Daniel Kelly grew up dreaming the same dream as thousands of Irish boys and girls – scoring the winning goal at Lansdowne Road.
As he lay his head on his pillow last Wednesday night, the same dream was running through his mind only, this time, he had the opportunity to make it a reality. He did just that.Kelly grew up barely a kilometre down the road from what is now the Aviva Stadium but, in a lot ways, Ballsbridge and his native Ringsend are worlds apart.
There will be a similar feeling when Dundalk, Covid restrictions permitting, welcome one of the biggest clubs in the world, Arsenal, to Lansdowne Road in December.
Two clashes with the Gunners, as well as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former club Molde and Rapid Vienna, are the reward for a 3-1 win over Faroese champions KÍ, sealed by Kelly’s late goal.
It was a tense battle and one that the Lilywhites, who boasted seven Dubliners in their matchday squad, looked to have lost control of having led 2-0.
A goal either side of half time from Sean Murray and Crumlin’s Daniel Cleary had them in cruise control, but the Faroese rallied and looked poised to equalise when Kelly struck.
KÍ striker Patrik Johanessen snatched at an opportunity in the Dundalk box and the home side broke with pace, Murray playing in sub Kelly to apply a cool finish and a spot in the group stage draw.
“At the end of the day what is important is the result and getting through. We made history and we are really proud,” Kelly told the physically-distanced media at full time.
“Now that we’re through hopefully we can relax and play the style we want to play. It doesn’t matter the opponent.
“I know emotions tonight affected us. It was backs against the walls for a couple of moments but thankfully we held on. I was praying that I got a chance and thankfully got the goal to seal it for us.”
Kelly’s uncle managed to get a job doing security for the game, and he gave him a nod from the bus on the way in, as was Cleary’s father.
It hasn’t always been glitz and glamour for the 24-year-old, who was playing amateur football with local side St Pats CY before he was offered a League of Ireland shot with Bray Wanderers.
“Me ma, me da and my bro are wrecking the gaff only down the road. It’s amazing, unbelievable. I was playing Leinster Senior League three years ago, so to be here now is just the stuff of dreams.
“The league wasn’t great for us this year, but we would have bitten your hand off to be in the Europa League group stages.”
“It hasn’t been the season we would have liked, but this is where you want to be. To get to the group stages of the Europa League is a phenomenal achievement by the whole group.”
In the absence through suspension of regular captain, Clondalkin’s Chris Shields, Knocklyon native Brian Gartland took the captain’s armband.
He admitted that a month ago, when unknown Filippo Giovagnoli replaced Vinny Perth as manager following their Champions League exit, he wouldn’t have believed they could turn it around so well.
“I’d have said ‘what are you smoking?’ We were in a completely different place. We had to show a lot of mental fortitude over the last few months and this is the reward.”