OUR SOLE focus is on Derry TIE
Sheppard backs Hoops to overcome Cup test
KARL Sheppard has told his Shamrock Rovers team-mates to put aside any thoughts about an all-Dublin FAI Cup final until they have cleared the last hurdle on the way to Lansdowne Road.
Sunday's 1-1 draw in the semi-final between Rovers and Derry City has forced the clubs to do battle once again tonight in a replay at the Brandywell.
St Patrick's Athletic are already in the final, courtesy of their 6-1 win over Finn Harps on Sunday, and many observers feel that a Rovers-Pats final - potentially the first meeting of the two Dublin rivals in the Cup decider since 1967 - would be the perfect way to finish off the 2014 season.
Links between the Dublin sides are intense as Rovers boss Pat Fenlon won a league as a player with Pats while Saints manager Liam Buckley played for, and managed, the Hoops. Current Rovers players Conor Kenna and Sean O'Connor both left St Pats for the Hoops while no fewer than nine of the present-day Pats squad had spells with Rovers, and Pats-Rovers clash would be the edgiest final in years.
But in the way of an all-Dublin final stand a Derry City side who, despite having a poor home record in what's been a poor season for the club, have big ambitions about winning back the Cup they last won in 2012 and also reclaiming a place in Europe, and Hoops man Sheppard is wary of their threat.
"We haven't got a foot in the final yet, we have to go up to Derry now and finish off the job. Derry are slight favourites now as they are at home and it won't be easy up there, but we have won up there already this season so we know we can do it," says Sheppard ahead of the trip north.
"The fans would probably love a Pats-Rovers final but we're not there yet so there's no point in us players even thinking about that.
"This is a massive game tonight for us. It would be a big disappointment to finish off the season without a trophy. We came into this season thinking that this could be the year where we really bounced back from a couple of disappointing seasons and two years without European football and it hasn't worked out like that.
"If we can seal a place in Europe and win the Cup it will have been a decent season for us. There's a lot at stake now, Derry know they can get a place in Europe if they win it so we have to go up there and win it tonight," added Sheppard.
Derry boss Peter Hutton said after Sunday's drawn game that he hoped to see a decent crowd at the Brandywell this season but those attending the game will also hope to get more entertainment that was witnessed in Sunday's draw.
"Sunday wasn't a great game, it was a scrappy affair and I don't think the wind helped at all. We were trying to get the ball down and play but it was hard to do that in the swirling wind, the conditions weren't great.
"But hopefully that won't be a factor up in Derry. It was really hard to play on Sunday, you are trying to judge the flight of the ball as it comes into you and the wind just takes it away," said Sheppard.
Just who starts up front for Rovers is a big question for Fenlon to ponder while on the coach up the N2 this evening, as sub Dean Kelly scored on Sunday after replacing Sheppard, while in the last round of the competition it was Sheppard who bore the 'Supersub' tag.
"I wasn't happy to come off when I did but it looks like another piece of tactical genius from the manager.
"I came off the bench in the last round in Dundalk and scored, Deano came off the bench on Sunday and scored so that's the way it works when the manager makes a decision," he says.
"It was my turn in the last round, Dean's turn on Sunday so we'll see who comes up with the goal in this game tonight. But I don't care who scores as long as we get the win and make it into the final."