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Mr Dundalk: Shields Pays Tribute to the Late Harry Taaffe

// 30 Jul 2020

With nine years of club service to his name, Dundalk midfielder Chris Shields is as well placed as anyone to describe the pivotal role that Harry Taaffe played behind the scenes at Oriel Park.

The club, town, and local community were left stunned on Sunday when our much-loved groundsman, videographer, and number one character tragically passed away, leaving an irreparable hole in the fabric of the club.

It has been a tough week for everyone, be that Harry’s family in O’Hanlon Park and his workmates 10 minutes up the road in Oriel but Shields paid a fitting tribute to a man who was held in high regard by everyone who knew him.

“Harry was more than a groundsman, security man, and a videographer. He was a friend to everyone around Oriel Park,” said Shields. “If you ever needed anything, Harry was the man you’d go to. If you broke down in the area, he’d be the first person you would ring. He’d sort anything out. He was Mr Dundalk.”

Harry Taaffe and Vinny Perth. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

Harry’s presence was – and always will be – heavily felt at Oriel Park. In many ways, he was the heartbeat of the club, the man at the engine room who kept things ticking over.

If you looked up at the gantry you’d see him behind his camera, if you walked across the pitch you’d see him brushing the Astro, if you peered out at the training ground you’d see him zipping up and down on his tractor, if you walked into the boardroom he’d usually be there, holding court.

When he caught your eye, you knew exactly what was coming. That cheeky, mischievous smile. ‘Alright son’. ‘Well Harry’

“He would lift spirits like nobody else,” said Shields. “He’d come into the canteen and you’d hear him saying: ‘Let me tell ya’, imparting his knowledge and wisdom!

Harry Taaffe clearing the snow from the Oriel Park pitch in 2018. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“It’s like losing the side of the YDC building because he’s going to leave a big gap at this club and good luck to anyone who tries to fill it. He will be sadly missed by us all.”

Shields joined Dundalk in 2012, a year that saw the club dance dangerously with extinction. Harry played a key role in the ‘Save Our Club’ campaign that followed and it was fitting that he was there, front and centre, for the glory nights that followed.

“He was a shining light in the dark times that we had here,” said Shields. “He was a source of much-needed comedy and any trophy that we have lifted since then, Harry was there with us. I saw a great picture of him with the FAI Cup on the pitch at the Aviva and for us, that was the norm as he was part of things.

“In 2016, he was on every European trip and he was part of everything we did that year. I know he helped Vinny and Stephen Kenny an awful lot. We’ll notice his loss when we’re in Europe because when you’re hanging around hotels, Harry was a great man to have with you.”

Harry and Tom, two League of Ireland legends. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

It’s not just the hotel lobby where Shields will feel Harry’s loss. The pair were also regularly in cahoots in the duty-free section at various airports across the continent!

“Coming home from Europe won’t be the same without him,” smiled Shields. “We used to smuggle smokes home so I’ll have to look for a new compadre to do that with me now.”

Understandably, there was a sombre mood on the training ground this week as the players continued their build-up to Friday’s restart against St Patrick’s Athletic at Oriel Park.

After five months without a competitive game of football, Friday should have been a day to look forward to but some things are much bigger than a game of football.

In the thick of the celebrations during the FAI Cup final in 2015. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

“Last Sunday we received news that we never ever wanted to receive and it has hit the players, staff, and especially Harry’s family hard,” said Shields.

“As professionals, we have to look ahead to the game with Pat’s but it really does show that football can take a back burner at times and that there are far more important things in life.”

It’s a time for reflection but Shields knows that Harry would want nothing more than to see Dundalk lift the league title at the end of October and he promised that the players would give everything they had to retain the crown in memory of their lost comrade.

“Harry was a giver and always looked out for people so it’d be great to give something back to his memory and the Taaffe family,” said Shields. “I think we’ll all have that in the back of our minds when we go into every game that’s left. We want to do this for Harry.”