Paul Walsh has recalled the night he aided Dundalk’s 2008 promotion bid as a Limerick player, with the winger now relishing his first chance to play in the Premier Division with the Lilywhites.
In the final game of his first season in the League of Ireland, Walsh was part of the Limerick side that snatched an incredible injury-time equaliser against Shelbourne at Tolka Parka to seal the First Division title for Dundalk.
Colin Scanlan’s last-gasp goal that November night ended a seven-season exile from the top table for the Louth club, after John Gill’s side had finished their campaign in Kildare minutes earlier seemingly destined for another season in the second tier.
And, over three years on, Walsh has now been handed his first opportunity to play at the highest level in Ireland, with the team he helped to promotion.
“I don’t think many people around here know that I was playing for Limerick that night,” Walsh told dundalkfc.com.
“For us, it was about keeping our own standards rather than what was at stake. We had nothing to lose so we went out to win the game, as we did in every other game that season.
“We beat a lot of the teams at the top that year, so I don’t think Shelbourne could have any complaints.
“We just kept playing and they didn’t do their job, so they couldn’t blame us.
“I’m very happy to be here and to have the opportunity to play Premier Division football. It will be a big challenge but hopefully I’m up to it.
“I’m looking forward to working under Seán (McCaffrey). He’s very good. All the lads are good too. I can’t wait to get going now.
“I moved to Dundalk with work. Kind of by coincidence, I bumped into Seán through work and he offered me a trial and he liked what he saw. It was by luck that the chance came about.
“I’m living in town about eight months. I came up about a week or two into pre-season. I’m well settled in at this stage. It’s a nice town.
“Working with Statsports is very good, and to be fair to Seán (O’Connor) and Alan (Clarke), they’re great. They let me off for training and that. It couldn’t have worked out better.
“With Statsports, we have only worked with the squad briefly doing fitness tests and stuff, but hopefully over time, when you get more of a base with the players, the stats can really start to help with players’ performances.
“Seán seems to be very much into it. It’s about developing a base; starting slow and bringing it in gradually. Hopefully, it will work well for us.
“I’ve settled into the club really well. The Youth Development Centre and Oriel Park itself, there are great facilities here and it’s great to have everything in the one place.
“It makes training a lot easier. It’s great. It’s a really good setup.”
In July 2009, Walsh joined his native Waterford United for the first of three spells at the RSC.
And, having spent his career to date in the First Division, he is relishing the step-up to the top flight.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
“It’s all new to me. I’ll give it a right go.
“Pre-season has gone very well. The team is gelling at the moment; there is obviously a whole new squad here.
“We have a lot of young players but there is a lot of hunger in the team. Everyone will work hard for each other. Hopefully, we can get it together from the start.”
Dundalk begin the season with a trip to Monaghan United, at a ground where they have not win since July 2006.
Since that victory under Gill, the Lilywhites have suffered huge blows to their promotion challenges in 2006, 2007 and 2008, while over the past two seasons they have been knocked out of the League Cup there, including at the semi-final stage in 2010.
But Walsh is well aware of the threat posed by Monaghan, having been beaten by them in a promotion/relegation playoff when playing for Waterford in 2010.
Earlier that season, Waterford had led 2-0 in Gortakeegan with less than half-an-hour remaining, only to go on and lose the game 4-2. That defeat extended the Blues’ winless streak at the Ulster venue to ten years.
“It’s important to beat teams like Monaghan,” Paul said.
“But it’s not an easy place to go. It’s a small pitch and they play to their strengths. In the First Division, Monaghan were a big, physical team.
“I’m not sure what their squad is like now, but I’m sure they’ll be physical. Hopefully, we can just play our own game and keep the ball on the ground, and hopefully get the three points.
“It’s obviously important to get off to a good start, and hopefully we can do that.”