Passion of fans inspires Robbie Shields

Wollongong United star and top goal scorer Robbie Shields. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Wollongong United star and top goal scorer Robbie Shields. Picture: ROBERT PEET

FOOTBALL - ILLAWARRA PREMIER LEAGUE

Standing on the precipice of Champions League glory, Robbie Shields knew there was no better time to be on the books at Leeds United.

In a golden era for the former English football giants, Premier League superiority was matched by success on club football's biggest stage.

While they'd eventually come up short in the 2001 Champions League semi-finals against Valencia, the club was riding a wave of success not seen since the 1970s.

As a teenager, Shields had just come on-board, penning a five-year deal with the club's youth squad.

On the back of an Irish youth career which saw him claim European Championship underage player of the tournament honours ahead of future Spanish World Cup stars Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta, Shields joined the likes of Aaron Lennon and James Milner at Elland Road.

"It was just a great club at the time because it was up and coming and they were giving a lot of the youth players a go. I had a lot of clubs to choose from at the time and I picked them," Shields recalled.

His career at Leeds garnered immediate success, when he claimed player of the tournament at Northern Ireland's prestigious Milk Cup competition.

But things quickly turned sour.

"It was the right choice at the time but as I got close to the first team they got hit hard financially and they started signing loan players," Shields said.

"I got a bit disillusioned with the club."

So followed Leeds United's free fall from the English top division, and with it went Shields' dreams of a career in Yorkshire.

But when he returned to his homeland to take up a position with Shelbourne FC, the chance for European success remained.

"We were in the Champions League against Deportivo de La Coruña over at the Riazor stadium. It was a great experience to be involved in that," Shields said.

"Not many people can say they were involved in a Champions League squad.

"It is a massive experience and I was delighted to be a part of something like that."

Shields would continue to ply his trade in Ireland with Shelbourne and later Shamrock Rovers before moving to Australia in 2011 to pursue work outside of football.

After two seasons with Dulwich Hill in Sydney, the 29-year old was persuaded to move south to Wollongong United by former coach and friend Paul Carter.

He'd go on to win the George Naylor Medal for the competition's best player in his debut campaign and is now amid another stellar season in the region's top division.

An 11-goal haul so far has the Irishman sitting atop the league's scoring charts.

And with an application for permanent residence in the country pending, he may well become a constant feature for Wollongong United in the coming seasons.

"More than likely we will settle [in Australia].

"I am loving down in Wollongong at the moment," Shields said.

"The crowds are very passionate and it spurs the team on," he said.

"This year I think we have got a really good side and I reckon we are going to be there or thereabouts at the end of this season."

Wollongong United continue their resurgence against Fernhill at Macedonia Park on Tuesday night after defeating defending premiers Port Kembla 3-2 on Saturday.

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