GARY DEMPSEY has rediscovered his love for the League of Ireland with Shelbourne and is now eyeing up a lengthy FAI Cup run with the Reds.
Dempsey, 33, will be back at his old stomping ground of Richmond Park tonight for the only Dublin derby in this round of the FAI Ford Cup, his Shels side taking on his former club St Patrick's Athletic.
With just one defeat in their last nine league games, albeit in Division One, Shels are in form and with the experience of players like Dempsey, Sean Russell and John Sullivan married with youthful talent like Alan O'Sullivan, Adam McDonnell and Lee Desmond, Shels fans - who are mourning the death yesterday of club legend Eric Barber - feel they can spring a surprise.
But it's an even bigger surprise to see Dempsey at the heart of their midfield against Pats, as the former U21 cap had turned his back on the League of Ireland at the end of last season. "I had lost interest in it all, to be honest, and I dropped out," says Dempsey, who had cross-channel spells with Everton, Dunfermline, Aberdeen, Yeovil and Darlington as well as an LOI career with Bray, Waterford and Pats.
"I was busy setting up a business. Last season at Bray ended badly with all that went on at the club and I was happy to be back in Wexford playing local football with my mates.
"I didn't miss it one bit. I enjoyed having my Friday nights back, I didn't miss all those trips to Derry and Cork. I didn't even follow the league.
"But John McDonnell, the Shels manager, was in touch with me, asking me to come back.
"He said I'd have a lot to offer Shels if I came back."
McDonnell's pursuit of Dempsey paid off as the Wexford lad agreed terms and signed in July - and the move has worked as Shels have won three and drawn two since Dempsey came into the side.
"It's nice being back and it's great for me to be playing with good young players," he says.
"I think Johnny felt that the side were lacking in experience, in the first round of league games they dropped points in games they should have won and that was down to inexperience.
"So hopefully I have added something to the side. I tend to sit in front of the back four and don't get that far forward at my age but I'm enjoying it, we have some really good young players here."
With a tiny budget in place, Shels are relying heavily on their youth structure and while there are some old heads in the squad, youngsters like Ryan Robinson, Dylan Connolly and Adam McDonnell are winning underage international caps as well as getting first team experience with the Reds.
The league campaign is still alive, Shels three points behind leaders Longford Town with the sides going head-to-head next weekend, but a Cup run is also possible, and Shels will hope that confidence at Richmond Park has been sapped after two defeats in the last three for Liam Buckley's side.
"It's a big ask for us," says Dempsey. "For us to get something here we have to be at our very best and we'd need three or four of the Pats lads to have an off-day. But on our day we can beat anyone."
Galway FC boss Tommy Dunne says there is no pressure on his side as they face into the unenviable task of taking on Dundalk in Oriel Park.
"We will be up against it but we're really looking forward to the challenge. We're going to Dundalk, there's no pressure on us at all, we're not expected to get anything," says Galway manager Dunne, a former Dundalk player.