Shels young guns gear up for big test
Shelbourne manager Kevin Doherty would like to demand complete focus from his players as they prepare for the toughest test in Irish football, taking on a rampant Dundalk side.
But Doherty has to be understanding of his players' personal circumstances, with three of them juggling the demands of football - like tonight's FAI Cup tie away to the cup holders and league leaders - and studies for the Leaving Cert.
"Three of our lads - Dylan Grimes, Conor Keeley and Robert Duggan - are doing the Leaving next month. I don't think you'll have many of the Dundalk lads sitting down to do their homework," says Doherty.
"The Dundalk players are full-time, getting ice baths and all that comes with being a pro, our lads get a sore back from carrying their books to school. So it's not easy."
Two things inform second-tier side Shels just how hard their task is tonight. First, there's recent history, as the sides were drawn together at this stage of the competition last season, Dundalk romping home 5-0 on their way to winning the cup.
And there's recent form: Dundalk have won their last seven league games in a row, conceding just once along the way and they scored seven times in their last match. The fact that Dublin rivals Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers were both dismissed on a 2-0 scoreline by Dundalk could fill Reds' supporters with bad omens, so Doherty is under no illusions.
"It's a matter of being competitive, trying to enjoy the game, because my players won't enjoy the occasion if they get tanked 7-0, as Dundalk did to Finn Harps last week," added Doherty.
"It's going to be very, very difficult as Dundalk don't appear to have many weaknesses, that clean sheets record they have is astonishing.
"We have prepared as well as possible, we have done our homework on how Dundalk shape up. They could still hammer us, if I am honest, but whatever happens we we will be prepared. If you're beaten by a better side but have at least prepared well, you can hold your head up. Everyone is expecting a home win but stranger things have happened, and there is a chance we could be involved in something special" added Doherty.
His side, however, have a decent cup record this year as they knocked Bohs out of the League Cup and only lost to Shamrock Rovers on penalties. "The Bohs win was a great night for us as we deserved it, but the league is the priority," he says.