This may be beginning to feel like an annual pilgrimage to Aviva Stadium for the supporters of Cork City and Dundalk but after the furore surrounding Karl Sheppard in the run-up to last year’s final, the City ace is enjoying the build up a lot more, this time.
It was widely-speculated before last season’s final that Sheppard had already signed a pre-contract agreement with Dundalk and it would be his last game for City before defecting to their deadly rivals.
Obviously, his manager John Caulfield was put in a dilemma when the news broke days before his side were due to do battle to complete a league and cup double and there were rumours that he had told Sheppard he would not be picking him.
“Last year was a bit interrupted, at times,” said Sheppard. “It’s nice to be able to concentrate on the football. Last year wasn’t the easiest build-up I’ve had to a game, especially a cup final, but that’s all in the past now and we’ve played them (Dundalk) about four times since then.”
The Dubliner wasn’t best pleased when Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny failed to deny the move was on last year, and that, coupled with Caulfield and City offering him a great deal to stay, he was persuaded to change his mind.
“I’m delighted to still be at Cork. The only reason I was thinking of moving, at the time, was the girlfriend had a little one and she wasn’t going to be able to commute (to Cork) all the time but, thankfully, she was able to move down and all three of us are settling in really well.”
Sheppard has been one of City’s better players this season but has taken his fair share of stick from Dundalk fans and, more recently, Bohs fans. After netting the crucial second goal in the semi-final replay at Turner’s Cross, he cupped his ears in the direction of the travelling support.
“I know I was getting stick but, for me, it was more about the team getting stick. We were going through a sticky patch at the time and everyone was only too happy to jump on the bandwagon and have a pop
“Coming out of that game, we got to a fourth FAI Cup final in a row and finished second in the league. People needed to take a step back when we weren’t doing as well as we could have and say if it wasn’t for this Cork team, nobody would challenge Dundalk at all and it would be a very boring league.
“For me, it was strange even getting abuse from a Bohs manager who called us ‘agricultural’. I’m sitting back and saying, ‘what, we finished 20, 25 points ahead of Bohs again this year’. We don’t let these things affect us, but we put them to the back of our mind and maybe it drives us on and gives us extra motivation.”
Sheppard, who should be fit after a recent hamstring injury, certainly won’t need any motivation on Sunday as his side look to stop Dundalk’s double bid and create their own piece of history by winning the FAI Cup for the third year in-a-row.
“They have been getting a lot of credit and fair dues, they have been very good, this year and deserved to win the league. We slipped up at the wrong time and they took advantage.
“The rivalry is there, and we know we can win the cup and it’s what we plan on doing. They are a very good team, but we can win it,” he added.