DON'T BACK DOWN Former Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels claims the authorities were out to get him during his time in Scotland
The Northern Irishman who is now in charge at Derry City says the Killie fans loved him because he never backed down.
THIRTY years now a coach and manager, Kenny Shiels is one of the most colourful, outspoken characters in football.
The problem for this passionate Northern Irishman is his image often overshadows his impressive achievements in the game.
Shiels, though, is a fighter — and he’ll never keep quiet if he believes he’s been wronged or if he feels his club has suffered an injustice.
The 61-year-old revels in the status of underdog, it brings out the very best in him and for almost two years he has been devoted to making Derry City a team to be feared in the League of Ireland.
But even now he still gets Kilmarnock fans telling him they wish he was still in charge, four and a half years after he was sacked by vilified former club supremo Michael Johnston.
Shiels, remarkably, guided Killie to 2012 League Cup final glory over Celtic, a first league win over the Hoops at Parkhead for 57 years, became their first manager to beat Rangers twice in one season and blooded a whole host of kids — including a 16-year-old Mark O’Hara.
All in the space of only two years in the Rugby Park hotseat.
However, there were also constant visits to Hampden to explain himself to the SFA, bitter jousts with referees and — for a grateful media’s benefit — a seemingly limitless supply of outbursts.
His paymasters began to grow weary of it all — and a ‘heartbroken’ Shiels was given his P45 by the Killie board for one too many confrontations with authority.
There were less than memorable spells in charge of Morton and obscure Thailand outfit BECO Tero Sasana before he got the call from the Candystripes in November 2015.
Now Shiels, who started dugout life with Coleraine & District league side Upperlands in 1987, feels back at his best.
And he told SunSport: “You self-educate and you try to learn as much as you can.
“That knowledge comes from experiencing things.
“Scottish football was fantastic for me on a number of fronts. I wouldn’t totally class myself as a wind-up merchant, although I am in certain aspects.
“It can be borderline between that and controversy. Controversy comes from the truth.
“In football management if you’re too truthful you can become a victim.
“I once referred to Celtic as the monsters of Scottish football and I meant it in the context of the size of the club.
“However, it was taken out of all context.
“I didn’t mean it that they were ogres or not pleasant people.
“For the Scottish FA to pull me over the coals for that was stupidity, absolute stupidity.
“Some of the achievements at Kilmarnock, though, were unbelievable before my departure.
“I think I became too popular at the club, which wasn’t the best thing.
“Killie will always be close to my heart. It’s a real football town and there’s potential there, but the lack of industry in the area doesn’t help.
“It’s a great club and I’ve great memories. I can’t say anything against anybody.
“I got 14 players into youth international squads and gave many first team experience
That meant as much to me as anything else I did at the club, including the League Cup.
“I did everything I could to get the town behind the club, including going out to local pubs to sell season tickets.
“When I eventually left, it was said our home record wasn’t great. But it wasn’t that bad.
“Our away record in my last season was unbelievable — we beat Aberdeen, Hearts twice, Celtic and Rangers.
“At Rugby Park we had too many draws and not enough wins and the chairman mentioned that as a reason for getting rid of me, but he didn’t mention the away form.
“We were within seconds of getting into the top six on a shoestring. My plan was to be long term at Kilmarnock.
“My dream was to bring through a team. I continue to get fans saying they wish I was still there and that’s nice, it means a lot.
“I mean that as no disrespect to Lee McCulloch. I always look out for the club’s results.
“By the end the authorities were out to get me, there’s no question.
“I took them on and to this day I feel I was in the right.
“I think the Kilmarnock supporters liked me because I was getting results — and I was fighting the corner of the club.”
Shiels is a heart and soul manager.
People can say what they like about him, they invariably do, but no one can ever question his commitment to any job he takes on.
And Shiels, whose 32-year-old son Dean is currently starring at Championship tabletoppers Dunfermline, has fond memories of where it all started for him as a coach while in his final years as a player.
He added: “Upperlands were a village team in the Coleraine District league, effectively junior football.
“They had council-owned facilities and it was a part-time job. We won the Cup that year and I loved it.
“It was for expenses only, really, but it was a way into a coaching career — and I couldn’t put a price on that.
“That was 1987 — and I’ve experienced so much since then, it’s been unbelievable but whether it’s Upperlands, Northern Ireland youths, Kilmarnock or Derry City, my viewpoint’s the same — I want to WIN.
“At Derry we’ve got a very young side. We’ve had to postpone league games because we’ve had five players away on youth international duty.
“The chairman’s backing me with the vision of building a mainly homegrown side, although it also helps keep the wage bill down.
“We’re frightening a lot of the big guns — Shamrock Rovers, Cork, Dundalk — despite the difference in finances being like day and night.
“Going with young players, of course, is high risk but the rewards are great too.
“Since March we’ve also had to play every game away from our Brandywell home because of stadium redevelopment.
“But we’ve had Europa League action and right now we’re fourth in the Premier and pushing as hard as we can.”