Northern Ireland v Finland: Shiels out to make up for lost time
Dean Shiels is hungry for a taste of Windsor Park glory.
For too long he’s sat on the bench — or, on too many other occasions, his armchair — and watched Northern Ireland put bigger nations to the sword in Belfast.
Caps were few and far between both under Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington, with the latter largely ignoring Shiels, particularly during the final year or two of his reign.
Ahead of tonight’s friendly at home to Finland, the 27-year-old is no longer in international exile, though, and he’s desperate to make some memories, like those who remain from the famous wins over England, Spain, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia in recent years.
Michael O’Neill assured him that he is part of the long-term plan he has to take Northern Ireland forward and the manager has been true to his word in selecting Shiels, even though he is now playing his club football in the fourth tier of Scottish football — the lowest level of the professional game within the UK.
“It was great to get back in for the Norway game,” said Shiels, who started the 3-0 defeat in February.
“Most of my appearances have come away from home, so it was nice to play at Windsor Park too.
“I thought my international career was over under the previous manager. Obviously he had his own way of playing and I didn’t fit into that.
“He’s not in charge anymore, there’s a new manager now, it’s a fresh start for a lot of players and I’m one of them.”
The manager in the opposing dugout tomorrow night is well known to Shiels having played under Finland boss Mixu Paatelainen at Hibernian and he knows what to expect from the Finns.
“Mixu is a very good manager and a very good coach. He likes his teams to play football and they’ll be very quick on the counter attack and they’ll be coming here to attack us,” said Shiels.