Shortly after the final whistle blew on Kilmarnock’s dramatic 1-0 defeat of odds-on favourites Celtic at Hampden, Scotland under-21 international Kelly’s father, Jack, sitting near the team’s technical area, collapsed. He was rushed to hospital, casting a dark shadow over what should have been a scene of jubilation for Shiels and his players.
Before confirmation of Jack Kelly’s death was announced last night, the Kilmarnock manager told a press conference: “I’m sounding a bit sombre because I’ve gone from one emotional high to a low.
“It’s tough to go from one of the best moments of our lives to this. The dressing-room is very despondent. I don’t know why the man above sends us down these messages, but we’ve gone from being up to being down.
“We’re really thinking more about Liam than our triumphalism. That’s how we feel at the moment. It’s been a tough week as it is and now we’re on this roller-coaster. I’m all over the place to be honest. It happened beside our dug-out so you can understand that I’m only doing this press conference out of respect to you guys. I don’t know the medical terms but he’s had a heart attack, is away to hospital and the family have all gone with him.”
Shiels, who wept tears of joy at the final whistle before news of what happened to Kelly’s father was relayed to him, had engineered the biggest triumph of his managerial career. It denied Celtic the prospect of a domestic treble this season, something Shiels said he had deliberately talked up in the build-up to the final.
“Celtic have a lot of young players, like James Forrest and Thomas Rogne, so we decided to sing up the treble throughout the week,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure on their young lads because of the treble. Celtic are a process in motion and they will become a really good team, I’m convinced of that. There has been a lot of talk about them being unplayable and unbeatable.
“I was being truthful when I said that it would be a travesty if they didn’t win the treble. Part of me was trying to sing them up and part of me was being genuine. But I thought our players were magnificent and their attention to detail was very, very good. We had a sign up all week at the training ground which said ‘Believe to achieve’ and that’s what we did.
“We worked an awful lot on the tactical side and how to nullify them and dominate the ball. For periods we did that and then there were times we gave it away cheaply. But we were playing the best team in the country.”
Shiels was full of praise for goalkeeper Cammy Bell, who earned the man of the match award, but was keen to point out his contribution was not the only reason for Kilmarnock’s victory.
“Cammy played as I expected him to play, very well,” added Shiels. “If a centre half does his job and heads the ball from danger and is consistent in how he nullifies the opposition then it’s brilliant. We had that and also had full-backs stopping crosses and a keeper making saves. I said last week Cammy is right up there with Allan McGregor now and I’ll say it again. We haven’t conceded a goal in the competition.
“I’m pleased for the James Fowlers, Garry Hays who have played all their career and have not got a single trophy. I’ve brought players in from York City, Luton Town and Yeovil in the case of young Lee Johnson who set up the goal. I brought Dieter Van Tornhout from Cyprus. He couldn’t get into his team there but I went to see him and felt he could give us something different. It was his birthday today and he has scored the winner in a cup final.”