A 5-3 win against Linfield, a sensational hat-trick, scoring Dundalk’s first ever goal in the Setanta Cup and their first at Windsor Park, receiving the plaudits of every national newspaper on the island of Ireland and coming all in front of your family and friends at a ground less than ten minutes from your home.
Could it have went any better for Daniel Kearns on Monday night?
There is no doubt that the accolades would have kept flowing in the Kearns household when the teenager carried the match ball through his front door. Dundalk’s Belfast Boy tore Linfield apart at times. To do it in his own ‘back yard’ made it even more special.
“I’m delighted. It’s the first hat-trick I’ve scored since I was a kid. Obviously it’s great for me. I only live ten minutes down the road and all my family and friends were here so to score a hat-trick in front of them makes me really proud.”
The teenager comes across as a grounded, driven character and he unselfishly paid tribute to his team-mates who belied the fact that it was their first competitive outing of the season with a stunning display.
“The main thing for us was getting the result. It was a great team performance and hopefully we can get them to Oriel and finish them off. We’re really looking forward to the next leg and hopefully progressing to the next round.”
Dundalk’s attacking play will have fired the imagination of every supporter who made the trip up the M1. Every one of their five goals was the result of some eye catching football with Kearns, Mark Quigley, Ross Gaynor and Jason Byrne revelling in the freedom given to them by Ian Foster.
“They were all well worked goals”, said Kearns. “We kept it tight at the back and caught Linfield on the break. Going forward we cut them open. The Gaffer lets us enjoy our football and encourages us to go forward. We have great attacking players here and once we get in the final third we can hurt teams.
“We broke well and it was a great ball from Jason for the first goal. The second was quite similar. I picked it up and went forward and the return pass from Mark Quigley made it easier for me.
And the third? Was he ever going to pass to Jason Byrne?
“Not in a million years”, he smiled. “I was running in and I heard Jason shouting but not in a million years was I going to give up my hat-trick.”
With the additions of Greg Bolger, Colin Hawkins and possibly Shaun Maher, there is a real feeling that Dundalk could break into the top four this season. Kearns is one who holds that opinion.
“We want to finish as high as we can. European qualification is our aim. If we can tighten our backline up then you can see that going forward we can hurt any team in the country.”
Kearns’s performance drew fulsome praise from his manager afterwards.
“I thought he was exceptional. His temperament was great because he was under a bit of pressure coming here. He handled himself fabulously well as I expected him to. He’s a teenager and he has just lit up Windsor Park for me.
“I was fortunate enough to have Jay O’Shea at Galway United. We sold him to Birmingham and unfortunately things haven’t worked out for Jay. I think Daniel is certainly as talented as Jay. I don’t want to put pressure on Danny but we’ll continue to try and improve him. There is plenty of improvement in him. He has so much in his feet, if we can transfer it to his mind he can be the best in the league. He has it all. One thing people don’t see is his attitude. It’s fantastic. He goes about things in the right manner and I’d love to see him go and make it because players like him deserve it.”