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Dublin: -1 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

Sheppard's bye? Caulfield refuses to be drawn on attacker's links to Dundalk

Reports in Dundalk suggest that the Cork City star will switch allegiances for the 2018 season.

Chris Shields and Karl Sheppard Cork City's Karl Sheppard tangles with Dundalk's Chris Shields during last month's game at Turner's Cross. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

CORK CITY MANAGER John Caulfield has insisted that he won’t allow speculation linking one of his star players with a move to their main rivals to distract his side as they prepare for this weekend’s FAI Cup final.

Sunday’s game at the Aviva Stadium will see City bid to retain the cup and complete a double for the first time in the club’s history. Caulfield’s side lifted the Premier Division trophy following Friday night’s final league game against Bray Wanderers.

For the third season in a row, Dundalk will be their opponents in the FAI Cup decider. The game will mark the latest chapter in a fierce rivalry between the clubs, which began in 2014 when Dundalk won the first of three league titles at City’s expense.

However, recent speculation linking Karl Sheppard with a move to Dundalk intensified yesterday when a report from Dundalk Sport claimed that the Cork City forward has agreed to move to Oriel Park next season.

Having moved to Leeside from Shamrock Rovers, Sheppard has spent the past three years with the newly-crowned champions. The 26-year-old, who was used as a right winger this season until Sean Maguire’s departure for Preston North End in July, contributed nine league goals to City’s victorious campaign.

Gearoid Morrissey, Conor McCormack and Jimmy Keohane have all signed new deals with John Caulfield’s side for next season, but Sheppard — a native of Portmarnock in Dublin — could now be set to move closer to home.

“This is cup final week,” Caulfield said this afternoon. “All my energy and focus is on this game. Nothing will sidetrack me or the squad. There’s talk about lots and lots of players and there has been for a long, long time. Conor McCormack was going somewhere else two weeks ago as well.

“I’m very focused on this week. Do I expect changes? We’ve said all along, of course there will be. We lost [Sean] Maguire and [Kevin] O’Connor two months ago, they need to be replaced. There is going to be an overhaul and there is going to be a bit of changing, but I still believe that the majority of our players will stay next year.”

John Caulfield with the trophy Cork City manager John Caulfield with the Premier Division trophy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

When asked if he would take Sheppard’s potential move to their FAI Cup final opponents into account when selecting his team for Sunday’s game, Caulfield responded: “I don’t believe in all the speculation. I talk to my players every day. They know what I’m like, I know what they’re like.

“Are there going to be players moving on? Of course there are, we accept, that’s part of it. But everyone is totally focused and tuned in. This is a massive game at the weekend. They know they can create history for themselves and as a group they’re very tight-knit. That’s where all our energy is.

“There’ll be lots of talk next week and the week after about players coming in and players going out. There’s plenty of time for that.”

Following on from the news that Gearoid Morrissey, Conor McCormack and Jimmy Keohane will be part of Cork City’s Premier Division title defence and Champions League campaign in 2018 — along with Shane Griffin and Kieran Sadlier, who were already contracted — Caulfield said further announcements regarding playing personnel are imminent.

“We’re league champions. With the environment that we have here, the supporter base, our facilities, the coverage they get, you’d be disappointed if players didn’t want to stay at the club. They can see the work that’s going on behind the scenes and they can see the whole Cork City environment. It’s good and there’s more of that to come.”

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