Shephard switch adds fuel to clash
TWO years ago he was leading Byron Bay as their player-coach, but today Mark Shephard will be plotting the Rams’ demise when he takes to the field for fierce rivals Bangalow in their local derby at Bangalow from 3pm, in Football FNC’s premier league soccer.
Shephard will line up alongside the Bluedogs’ key playmaker Joel Rudgley in central midfield in a move sure to add fuel to an already volatile clash.
After failing to take Byron to the semis in 2008, Shephard coached the Rams reserves last season when a split in the unity of the top squad developed.
His controversial style created some friction at the Bay, leading to his move to the Bluedogs this season.
At 49, Shephard is definitely in the veteran class and is probably the oldest player in the league but Bangalow coach Alex Pratt believes his presence will add spark to their performance.
“Our local derbys with Byron are always hotly contested but Mark will add an extra edge that I think will help our younger players,” Pratt said.
“We’ve got a good record against Byron over the last three years since we came back up into the premiers and I think we’ve only lost to them once, so we’re going in with confidence.”
Despite his age, Shephard has kept himself fit and comes with a quality pedigree as a former Australian youth representative who spent five years in the old NSL with St George.
His battle with the likes of Rams midfielders Tom Ruhl and Yantra Whitling will be crucial to the flow of the game and while he won’t be able to match them for pace, he definitely has the edge in experience.
Both sides are expected to be at full strength with the exception of Rams midfielder Shannon Maciejewski who broke his ankle in last week’s 1-0 win over Ballina, but on paper the Rams look favourites.
Unbeaten in six games so far, Byron are match fit and also have last year’s Golden Boot winner Jordy Campbell back in their front line.
In comparison, the Bluedogs have just one game under their belt, an uninspiring 2-1 loss to Workers last week, after electing not to enter the pre-season Anzac Cup.
Rams coach Peter Ware sees their main danger as getting caught up in the heat of the local derby atmosphere.
“There is always a lot of feeling and passion in our derbys with Bangalow but we need to concentrate on playing football and not get caught up in the physical side of the game,” Ware said.
While the Rams fitness will be tested by their third game in a week, confidence will be high after they moved through to the Anzac Cup final with a mid-week win over former Cup holders Richmond Rovers and they should prove too strong for the Bluedogs.