‘I’m buzzing for it’ – Euro dream excites Dundalk goalkeeper Nathan Shepherd as club brings in new recruits

Dundalk goalkeeper Nathan Shepperd enjoyed a memorable first season in senior football last year. The Welsh U-21 cap kept 14 clean sheets across 33 league starts and played a crucial role in helping the Lilywhites secure European football in 2023.

ith the Louth side now back in Europe, the next challenge is to ensure they stay there, as the club looks to close the gap on four-in-a-row chasing Shamrock Rovers and FAI Cup champions Derry City.

Shepperd was one clean sheet off sharing last season’s Golden Glove award with Rovers’ Alan Mannus and Derry’s Brian Maher. All three are nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year at Saturday’s SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland awards, and he says Dundalk must kick on in 2023.

“We need to back up what we did last year,” said Shepherd after Dundalk finished third on goal difference last term.

“Over the course of the season, we did well, and we want to do that again. If we’re more consistent, I’m sure we’ll be there or thereabouts (among the top three) come the end of the season.

“It was my first proper experience in men’s football. I came with the goal of playing games and want the same again (in 2023). It was my first experience of playing in front of fans and for three points. It was brilliant, I really enjoyed it. To be nominated for the award alongside Brian and Alan is really nice.”

After featuring in Europe for eight successive years, Stephen O’Donnell’s side missed out last season, having finished sixth in 2021, in a turbulent campaign which saw several managerial changes. Shepherd is relishing his first European experience later this summer and says it was a factor in him committing to a second season at Oriel Park.

“Playing in Europe will be a great experience for myself and the boys who haven’t played in it before, so I’m really looking forward to that,” said the 22-year-old, with a Europa Conference League qualifier to come later this summer.

“Towards the end of last season, securing third turned into our goal in the last six games. It was a no brainer for me (to stay). I didn’t want to leave at all. I wanted to come back and play in Europe. Now we are back in and preparing for the games in the summer, I’m buzzing for it.”

The Lilywhites have added two names to their squad this week, 35-cap Gibraltar international Louie Annesley and former Middlesbrough attacking midfielder Connor Malley. Shepherd says the club are seeking quality over quantity ahead of their league opener at home to UCD on February 17.

“We obviously see stuff online and what people are saying, but the core of the team from last year is still there,” added Shepherdd, with midfielder Robbie Benson becoming the 15th player to re-sign for the club last Wednesday.

“The quality is what we’d all want, rather than numbers. I’m sure Louie will come in and be a good addition. We want quality to help us push on next season and take the next step in terms of getting up the table and in the FAI Cup and Europe.”

The goalkeeper made 45 appearances for Brentford B before arriving at Dundalk 12 months ago and says the standard of the League of Ireland stacks up to the English leagues.

“It’s a really good standard, a very competitive league and the fans are great,” he added.

“Obviously, you’ve got a chance to play in Europe, which you don’t get in League Two, League One or even the Championship. That side of it is great. It’s just a lot smaller in terms of teams, 10 rather than 24. The boys that have been here and left have all said the standard matches up, that it’s pretty much the same.”

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