CHRIS SHIELDS IS at the height of his powers right now.
The midfielder, 27, has been outstanding for Dundalk all year as they convincingly won the latest battle with Cork City to be crowned the country’s top side.
Signed by the late Sean McCaffrey when the club was in a very different place back in January 2012, Shields has gone on to become a Lilywhites stalwart under Stephen Kenny.
He’s Dundalk’s joint-longest serving player along with John Mountney, and 2018 is looking like it will be his best season yet.
Only Michael Duffy and Patrick Hoban have made more league appearances for the Premier Division champions than Shields, who has managed to put a series of frustrating injuries behind him.
On Thursday, he followed in the footsteps of those two team-mates by picking up the SSE Airtricity League/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month award — having been nominated in July and August.
“I thought it was turning into the Michael Duffy award there for a while!” joked Shields, who scored the winner at Turner’s Cross in September. “I thought it was going to be a little statue of Mickey that I was getting.
“I’ve been playing the best stuff of my career. I’m 28 just after Christmas, it goes hand-in-hand with maturing into a new role and playing more regularly.
I played a lot already but I’m consistently playing every week now. I shook off a couple of injuries, which helped. It’s definitely the best I’ve played and it helps with the players I have around me.
“Shifting the injuries was really important. I had that osteitis pubis during the  Europa League campaign. It was a short off-season, I didn’t really shift it and it haunted me for a lot of last season. I couldn’t clear it up and get 100% fit. I could feel it.
“I put a good amount of work in during this off-season to get right with help from the medical team, Danny [Miller] and Sam [Rice]. I was always on to them and actually being able to have a full pre-season helped. I had been dropping out because of injuries before that.
He adds: “I was starting to worry last year because I had it for that long I was thinking “Is this ever going to go away? Is this me now?” I was missing training and then playing at the weekend but never 100%. Now I’m over it and have my work with the physios it’s not something I worry about it.”
Dundalk will receive the trophy after their final home game of the season against Sligo Rovers tonight but, with the league wrapped up, the main focus will surely be on next month’s FAI Cup final.
Cork are their opponents for the fourth year in-a-row at the Aviva Stadium and, having lost out in 2016 and 2017, the Louth men will be hell-bent on making it a league and cup double this time around.
“The celebrations will be tame enough on Friday [tonight],” he says. “The last three cup finals have gone 120 minutes and more so we have that in the back of our minds. It’s such a big occasion and match.”
Chris’ wife Shauna won’t be present on the day, however, as she’s expecting their first child four days later.
“She has always been there when we’ve won things and celebrated with us but she won’t be there for the cup final because it’s too close,” adds Shields, who is based in her native Bangor these days.
I like it up there. It’s different, when I was a young fella growing up I never thought I’d even leave Clondalkin. I’d thought I’d be playing for Booth Road by now.”
He may have predicted he would be lining out alongside old friends for his local Leinster Senior League team by now, but Shields is on course to become one of the most successful LOI players ever.
That doesn’t mean he has tired of getting his hands on silverware though.
“It’s a great feeling, we’ll savour it more this year after last season. It’s a special night and good to see it back in Oriel. Some people judge your career on the trophies you’ve won and throw it in your face, so it’s nice to add another one to the list.
“It will be nice for some of the lads from Derry and other parts of Ireland and their families because this is why they came here — to win trophies.”
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