KENNY SHIELS may continue his attempts to deflect attention from his own players by putting pressure on others, but with every passing game it’s becoming more difficult for him to publicly ignore Derry City’s outstanding start to the season.
Shiels relishes in the role of the underdog and while he’s right in pointing out Derry simply can’t afford to mix it with clubs like Dundalk, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and even Limerick and Bray Wanderers with their financial clout, the problem with this particular misdirection tactic is the ‘Candy Stripes’ look like the real deal!
Two outstanding wins from two trips to Dublin against Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers despite injuries to key players and playing with 10 men for the final 20 minutes at Tallaght and a sensational comeback victory against Dundalk at Maginn Park simply reinforces Derry’s title credentials, even at this early stage as they leapfrog the Lilywhites into second with a game in hand.
Shiels admits he’s been encouraged by his side’s start but still regards his team as one of the ‘lesser ones’ and continues to underplay their chances of breaking the top two’s stranglehold. It’s a brilliantly devious diversionary tactic which helped them clinch third place last term as they proved the surprise packages in the league.
The Derry boss is quite happy for his team to continue to ‘go under the radar’ but if they keep digging out results like Friday night’s dogged win in Dublin where they superbly managed the game despite the numerical disadvantage and Monday night's hugely impressive 3-1 win over the champions, they will no longer be ignored by the Dublin press.
“We’ve lost once in 19 games and it’s not a bad record but sometimes you can go too far and everybody is after you. Everybody is after Dundalk, and now Shamrock Rovers fall into that category," said Shiels after the win in Tallaght. "Everybody is after Shamrock Rovers and Cork - they are the big three. And then you have Limerick and Bray. Those five in particular, everyone wants to do well against them because they are the better teams and players want to play against the better teams.
“Being one of the lesser ones we’ll continue to use that and as long as we have our imagination and invention and everything it takes to win a game we’ll continue to do that.”
Shiels regularly uses motivational tools to put fire in the bellies of his charges and ahead of last Friday’s game in south Dublin he circulated copies of the national newspapers and highlighted their wall-to-wall coverage of Rovers, Dundalk and Cork.
“The Dublin press don’t usually talk too much about us,” added the Derry boss. “I brought the players in the papers before the game and told them this is not the Dublin press this is the national press and it was all about Shamrock Rovers, it was all about Dundalk, about Cork and every week it’s the same and we love that,” he smiled. “We stay below the radar.”
Derry can no longer stay below the radar after Monday night's victory - a first over Dundalk in four years. And after the 'embarrassing' 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Stephen Kenny's men at Brandywell last season and five failed attempts to defeat the champions, Shiels felt his side were 'owed' a result.
"We owed them five really," said the Derry boss. "It's not that long since we were beaten 5-0 at home. In five games last season we didn't beat them but we were very unlucky in the cup semi-finals.Maybe the players can believe now that they can beat some of the best teams in the league like Dundalk.
Has he been surprised by Derry's impressive start to the season - three wins against Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk?
"I have been surprised," he admitted. "We've put so much effort into it and we've done nothing yet. We've just won three games. Even though we've won seven league games on the bounce, we've done nothing in terms of achieving anything.
"You look at what Dundalk has achieved, you'd think we've won a cup but we can't think that way. We have to keep our feet on the ground and look forward to the next game which is Drogheda and hopefully people will come out and support us again on Saturday."
Shiels was delighted with the support at Maginn Park and felt the encouragement from the stands and the crowd's response to the team's pressing game turned the match in their favour.
"It was good to win and I was pleased for the supporters who made the journey. I got my tactics wrong in the first 30 minutes as I had them dropping off their game and asked them to play as if they were away from home. But that didn't sit well with the crowd and environment. We needed to kick-start the crowd and changed it and started to get in around them and applying some pressure play and the crowd got involved in that.
"It became more of a bubbling over type atmosphere and I have to say that's probably what won us the match - the interaction between the players' aggressive movement and the crowd who got something from that.
"I'm delighted with the crowd and the atmosphere. I have to say they are getting behind us - you can see that and they're urging us all the time to perform for them. The players want to impress the supporters. It's such a weird thing to happen - the chemistry between the players and the support and the reciprocation of the passion."