Dundalk star Shields hails Kenny for building an empire from ashes of 2012
Published 25/10/2016 | 02:30
From "Ragball Rovers" to the prospect of emulating the domestic feats of the great Shamrock Rovers side that ruled the 1980s. Dundalk have come a long way under Stephen Kenny.
Chris Shields is better placed than anyone to appreciate the quality of the manager's work. The midfielder and John Mountney are the only two current squad members that were present when Kenny assumed control at the end of 2012.
Kenny arrived to a club accustomed to turbulence which had luckily avoided relegation via a play-off and, in the aftermath of Sunday night's win over Bohemians that banked a third successive title, Shields was asked to cast an eye back to the start of this adventure.
"We were Ragball Rovers when Stephen got us in first," said the 25-year-old, who has grown into one of the top midfielders in the country.
"There were players that were going nowhere in their careers, probably me included after the nightmare season I had before. I think Stephen O'Donnell was going to Mervue. But the manager brought us all together and built an absolute dynasty.
"The club was almost gone, that's a credit to the owners Andy (Connolly) and Paul (Brown), they came in and steadied the ship. And they're so, so supportive because they're fans. First and foremost they're fans and then they're owners. They'll be enjoying this next two days or so as much as we will."
Dundalk have too much on their plate right now to think about going for four in a row in 2017 - an achievement that would bring them level with the Rovers team of 1984-87.
That Hoops group also won three doubles, and Dundalk will be going for their second on Sunday week against Cork City at the Aviva Stadium; they will prepare for that with a Europa League encounter with Zenit St Petersburg 72 hours earlier.
"This (the league) has been the aim since the start of the year," said Shields. "We've done well in Europe and a lot of focus has been on that by the media because we've done well.
"But this has always been the focus for the players and Stephen has said that to us since day one of pre-season."
Seven members of the starting team against Bohs were a part of the side that really made the breakthrough in the decider with Cork in 2014.
For ex-Derry man Patrick McEleney, Sunday was a first taste of league glory. He admitted that the efforts of recent weeks had taken his toll, which explains why a youthful second string side will take on St Patrick's Athletic tonight. "In tatters" was his straightforward response to how the body felt.
He overcame the disappointment of early season setbacks to make an impact.
"I played the first few games and then my groin went and my hamstring twice, I just thought 'this is going to be one of those seasons', but I picked myself up and I can give myself a pat on the back for it because I moved on and got myself in the team," said the talented midfielder.
"I had moved down here with my family and I didn't know what was happening or where I was going. But I dug in, went to the gym every day to get myself right, and it's paid off."
McEleney joked that his grandmother could win a title with Dundalk because of the ethos in the dressing-room
Full-back Alan Keane came out of retirement in August to help the squad cope with a hectic schedule and he feels that the desire to improve is what has propelled this group to another level.
It has made the 32-year-old think twice about putting a time limit on his return to the game.
"The hunger with all the lads is there as much as it was from day one," he said.
"That's on and off the pitch, what they do on their day off. Whereas I'd look at it and say 'it's a day off, chill out' they're still trying to get that edge, whether it's in the gym doing extra weights or just looking at what they eat and everything.
"Stephen Kenny gave me a headache when he called me. But I knew I would regret it if I said no."