David Crawley played for both Dundalk and Shelbourne during his distinguished League of Ireland career
As Dundalk prepare for another trip to Tolka Park on Friday night, it’s hard not to think back on the many fond memories from the Drumcondra venue over the years.
Few locals have as many fond memories of the Richmond Road ground as David Crawley. It was there in 2002 that he fulfilled a lifelong ambition of lifting the FAI Cup as captain of his home town club.
It was also in Tolka Park where he enjoyed many of the other great days from his playing career, having won three league titles and been part of a highly memorable European run during the first of his two spells at Shels.
Crawley also experienced the rocky days for the club with financial issues overshadowing the last of his three Premier Division titles there in 2006.
“Lesser clubs would have went to the wall,” he says of that period.
“I can remember towards the end of my first spell when we weren't getting paid for two or three weeks and we were full time players. You're supposed to be professional footballers but you've to go home to the wife and tell her you're not getting paid. It was really tough but for the club to survive that and still stay around was a massive achievement.
“I remember we were playing in Europe against Odense at home and we still hadn't got paid and we were ready to boycott that game. Massive things have gone on there but it's great to see the club back up and running. It's great for the league even that they're back there.”
Shels is still very close to Crawley’s heart and he is hoping to return to Tolka this Friday with another Dundalk-based club legend in Steve Willliams, but there’s no doubt about who he will be cheering on on the night.
“As a former player you always look out for your old team,” said Crawley.
“At the end of the day we all want Shelbourne to be in the Premier Division because it's easy for us. It's 50 minutes up the road and it's this side of Dublin.
“They're a massive club with massive history who have won plenty of titles. It's great to see them back in it. When I was up there the last time I was chatting to Ollie Cahill and a few other former players. We all have something in our hearts still for Shelbourne. I never thought I would win the Premier League but when Pat Fenlon signed me I won three and played in 20 European games so I'll always have a soft spot for them but it's not as soft as Dundalk because being a captain and a local lad who played over 300 games for the club - that's the difference. Being local, getting to play for Dundalk was massive for me.
“Dundalk are one of the top two clubs in the League of Ireland along with Rovers for the history they have. I remember going to watch the Barry Kehoes and the Dessie Gormans, dreaming of one day being able to pull that jersey on myself. I was trying to get Barry's tie off him after he won the Cup final in 1988. For me to go on to do what I did with the club was massive and I take great pride in it.”
SAVE TOLKA PARK
While Tolka Park now is a far cry from the ground which Dundalk fans packed to see the club shock Bohs in the FAI Cup final of April 2002, Crawley is delighted that it now looks like it will be redeveloped.
“They've the stadium issue sorted out now and I think they're going to stay in the stadium and redevelop it. Drumcondra is a massive area and that stadium would have held massive games over the years.
“The history of that stadium… I mean I probably had my best days in that stadium because I lifted the Cup with Dundalk and there were 15,000 in the stadium that day. That was the best day ever but I also won three Premier League titles in the stadium too so it has massive history for me. Every time I used to go past it when I was up in Dublin I used to just think 'Jesus, I've some memories in there’. I was able to tell my young fella that that is where I won all my medals so it's great that they're staying there.
“I hope, like Oriel Park, that one day it can get developed. For all the success Dundalk has had, you still go up to Oriel Park at night and say 'Jesus Christ, if we don't do it now, we'll never do it'. Shelbourne were much the same. They let it go. They were in the First Division and up and down and up and down a couple of times but hopefully now that they're in the Premier League they can stay up, get the stadium developed and I do think Damien Duff will do a good job for them but I fancy Dundalk to get a result on Friday.
“After the Rovers game, the players will be going there full of confidence and hopefully they'll get three points next Friday night as well.”
Having experienced their own rocky patch last year, Crawley believes Dundalk are on the right track again with the former left-back having no doubts from the very start that Stephen O’Donnell was the right man to restore the good times to Oriel Park again.
“When they appointed Stephen that's what set the marker down for Dundalk,” said Crawley.
“With the new people coming in – and it's great to see Andy Connolly, Clarkey and Seán O'Connor back in around the club – I think there's a great buzz about the town now again.
“That feeling is back again now from when Stephen Kenny was there. I'm sure when they sat down at the start of the year they said if they could get into Europe this year it would be a massive achievement and with Stephen signing a three year contract he's there for the long haul and hopefully they can build year-on-year and hopefully it won't be too long until there is a league title back in Dundalk.
“I never got to play against Stephen – maybe once when I was with Shelbourne – but I've been on European tours with him and stuff like that and the respect the players have for him is massive. Dundalk have got the right man.
“My Shels team, if you go through the players like Wes (Hoolahan), Joseph Ndo, Alan Moore, Owen Heary, Stuart Byrne, Jim Crawford and I'm probably leaving a load out, but there was serious leaders. Stephen would have played with Owen Heary at Bohs and his strength was his determination. His will to win was serious and I could see that with Stephen when I was doing commentary on games for LMFM.
“I did the commentary out in Alkmaar and he was sent off that night but I remember getting on the plane with him afterwards and he was good friends with Shane Grimes and I tapped him on the shoulder and I said 'absolutely brilliant, you were top class'. Even though he was sent-off his manner on the pitch, he was just dictating everything. He was probably harshly sent-off in the end but what a player.
“Again, you had the likes of John Mountney and Chris Shields who he would have lived with over the years and I'm sure he probably rubbed off on them too. He was always going to be destined to manage but for Dundalk to get him from Pat's was a massive coup. It set a standard straight away and everyone got the buzz back. He's a top class lad and I hope he does really, really well with Dundalk and I've no doubt he will because with Alan Clarke and Seán O'Connor coming in as well as FastFix, they'll give him whatever he needs.”
While Dundalk are very much in a title race after last Friday’s victory over Shamrock Rovers, Crawley feels European qualification would represent a fantastic season for Dundalk but he is confident it won’t be long until there is silverware returning to the Carrick Road again.
“Europe is what it’s all about to be quite honest with you,” said the 45-year-old.
“I've been lucky enough to play in some massively high profile games and just going away the couple of days before, going to the stadium the night before and then playing in it is unreal. Then when you go through a round it's massive and Dundalk have done that and luckily enough I've done it too with Shelbourne.
“We had beaten Reykjavik and Hajduk Split and I remember being out on the golf course in the Ballymac when the draw was on and one of the boys said you're after being drawn against Deportivo and I just got goosebumps. I can remember that clear as day.
“They had only after been put out of the semi-final by Porto who went on to win it around six weeks earlier and then you start looking at their players – Valeron, Pandiani, Spanish and Brazilian internationals. That's what it's all about and I'm sure that's where Stephen wants to be and I'm sure he's telling his players it's where he wants to be. I'm sure Andy Connolly, Alan Clarke and Seán O'Connor are telling them that they want Europe and I know it's what all the supporters want. I think if they can do that this year it'll be a massive, massive achievement.
“That's where Stephen wants to manage – against the best in Europe. That's where you want to be playing or where you want to be writing or commentating from. It's the pinnacle for everyone but at the end of the day you've got to do the bread and butter stuff and that's in the league here, coming first, second or third or by winning the Cup.
“There's a massive buzz around the town now again though so that’s an achievement in itself.
“Dundalk have the right man and he has the right people in and around him. I didn't have much dealings with Stephen but you know by his demeanour and his attitude that he's a good man. I know he's already a Dundalk legend from his playing days but I hope he does what Stephen Kenny did,” said Crawley.