Sheppard refound the route to goal having 'lost his way' - Fenlon
PAT FENLON believes that former Ireland U21 cap Karl Sheppard is back to his best having "lost his way" during some troubled times for Shamrock Rovers this season.
Sheppard, who rejoined Rovers on a permanent deal at the start of this season after a difficult spell with Reading, was rested for Monday's FAI Cup replay away to Dundalk but he proved to be the hero for Rovers on the night, coming off the bench to score both goals as the Hoops overturned a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 and advance to the semi-finals.
It's not been an easy season for the 23-year-old, who has struggled to get games (just five league starts) and goals (only one goal in all competitions this season before Monday) but Fenlon has worked with Sheppard on and off the field to get him back to the levels he was at in 2011, when his form (10 goals in 26 games) helped Rovers win the league title and also earned the former Everton man a move to Reading.
"He has done really well and his work-rate is superb," said Fenlon.
"I know Karl from back in the schoolboy days as we had him at Shelbourne for a while. He is a good player but I think he needed a bit of confidence and I think he has gained that since I came in as manager. We have shown that we believe in him and he has scored a few goals now. He was always a good player but he lost his way a bit in terms of confidence.
"I wouldn't say he was dropped on Monday, I just wanted to give him a break.
"This is a team game and we have a lot of matches: we had a game last Friday and Monday, another game this Saturday and again next Tuesday. We have to use our squad.
"We just thought we would give Karl a bit of a break on Monday night as he'd played in a lot of games for us recently. He played on Friday night and I thought he looked a bit leggy and he has worked hard, they were two great finishes," added Fenlon, delighted to have sealed a place in the last four of the FAI Cup, with Rovers looking for their first win in the competition since 1987.
Sheppard admits that it was not easy to start the game on the bench but he accepts Fenlon's reasons for omitting him. "It's never nice to get dropped but maybe that was the kick up the backside that I might have needed," he says. "It was a nice ball into me for the first goal, nice and early. I was screaming at the boys in the game the other day to get the ball into me early but the ball in on Monday was perfect."
The win over Dundalk clearly meant a lot to the Rovers squad and support. Progress in the Cup was vitally important for Fenlon as his main aim for 2014 remains the delivery of a place in the Europe for next season.
It also gave Rovers a nice boost ahead of the next meeting of the two clubs, also at Oriel Park, in the EA Sports Cup final on Saturday.
"It takes pressure off us and puts a bit more pressure on them," says Sheppard. "There will be a lot of pressure coming on to Dundalk in the coming weeks and we have to see now if we can get a result on Saturday and win a cup.
"We are looking forward to the final now, it's a trophy we want to win. The FAI Cup is clearly the main one, the 'drive for 25' as they are saying, but the one on Saturday is important as well.
"Dundalk are a good side, it was a tight game in Tallaght on Friday but it was good for us to come out on top," added Sheppard, who was capped once at U21 level in November 2011, in the same side as future senior internationals Shane Duffy and Robbie Brady.