Dundalk midfielder Chris Shields has experienced club's highs and lows
Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30
It is only four years ago that Dundalk supporters launched the 'Save Our Club' initiative and tonight they will hope that their team take another giant step towards qualifying for the Champions League.
No one in the Dundalk camp is underestimating the scale of the task that lies ahead against group stage regulars BATE Borisov but there is a serious realisation that the Liywhites can perform much better than they did in Belarus a week ago.
For the club to even be in this situation after a near disaster is a remarkable achievement.
Chris Shields joined Dundalk in 2012 and, along with John Mountney, has experienced the club's dark days and, although manager Stephen Kenny has bemoaned the fact that the town doesn't have a ground suitable to host the game, Shields admitted that he struggles to comprehend the strides the club as made on the pitch.
"I probably speak for John Mountney as well as we were here from the start and we're good friends, we do kind of relish it more," Shields (right) maintained.
"Over in Belarus last year, the two of us were stood beside each other for the Champions League music and it hits you, like, 'When did you think we'd be doing this, John?'.
"It's hard to get your head around as there were times at Dundalk when the club went into crisis, and we didn't get paid for a week.
"At the end of the day, it's your living. The next week, it was, 'We don't know what the story is with next week'.
"Dundalk were a big club when I was growing up so it would have been tragic to see them go because it had happened to Monaghan earlier in that season so a lot of people were thinking it could have been the same with us which would have been shambolic for the league as well.
"I thought, 'This is going to be one long year' and in my own head I was thinking I probably wouldn't be wanted back because.
"For a start, I wasn't that popular with the fans, probably through my own fault because of performances and my mouth.
"Somebody would have a pop and I'd have a pop back. I was only 21 and captain. Captain of a sinking ship I was probably labelled as as well.
"To just go through step by step and become more and more successful since Stephen came in. Last year, a double-winning season, in the Champions League. It's quite indescribable and you have to enjoy it while it lasts."
Plenty of League of Ireland players and indeed his own team-mates have been on a similar journey to Shields and while they don't need to be reminded of the state the club was in, it does serve as a motivation factor.
"You kind of let them know where the club has came from," he said. "But lads aren't unlike me and John.
"David McMillan, Ciaran Kilduff, Andy Boyle and Darren Meenan all played for UCD and would have been at the other end of the table, Andy with Shels and Stevie (O'Donnell) at Galway one year playing against myself in a relegation play-off.
"We've all come on our individual journeys to come and play for the best team in the country."
Behind the scenes, club officials organising visas for a Champions League qualifier in Belarus is a far cry from the quizzes organised in an attempt to raise funds to ease the financial problems.
Overturning the first leg deficit would see Dundalk one tie away from the group stages of the Champions League, while the multi-million Euro prize money that goes with that is seven times what they won for their league success.
If the favourites BATE do progress, Dundalk will turn their attention to a play-off game that could see them play their way into the Europa League.
Regardless of what angle you look at tonight's mouthwatering clash, the incentives are massive and for defender Andy Boyle, it is a simple case of 'respect'.
"As players, it is about getting more respect," Boyle insisted. "As a group of players, we'd love to get that bit of respect and good publicity for the league.
"From time to time, the league does get a bad rep. If we do well, it can only benefit the league and get a bigger audience, which is what the league needs."
It has been a tough road to get to this point but Dundalk don't want their latest journey to end here as they go in search of one of the biggest results in Irish history.
Stephen O'Donnell (knee) and Ronan Finn (groin) should be fit enough as Dundalk look to cancel out Mikhail Gordeichuk's goal.
Dundalk (possible) - Rogers; Gannon, Boyle, Barrett, Massey; O'Donnell (c); Shields, McEleney, Finn, Horgan; McMillan.
Dundalk v BATE Borisov,
Live, Eir Sport 1, 8.0