John Caulfield's loyalty was key to Karl Sheppard turning down Dundalk

Switch to rivals cast a shadow across the title run-in for former Cork City attacker
John Caulfield's loyalty was key to Karl Sheppard turning down Dundalk

Dundalk's Robbie Benson and Brian Gartland with Karl Sheppard of Cork City in the 2017 FAI Cup final. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

FOR former Cork City player Karl Sheppard, league success with the Rebel Army in 2017, felt a little bit “tainted”.

Sheppard was one of the standout players for City in their 2017 double-winning season but rumours of a move to Dundalk damped the player’s celebrations.

“I can remember a couple of Cork fans were booing me in the game against either Galway or Bray in the last home game of the season before we were lifting the trophy,” Sheppard said in a recent podcast you can find here.

“I didn’t want to go up and lift it. I think the Ophelia storm was there, I lifted it over where the empty stand was because I didn’t want anyone booing me or anything like that, so I was like, ‘right at least I’ll get my hands on it and lift it without anyone booing me and I’ll stay towards the back.

“Once I got in the dressing room, I was celebrating with all my teammates.

“It was more so a case of, it’s a big moment for the team, you have lads that I knew for two-and-a-half years and the same with John Caulfield. John was there for three-and-a-half years possible at that stage, we are hunting down Dundalk like dogs and literally tried everything to get over the line.

"When we did, I didn’t want it to be a case of, here’s me going up and celebrating and then it’s a headline of ‘Cork fans booing as they lift the title kind of thing, so I was like right, I’ll lift it over here, I’ll get my pictures and once I get in the dressing room, I’ll have a few drinks of champagne and celebrate with the lads.

“I suppose, ultimately, ‘would it have been nice to celebrate outside’? Yes, ‘do I care too much?’ Not really."

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Before the 2017 cup final, Sheppard had signed a pre-contract with Dundalk and Stephen Kenny but it was the way Caulfield conducted himself that convinced the Dublin native, he was making a mistake.

“There are steps in each pre-contract that I suppose not a lot of clubs may not know things about. If you are signing a pre-contract with a club, that club have to inform the other club within six months or a couple of months within you doing that.

“That procedure wasn’t followed, and I suppose a pre-contract isn’t worth the paper it is written on. Going into the final, I knew that, ‘this isn’t right’. 

"We had met up, the game was on Sunday and I think it broke on the Tuesday and we met up (Cork City) on the Thursday or Friday as a team and John sat everyone down and said, ‘look I want to address the elephant in the room, Karl Sheppard, he’s leaving us, people are asking me not to play him but there’s no way, I know Shep he’s going to put in everything into this game’.

“To hear John talking like that I was like ‘look the other manager threw me under the bus here and gave me his word and it came out’.

“He may not have directly said it but for me, it was enough that I was like ‘look this is not right, I can’t go and sign for Dundalk now’.

“I have a man here John, who is single-handily standing up in front of his team when it was easy to go, ‘you’ve signed for them, you’re not playing in this game’.

“It was a very stressful time. 

A side of it that people don’t see is that before that game, I’d gone in my head, ‘I’m sticking with Cork’... 

"People saw my celebration when I played the ball through to H [Achille Campion] and he scored, I literally ran through maybe 60-yard full sprint then two seconds later, went down with cramp because I had sprinted so long to get to him.

“I was just so happy and then I scored the peno in the shootout. I’d never been more confident in a peno and considering I have a brutal record on them, I was never confident of scoring. 

"I was like ‘right, I’m 100% scoring this peno’ for some reason it was the most confident I’ve ever been and one that I suppose it was very nice for me to be able to repay John for saying that in front of the lads, ‘Shep's going to give his all and I trust him’.”

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