Thursday 18 April 2019

Baker bidding to bow out on high

Veteran craves medals with Hoops before retiring

DESSIE BAKER has announced his decision to retire from football at the end of this season -- but hopefully with at least one more medal on his glittering CV.

Baker is currently in his 15th season of League of Ireland football, a career which has seen him land three league titles (all with Shelbourne), three FAI Cup medals (two with Shels, one with Longford Town) as well as three League Cups and a First Division crown.

This season the Tallaght lad is lining out for local club Shamrock Rovers but, at the age of 33, injuries and a long career have taken their toll, and he's managed just two league starts.

So Baker has decided to quit at the end of this campaign. "I think it's just time to go," he told the Herald. "I have been playing for a long time now but I have had a lot of injuries this season and I don't think I can carry on for another year.

"I think a player knows best when it's time to go and I know in my heart that it's time for me to finish up at the end of this season. Maybe I'd be fit enough to play in the First Division if an offer was there but I don't think my heart would be in it after playing for a massive club like Rovers. So when the season is over, I'm hanging up my boots," added former Ireland B cap Baker, who hopes to go into a coaching role.

"But I still have a bit of unfinished business this season," he added. "Rovers are still in with a shout of winning the double -- if we can beat St Pats tonight we're in the FAI Cup final, and we're still there in the league as well -- so hopefully I can pick up at least one medal and maybe two.

"I have won a trophy at every single club I have been at apart from Rovers so that's something I want to change. I think the fact that I am retiring at the end of the season makes me even more determined for this game against Pats tonight. It's my last chance to play in a Cup final and maybe my last chance to get another medal," Baker continued.

"I have had a great career, I played for some great clubs and under some great managers, and I'd like to think that I have contributed to Rovers.

"Michael O'Neill and Trevor Croly have worked hard to get the best out of me and last season -- I think I scored 13 goals -- was one of my best in a long time.

"But it does bug me that I haven't managed to win a trophy in three years at Rovers. In the league, we're still in there with a shout if we win our matches and if Bohs slip up, and I know well from my time in the league that strange things can happen at the end of the season," added the former Stella Maris man.

Baker made his League of Ireland debut for Shels in the 1996/97 season, having joined the Reds from Manchester United, and it's a sign of his longevity that he's one of the few players of that era who is still kicking around. Baker is one of only six players who appeared in the LOI that season who is still playing top flight football in the league, the other veterans being Stuart Byrne (then Bohs, now St Pats), Shaun Maher (then Bohs, now Sporting Fingal), Ollie Cahill (then Cork City, now Sporting Fingal), Owen Heary (then Home Farm Everton, now Bohs) and Barry Ryan (then UCD, now Galway United).

Baker spent eight seasons with Shels before joining Longford Town in 2004. In 2008 he moved to Shamrock Rovers and has been with the Hoops ever since, apart from a spell on loan to First Division side Dundalk.

The Tallaght man was also a regular at international level. He was part of the Irish side which finished third at the World Youth Cup finals in Malaysia in 1997 and also picked up U21 and B caps.

At club level, Baker says that winning the double with Shelbourne in 1999/2000 was a career highlight, but a European game also stands out. "One game I always remember was the UEFA Cup game against Rangers in 1998," he says. "We had to play the home leg at Tranmere's ground because of all the security issues, and even though Rangers had all these stars like (Giovanni) van Bronckhorst and (Gennaro) Gattuso, we went 3-0 up, though they did win 5-3 on the night. I remember I was up against Arthur Numan over in Ibrox -- Rangers had just paid something like £5million for him -- and I did really well, I won the man of the match award and I still have that bottle of champagne.

"I have to say that the FAI Cup win with Longford in 2004 was pretty special as well as I'd had a really good season with them that year.

"I was very lucky to play under a lot of great managers here too. Alex Ferguson was great to me as well. I had four great years at United and even though I didn't make the first team I learned a lot there and it gave me a great grounding to have a career in the game. My only regret so far is that I haven't won a medal with Rovers, so hopefully that will change over the next month."

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