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Dane Massey daring to dream of the big leagues

The talk has been all about Dundalk on the brink of making history but, actually, full-back Dane Massey has been in precisely this place before: that is to say, at Lansdowne Road for the first of two games which might have propelled Irish football into the group stages of the Champions League.

The occasion was the Shelbourne-Deportivo qualifier in August 2004 and Massey, then 16 years of age, was in the crowd.

“It was a massive, massive game for Shels at the time,” he says. “I was a teenager, I went with my father and what a game, what an atmosphere. I was playing for Cherry Orchard at the time. Our goalkeeping coach Steve Williams was in goal for Shels and we often ask him about the night and his experiences of the Champions League. It was a great night for Irish football, it’s one that everyone remembers and hopefully tonight will be another one.”

Or, one dares to hope, even better, since Shels’ admirable scoreless draw in Dublin 12 years ago proved not to be enough to smash the glass ceiling, the La Liga side winning 3-0 in the second leg.

And now it’s Dane Massey’s turn to see if he can help another League of Ireland club go one step further and make history although, unlike that Shelbourne team of 2004, Dundalk already have the significant consolation of knowing that, should Legia Warsaw prevail, there are Europa League group games still to come.

“Friends are coming up to me and saying, ‘you’re 180 minutes away from playing in the likes of Madrid or Barcelona,” says Massey with a smile.

“When they put it like that, it is a bit mad. I mean, even looking at the group stages of the Europa League, we could get Manchester United which would be massive, you know?

“But our main focus is to get into the Champions League group stages. I know it might seem a million miles away for an Irish team but, going into the campaign, Stephen Kenny said, ‘don’t mind the Europa League, we’re focused on the Champions League’ so we’ve had our minds set on that from the start.

“Obviously, Legia will be hungry for it but we believe we’re even more hungry for it. We haven’t been in it, no Irish side has, so we’re going to go straight for it,” he said.

Centre-half Brian Gartland is back in contention after recovering from a broken wrist while manager Kenny is optimistic that Ronan Finn and Patrick McEleney, who have both been nursing groin strains, will be fit to play.

Whatever else happens tonight, football history will be made at the Aviva Stadium when goal-line technology will be used in this country for the first time.

Legia go into the game against the backdrop of reports that Hull City will make a bid for their Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic.