stephen leaving and Vinny coming in, it has been a pretty good year so far but it would be pretty special if you could finish it with two more trophies.
SG: Yeah, definitely. There’s still two more trophies up for grabs and our aim is to win everything that we’re in. That’s just the mentality of the club and the mentality of the group. There’s still two to play for. Yeah, it has been a great year so far. Winning the league was our main goal and we’ve done that now so we can take that into the final now next week.
JR: Chris, you seen Garts out there tonight with Bobbie and the league trophy, I’m sure you’ll want your daughter there for the Cup final because it can be a special moment for families?
CS: I don’t know if she’ll be there. It’s harder for us coming from the North. She has a good routine so I’m not going to break that for a Cup final because if it went the worst way I’d be dragging her down the whole way for nothing. It is great for lads that have children though. That shows how much we’ve changed since we came here as 22 and 23 year olds. Now we’re all married with kids.
SG: … and mortgages!
CS: It’s great though because we’ve kind of become adults together from young men so it’s special like that but regarding Evie, she might go to the Chris Shields Cross Border Cup.
JR: It has been some journey though. I know you’re probably sick at looking back at 2012 but when you consider that year you lost 6-0 and 7-0 against Rovers, to achieve what you have, it’s incredible how far you’ve come really isn’t it?
CS: Yeah, it’s huge. Myself and John got a picture there which is great to have because we’ve become very good friends throughout the whole process. I look back to 2012 and I didn’t know if I was going to be wanted at the end of that season or where my future lay but then I came back in with the lads and I’ve been on this journey under Stephen and now Vinny and despite that change that self driven want for success is still in the dressing room.
JG: Finally Sean, I know you guys look beating a record. Dundalk have actually never retained the Cup so it has to be another aim.
SG: Yeah, that’s our goal. If we can break another record then great but our goal is to retain the Cup. We don’t want to let any trophy that we have go because it’s not a nice feeling. We had two losses in the Aviva and it’s just not a nice feeling at all. We’ll be going there to win. As you seen tonight, lads are coming back from injury and the squad is so strong. Training this week we’ll probably have as many as we’ve had all year so everyone will be fighting for a spot in the team.
JR: Best of luck lads.