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Sheppard missing cheers and jeers

Shels striker longing for an end to that empty feeling with no fans

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Shelbourne striker Karl Sheppard is keen to have fans back at Premier Division games. Photo: Sportsfile

Shelbourne striker Karl Sheppard is keen to have fans back at Premier Division games. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Shelbourne striker Karl Sheppard is keen to have fans back at Premier Division games. Photo: Sportsfile

It will be more of a tiny trickle than a flood when Shelbourne open a gate at Tolka Park and admit just 50 supporters for tomorrow's game at home to Derry City.

Even though he knows all about the downside of having vocal supporters from the opposition on his back for 90 minutes, Shels forward Karl Sheppard, agrees that empty stands are unnatural and he backs the often-stated theory that 'football without fans is nothing'.

So he will welcome the fact that Shels can allow in 50 of their fans for Derry's visit, season ticket holders who won a golden ticket through a raffle system, but is waiting for when more can be admitted if and when Covid-19 restrictions are eased.

"It's a gesture from the club towards the fans, to let 50 of them in for this week, to let at least some of the fans feel part of it," says Sheppard.

Difference

"I can't see it making too much of a difference to the players to have 50 fans in, they can't make much noise in an empty stadium, but I am sure the ones who do get a ticket for the Derry game, who have only been able to watch the last three games on TV or on a live stream, will be glad to see us play again.

"This is part of life now with Covid-19, it's not easy to get used to, playing matches in empty stadiums, but we just have to adapt.

"It's good to be just playing at all, us having even 50 fans is a step up. But the game misses a lot from there being no fans inside.

"I am a player who tends to get a lot of abuse from opposing fans and that drives me on, like praise from my own club's fans encourages me as well, it lifts your game

"I get it at a few clubs but I don't think that Bohs supporters are my biggest fans.

"It's nice to be getting stick in a way, it fires you up to make those fans shut up and show them, I miss all of that, your own fans shouting for you, opposing fans roaring at you, it's all part of the game, especially in the Dublin derbies.

"Our next derby is away to Rovers, you can still win points and bragging rights but it's not the same as playing in front of thousands at Tolka Park or Tallaght, so us as a team will have to try and create our own intensity."

The empty stands experience reminds Sheppard, who had cross-channel spells with Everton and Reading, of playing in reserve or U23 games with no one present.

"You can hear everything every player shouts and it brings back memories of those games in England, but you have to try and get used to it, the longer it goes on the more normal it will become," he says.

"You are used to getting applause if you do something well, or getting abuse for playing a bad pass, it's just about getting used to it."

The advantage of being at home, or the lack of one, in matches played behind closed doors has been under scrutiny since the League of Ireland resumed: of the first 12 games played in both divisions after the restart, only once did the home side win, and managers wondered if being away was more beneficial.

That seems to have changed over the course of a few days: in last week's Premier Division programme, three of the five games were won by the home sides, and all three FAI Cup ties this week saw the home teams win.

"I don't know if home advantage is one but it takes a hit," says Sheppard.

"Your home fans can be a 12th man for you at times and you miss them when they're not there.

"But it's up to each team to generate something at home and start well.

"In our first game since the restart, at home to Waterford, I think we fell into the trap of being lazy, allowing the opposition to settle and we played in second gear, so you need to snap out of that as soon as you can."

Sheppard returns to the Shels' squad for tomorrow, having served a suspension in last week's defeat to Sligo Rovers as punishment for his red card away to Finn Harps, but he'll be banned again for next week's derby away to Shamrock Rovers, Shels still to find form with a win/lose/win/lose run.

"It has been stop start for us as a team," he says."When we play well we know we can take points off any team in the league, we gave Dundalk a good game and beat St Pat's.

"But it's about finding consistency, we need to be able to grind out a result in a game where we're maybe not playing too well, turn a defeat in to a draw, turn a draw into a win.

"Derry tomorrow is a challenge as they're a good side, aiming for Europe, so we have to be strong."