DENZIL Fernandes will come up against some familiar faces in this season’s SSE Airtricity League of Ireland First Division campaign as Shelbourne target promotion to the top flight.
The Drimoleague soccer star (23) will lock horns with two of his former clubs, Cobh Ramblers and Cork City, as well as a familiar face in the Galway United dugout, manager John Caulfield who coached Fernandes when they were together at City.
‘I’m really looking forward to our first league fixture against Galway United and, of course, their manager John Caulfield,’ Fernandes says.
‘I played against John in the FAI Cup last August, not long after he was appointed Galway manager. We had a good chat after the game about how things were going and it was nice to catch up with him. Hopefully, we will come out the right side of the result when we next meet. John has the style of management, from his days with Cork City, that can deliver success.
‘As for two of my former teams, I can’t wait to go back home and face Cobh and Cork City as well. I had great times at both clubs so that will be exciting. It’s shaping up to be an exciting season.’
The former West Cork Schoolboys League star makes no secret of Shelbourne’s desire to win promotion in 2021. Last season’s 1-0 Premier Division play-off loss at home to Longford Town still grates, so Shelbourne and Fernandes, who signed a one-year contract extension at the end of last season, are intent on going one better this year. Add to that the acquisition of St Kevin’s Boys’ (one of the country’s most successful schoolboys’ academies) Alan Caffrey as their new technical director and it’s clear Shelbourne are a club building for the future.
‘There is a real determination to go out and prove people wrong after we missed out on getting back to the Premier Division last year,’ the former Drinagh Rangers player says.
‘That play-off loss to Longford was a heart-breaking one but is fuelling the fire within the players to go one better. There has been a fair bit of chopping and changing to the senior squad over the last couple of months, but the lads who have come in are as hungry as the players that have been here for a while.
‘Everyone wants to bring success back to Shelbourne. Our squad’s age-profile is still young but that doesn’t really matter as every player has a point to prove going into the new campaign.
‘Shelbourne has always had a rich tradition of nurturing young talent like Wes Hoolahan, for example. That’s why bringing in Alan Caffrey from St Kevin’s Boys is a great move. Alan developed some of the Shelbourne players I’m currently playing with like Jack Brady and Dayle Rooney when they were at St Kevin’s. Look at some the other players he has brought through like Irish internationals Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick. I’ve heard so many good things about him and its people like Alan who will attract the best young players to our club.
‘Signing Kevin O’Connor (ex-Cork City) was a real statement of intent as he’s such a good player and brings vast experience to our dressing room. Then you have Gerardo Bruna, an Argentinian midfielder, who is a former Real Madrid and Liverpool youth team player signed from Derry City, so our squad is much stronger this year.’
In the middle of another lockdown, the versatile West Cork midfielder is thankful for an opportunity to train and play with Shelbourne ahead of this month’s big kick-off – they are away to Galway United on Friday, March 26th in their opening game. The government deems League of Ireland football as an elite sport so former Bandon AFC star Fernandes is luckier than most sports enthusiasts right now.
‘Yes, I’m thankful for the opportunity to get out and play football with so many others unable to do so because of Covid-19 restrictions,’ Fernandes says.
‘It’s important for your mind-set to have the opportunity to train, let alone play. I’m thankful to be able to work with my teammates. I don’t know what I’d be doing right now if I couldn’t train apart from the healthcare course that I’m studying for at the moment.
‘The theory side of the course is all online but placement has been cancelled which is a disappointment. I’m still on the lookout, hoping things change in the coming months and that I’ll find placement somewhere in Dublin. I’m very happy with the course and have always been interested in healthcare because my mother and older brother Dominic (based in Edinburgh) are healthcare nurses. I guess it runs in the family.’
Studying to become a healthcare worker whilst deep in pre-season preparations, Fernandes is a busy individual but grateful for the opportunity to help propel Shelbourne back to the League of Ireland’s Premier Division.