Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football Scottish Rangers

Rangers ace Shiels aims for his own slice of Euro action

By Stuart McKinley

For four years, Dean Shiels and his Rangers team-mates have travelled the length and breadth of Scotland, visiting towns and stadiums that they never knew existed.

Annan, Elgin and Peterhead were never on the map before as far as Rangers were concerned.

Ayr was just a place that Ulster-based Gers fans travelled through on their way to Glasgow from the ferry ports.

All those venues had one thing in common - they were far removed from the impressive surroundings of their own 51,000 seater Ibrox home.

Now, however, they are dreaming of Madrid, Milan or Munich next season.

After having to fight their way through the divisions after being banished to the bottom tier of Scottish football following financial meltdown in 2012, Rangers are now dreaming of Europe.

Victory against Hibernian in the Scottish Cup final today will be the icing on the cake of their successful promotion back to the Premiership.

Qualification for the Europa League will be the cherry on top.

"It's a great opportunity for us to get to Europe. It would be a massive pull for the club to get into the Europa League and it's a big carrot for the players," said Northern Ireland international Shiels, who has been with Rangers throughout the four years of battling their way back to the big stage.

"We've come a long way from where we were. It's been a long way back, having to go to places like Arbroath and Peterhead and get results hasn't been easy.

"It was very difficult and we did struggle at times in the second and third divisions and it wasn't always pretty.

"Teams made it difficult for us on what, at times, were poor surfaces.

"We were then going back home to play at Ibrox and they were polar opposites.

"There is no better place to play football than Ibrox and I would never under-estimate the part that the fans play. I hope that we can top this off for them by winning the Cup.

"We've won promotion back to the Premiership and winning the Scottish Cup and getting into Europe would be a brilliant climax to it all."

Shiels and his Rangers colleagues are conscious that they can't let the fact that they've reached the final to be the culmination of all their hard work - even after the sweetness of their penalty shoot-out victory over Old Firm rivals Celtic in the semi-final.

Finishing second has never been good enough for Rangers and although the main mission has been accomplished this season - getting back to the top-flight - it's now all about making the club a force in the Scottish game once again.

"One thing about the manager is that he will never let us slacken off. Beating Celtic in the semi-final might have been a big thrill for everyone connected with Rangers, but there were no medals handed out that day," said Shiels, who spent five years with Hibs after being released by Arsenal in his teens.

"We have to go back to Hampden Park and do it over again.

"It is no good beating Celtic in the semi-final if we are going to let it slip in the final. We have to go and finish the job off.

"It will be tough, though. Hibs aren't a bad side and we've had some good games against them this season.

"We will have to play well to win the game. I've played against them so many times now that it's become just another team, but I do have good memories of my time there and I enjoyed it there.

"I still have some friends there, but Rangers come first for me now."

Cup glory at Hampden is nothing new to Shiels. He won the Scottish League Cup with Kilmarnock in 2012 in what was a unique triumph as his dad Kenny was the manager at the time.

Football runs through the family as Coleraine boss Oran Kearney and ex-Ballymena United and Linfield striker Shea Campbell are married to his sisters.

"The way my dad wants his teams to play suited me and going to Kilmarnock was one of the best moves I ever made," said Dean. "He gives players freedom to play and express themselves, which I enjoyed.

"Playing for your dad is difficult. If things don't go well you can both become easy targets for criticism, but he knew my strengths and I think we did well for each other.

"We won the League Cup, beating Celtic at Hampden, which was a great experience and a great moment for us to have together."

That triumph was, however, tinged with sadness when Killie's Irish defender Liam Kelly discovered that his father had suffered a heart attack during the game and later died in hospital.

"It was terrible. Nobody was in the mood to celebrate after that," said Shiels.

Shiels has had his own personal issues to deal with - a childhood accident left him blind in one eye. After suffering headaches, 12 years on he had the eye removed. It's amazing that he has gone on to have a successful football career with just one eye - especially as his creativity is the main strength of his game.

It is, however, something that the 31-year-old politely declines to talk about in interviews.

After today, Shiels will hope to successfully conclude contract talks with the club to extend his stay and subsequently play for Rangers in every division in the Scottish game.

Then he will have the summer off - but not by choice.

He would rather be with the Northern Ireland squad preparing for the European Championship finals in France.

After being involved in the early part of Michael O'Neill's reign, Shiels' international career stalled when he was hit with injuries and the success of others blocked his path to a return.

"I am pleased to see Northern Ireland doing so well. I speak to Steven Davis all the time and I have other friends in the squad. It's difficult for someone like me who wants to be involved but isn't. Football's like that though and I have enough going on at my club to focus on," he added.

"Things started well for me under Michael. Kyle Lafferty and I were building up a good partnership and I scored a goal against Luxembourg that I will never forget - playing two one-twos with Jonny Evans.

"I'll always be a Northern Ireland fan though and I hope the team do really well in France."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph