Sleepless nights were certainly part of the equation for those involved with Derry soccer club Kilrea United earlier this week.

Handed a potentially debilitating fine from FIFA in May, the Coleraine & District League junior club from former Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill's hometown were staring into the abyss until the saving grace of a fundraising campaign midweek.

The roots of the tale date back to a player eligibility technicality involving English teenager Pierce Worrall-Hill who had joined the club late last season from Bertie Peacocks after being invited to play for the team by Kilrea United chairman Davy Shiels, who in turn looked to register the newcomer via Northern Ireland Football League's R6 form which deals with the registration of amateur players.

"I run the barbershop in the town and I've known [Worrall-Hill] for three or four years," Shiels tells RTÉ Sport of what is normally a straightforward procedure.

"I signed him on the old R6s in between that transitional period between digital and written and that's where the problem arose. If this had been the digital system, this would have been flagged up straight away and it would not have been a problem. But it didn't because it was that in-between period.

"We'd done all in our power at that time to do what we could do to get the player registered and the registrar at the time admitted that he'd forgot to do it, the league registrar."

The punishment for fielding an ineligible player, which they reluctantly accepted, was a nine-point deduction that derailed their league campaign.

But worse was to follow in May of this year when an email from football's world governing body FIFA arrived out of the blue.

World football's governing body ruled that Kilrea were in breach "regarding the registration of an international minor player without the relevant International Transfer Certificate (ITC) and the prior approval of the Sub-Committee appointed by the Players' Status Committee".

A Northern Irish youth club, TW Braga, were also handed a similar punishment in a separate case.

The punishment was a fine of 10,000 Swiss Francs (€9,187), an amount that, given Kilrea's size and similarly for TW Braga, was a threat to the club's future, especially with a short timescale for them to pay it.

To say that email and punishment was unexpected was an understatement.

"We were totally gobsmacked. We thought it was a bit of a wind-up," Shiels admits.

"We had spoken to the IFA and reluctantly took our [points deduction] punishment due to no fault of our own in our eyes.

"So we just had to take the punishment off the league and we thought that was it which was July last year. The Coleraine District League had put their hands up and said, 'Look, this is our fault'. It was an amicable thing and I was on the committee myself."

Because the fine was less than 15,000 Swiss Francs, Kilrea could inquire as to the reason behind the fine but they could not appeal it.

Northern Ireland's governing body, the IFA, "sympathised" with both Kilrea and TW Braga but added that they were "respectful of the rules in place to protect minors when travelling between countries."

Ultimately, the club would need to come up with the funds and fast, which is more daunting at a time when much of the world has been at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But that's when the local community stepped in, including those within the GAA, to help Kilrea United out of a hole.

"We were starting to panic to tell you the truth," says Shiels.

"But it was Eoin Bradley, who used to play county football for Derry with his brother Paddy, who would train us and also played for us. 

"Eoin put word out and the first big donation was from a man from Larne who offered £500 to ourselves and £500 to Braga to help pay for the fine.

"So we thought, 'Right, we need to get the finger out here and strike while the iron's hot'. So we thought we'd start a GoFundMe or some sort of fundraising thing.

"That was Wednesday night at about quarter to nine that we decided on a GoFundMe. Eoin put his shift in and he had a lot of connections through the GAA world and through football as well and in 12 hours we blew the target out of the water.

"It was unbelievable. A very humbling experience let me tell you. I slept a lot better last night."

And without the help of benefactors, things would have been looking altogether different as Shiels adds: "We don't have that sort of money. We do Last Man Standing, nights at the races... it costs us a 100-odd pound every game to play.

"We have to raise that from the players and from ourselves and stuff. That's the craic and that's why we were joking that we'd got to a Last Man Standing for a week and a thousand pound a man."