Dundalk supporters have enjoyed some incredible moments over the past decade. Far too many to list here.
Think of the moment the final whistle blew against Cork City in 2014, bringing our 19-year wait for a league title to an end, Richie Towell’s strike against the Leesiders at the Aviva Stadium in 2015, a goal that clinched our first league and cup double under Stephen Kenny, Ciaran Kilduff’s historic equaliser against AZ Alkmaar in Holland and his match-winner against Maccabi Tel Aviv at Tallaght Stadium, the same ground where Dundalk put BATE Borisov to the sword two months previously.
Five years ago, we were treated to another double when Patrick McEleney scored at the same end as Towell in the 2018 FAI Cup final while 12 months later, Windsor Park was one of the stop-offs in a season that saw the Lilwyhites almost complete a clean sweep of trophies. The opposite end of the Aviva Stadium was the scene of David McMillan’s hat-trick in the ‘Covid Cup final’ from 2020.
For me, the starting point for those magical nights can be traced back to Saturday, November 15th, 2008, a dramatic evening when Dundalk finally broke free from the shackles of the League of Ireland First Division. In terms of facilities, Station Road in Kildare is on a different planet compared to the bright lights and plush seats of places like the Aviva. In the history of Dundalk Football Club, however, it holds just as much importance.
It was a night that paved the way for the dreams that were weaved over the past 10 years. It was a night when Limerick’s Colin Scanlan, a journeyman who was playing with Hong Kong FC just three months earlier, etched his name in Dundalk folklore.
I was lucky enough to witness events unfold first-hand that evening in my role as the football reporter for the Dundalk Democrat. Below is my account of what unfolded 15 years ago.
After a battle with the Saturday evening shoppers, I slowly crawl through Newbridge traffic to take my place in the ground at 6.30pm. The away support arrives in their droves at Station Road, filling the temporary stand recently erected on the far side of the venue.
As they reach the turnstiles they are charged €15 for a ticket which ought to have cost €10 and are greeted with a badly photocopied ‘match programme’ costing an extra €3. It’s no wonder the game in this country is in such a bad state.
Dundalk take to the field for their pre-match warm-up looking calm and relaxed. Simon Kelly’s inclusion in a ‘keep ball’ session gives clues regarding the starting 11. When the team sheets are released his selection is confirmed as Gill includes the local defender in place of the injured Aidan Lynch.
Word filters around the ground that Limerick are lining up against Shels without their exciting young striker, Paul Tierney. Not to worry, one person says — “Gary Sheehan is playing and he’s likely to grab a goal”. The Oriel Travel Club have arrived for what could sadly be their last ever trip. Hopefully, it’s a happy one.
John Flanagan, wearing a white lily on his black shirt, leads Dundalk out for the final time. John Gill and Gerry Scully follow the team across the pitch to the dugouts. Penny for their thoughts.
Anthony Buttimer whistles and the game is underway — some two minutes before Shels and Limerick. Dundalk look comfortable and almost pull ahead in the third minute when Tiarnan Mulvenna hits the post from a Robbie Farrell flick. Paul Crowley then sounds alarms in a fragile-looking home defence with an overhead kick that flies over.
Pockets of Dundalk fans fill the areas in front of the main clubhouse and behind the train station goal. Some are wearing earpieces, two eyes on the game in front of them, but their thoughts are very much on the happenings in Tolka Park.
Eleven minutes in, Dundalk draw first blood. David Crawley finds himself on the right following a corner and his inch-perfect cross is met by Farrell who heads brilliantly into Austin O’Neil’s far corner. Early nerves are settled — slightly.
Two minutes later, a great roar goes up among one-half of the temporary stand. Limerick one-nil up? Text messages flood the main stand enquiring as to whether the rumours are true. Painstaking updates of Aertel and LMFM are sought out but unfortunately, it is a hoax. Shelbourne 0–0 Limerick 37.
Undeterred by the brief hysteria, Dundalk press on with their own business and hit number two in the 27th minute. Flanagan’s searching pass down the right finds David Cassidy. The irrepressible midfielder beats O’Neil to the ball and his flick across goal is knocked home by Farrell. Two-nil and it looks like Dundalk will keep their end of the deal. Can Limerick do the same?
Chances come and go before the halftime break, both at Station Road and at Tolka Park. Cassidy drags a shot across goal while Farrell heads wide following a swift break down the left by Mulvenna.
“In Drumcondra”, we are told by the men with the earphones, “Anto Flood has gone desperately close for Shels while Tommy Barrett should have put Limerick one up”.
HT. Kildare County 0–2 Dundalk. Shelbourne 0–0 Limerick 37.
Forty-five minutes from heaven – or another season in hell…
The second half starts in Kildare. Tolka Park tails slightly behind. Dundalk again look comfortable but they are given a scare in the 57th minute when Philly Hughes, a former Dundalk and Shelbourne employee, tests Chris Bennion.
It proves to be a wake-up call for the Lilywhites and they secure the three points a minute later. Flanagan picks out Cassidy again and his square pass along the face of goal is swept home by Farrell for his hat-trick.
‘The Hitman’ bags a fourth in the 66th minute, heading home a Mulvenna cross. I feel for the big striker. He wheels away in celebration but few Dundalk fans cheer. The reason being that Anto Flood has fired the Reds into a one-goal lead. Suddenly it’s advantage Shelbourne.
Trevor Vaughan and Paul Smith take their place in attack as Farrell and Mulvenna leave to muted applause. Not because of their efforts on the night or throughout the season but because the reality of Flood’s 62nd-minute strike is starting to sit deep in the stomach.
LMFM have switched their live commentary from Dundalk’s game to Tolka Park. The man in the earphones, Drogheda-man Gerry Kelly, claims “It’s not over in Tolka just yet. Limerick have forced three corners and Dave Ryan should have scored after a bad mistake by Alan Keely”. His words offer slight encouragement but it is hard to imagine Shels losing their grip now.
Trevor Vaughan, in what could be his last appearance in a Dundalk shirt, picks out Cassidy with an outrageous reverse pass. The number seven shapes to smash the ball but deftly lifts a beautiful chip over the hapless O’Neil. It’s surreal. Five-nil up after 75 minutes and the place is like a morgue.
Vaughan then swivels onto Paul Smith’s knockdown to smash a low effort into the bottom corner before Paul Shiels runs the ball into his own net. The Clones native looks shattered by his own goal, a testament to his attitude of setting high standards.
With time ticking on, attention switches to north Dublin. Dessie Baker, co-commentator on the Dundalk game with LMFM’s Gerry Malone, has left his seat, resigned to a Shels win.
I grab his headphones, at the same time questioning whether I really want to hear the last few minutes. My eyes focus on Buttimer, who indicates one minute of added time at Station Road, but my heart in is in Tolka Park urging Limerick 37 on.
I hear Gerry Kelly describing Shels as being ‘solid’. They are winning free kicks in their own half and forcing the ball into the corners, eating up time. They are within touching distance.
The final whistle blows on Dundalk’s season. Thirteen goals in their last two games and a points tally of 71 looks good enough only for second place. The players begin to slowly trudge off.
Tiarnan Mulvenna looks in a daze. Shiels commiserates with the Kildare players and offers his best wishes for their relegation play-off with Mervue United. John Flanagan looks dejected. His playing career over in seemingly heartbreaking fashion. Gill, surrounded by security, heads for the tunnel, gathering pace as the fans spill onto the pitch.
My mind refocuses on the commentary from the Shelbourne game in pure hope rather than expectation. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern sits three rows in front looking very glum.
We are deep into the three minutes of injury time.
Shels clear the ball to the feet of Colin Scanlan and the rest is history. A hero is born and grown men cry.
We’re back in the big time.
Published in the Dundalk Democrat on November 18th, 2008