A proud, and slightly shocked, Chris Shields stood posing for photographs in the Lisdoo on Saturday night, a collection of trophies glistening on the table in front of him.
The 23-year-old midfielder capped a magnificent season by walking away with the Travel Club Away Supporters Player of the Year award, the Players Player of the Year award and the 2014 Dundalk FC Player of the Year award.
And Shields said that to be given such recognition by his fellow professionals and supporters was something he would never forget.
“I never in a million years thought I’d come away with all these trophies,” Shields told The Dundalk Democrat.
“The Players Player of the Year is a very nice trophy to win because it shows what your peers think of you and that is a bit special as is the award from fans, both for the way I’ve played, home and away. It makes me think we have done something special here and for myself it’s a very proud moment.”
The night capped an amazing turnaround for Shields. As captain of Sean McCaffrey’s relegation haunted team in 2012, he was often criticised for his performances. Two years on from the relegation play-off that saves Dundalk’s top flight status, he was celebrating as a league champion and a multi award winner.
“It just goes to show you what hard work can do,” he said. “It’s a great achievement. I’ve my whole family, bar my big brother, here with me but he was here last week to see us lift the league. That was the best part, winning the league, these personal awards accolades are a real bonus.”
Shields performance in the Europa League Qualifying Round second leg tie against Hajduk Split in Croatia was, in this writer’s opinion, his finest in a season littered with man of the match performances. His sublime pass for Kurtis Byrne’s winning goal was Beckham-esque. Or should that be Pirlo-esque, in recognition of the description given to him by the fans.
“I got man of the match in Split and that was a proud moment, beating a European giant like Hajduk out there.
“For me, though, the best was when Stephen O’Donnell scored against Cork City. Even though I only played nine minutes, to be there and on the bench in Oriel when he scored was the biggest moment of the season for me. When that goal went in I knew we were on the way to being home and hosed. To try and live up to that feeling, when the final whistle goes and you are champions, is very hard.”
The celebrations have been in full swing ever since with supporters braving the torrential rain to greet the team on their open top bus parade through town on Saturday.
“The only bad thing about winning the league is that you are celebrating in weather like that in November,” he laughed.
“The crowd that came down the Square, though, was unreal. We were thinking in that rain that it could have ended up being a bit embarrassing but the fans came out in their droves and it was great craic all round.”
The final word went to his manager.
“I think hard work and belief is the key to what Chris has done,” said Kenny. “People say you should know your limitations but I don’t always agree with that. I don’t think you should put limits on yourself and you should have a desire to see how far you can push yourself, not just physically, but creatively.
“It’s about doing things with absolute conviction and trusting yourself. Some of Chris’ right to left and left to right passes over 30 or 40-yards are things that people may have thought were impossible from him.”