Byrne: Dundalk can go one step further than Shels heroes of 2004
Stuart Byrne backs Dundalk to go where the Shelbourne team of 2004 narrowly failed to reach the elite Champions League group stages.
Byrne believes the Lilywhites can cause an upset against the Polish champions over two legs, starting with tomorrow night's match at the Aviva Stadium.
He was surprised by Dundalk's successive defeats to Galway United and Bray Wanderers, but believes that manager Stephen Kenny will have his back-to-back champions well prepared and motivated.
"Players in our league very rarely get the opportunity to step up in class and especially in Europe, it's a step up of a couple of gears in class," said Byrne.
"It's always a sign of good players that they're able to make that step up comfortably. Dundalk certainly proved that in the BATE Borisov game at home."
The build-up to this European occasion brings back memories for the ex-Shelbourne midfielder
Byrne played in the last Champions League qualifying match held at Lansdowne Road, for Shelbourne against Deportivo La Coruña on August 10, 2004.
"There is a noticeable difference all right when you go into European football, the added attention and the added requirements on players to be at press conferences and so on," he said.
"In one way it's enjoyable but in another way you do have to be careful. Everyone wants a piece of you. People want to talk to you, and if you don't manage it correctly, it will eventually wear you down."
Shels played heroically to draw 0-0 in the first match, and held out for almost 65 minutes in the Riazor Stadium in Coruña before the Spaniards got their first goal. They went on to win 3-0.
Unlike Dundalk, who are already guaranteed a place in the Europa League group stages, Shels had to play Lille on September 16 to reach that secondary but prestigious target.
They drew 2-2 on a rain and thunder-lashed evening at Lansdowne Road in front of just 7,463 fans, and lost 3-0 away.
"In the away game against Lille, the second game, we were out on our feet, because it was the middle of September by then," Byrne recalled.
"In the end we won the league that year, but we fell over the line.
"Mentally it can be very challenging, especially if you're not used to it. You have to manage that side of it."