Three League of Ireland sides begin their European campaigns this week, in Estonia, Iceland and Denmark respectively.
How Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City fare on the road this week will have a massive bearing on their chances of progression when their opponents all come to Ireland for the return legs of their respective Europa League first qualifying round ties the following Thursday.
Dundalk, meanwhile, begin their Champions League campaign next month with a tie against Rosenborg of Norway.
While progression for the clubs involved would be a welcome sight, the calibre of the opponents mean that, on papers at least, two out of the four should be fancying their chances of going through to the next round.
What could await further down the line for the League of Ireland clubs is a chance to upset the applecart, something which Stephen Kenny’s Lilywhites know all about from their march to the Europa League group stage last season.
Down the years, many Irish teams have pulled off unlikely results on plenty of occasions, frustrating European giants and proving to be a surprise package perhaps for sides that thought they were in for an easy evening.
Here are five such examples:
Dundalk 1-0 Maccabi Tel Aviv (29/9/2016): Europa League Group Stage
After a highly-impressive 1-1 draw at AZ, Dundalk’s brilliant start to their Europa League group continued with a memorable 1-0 against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Tallaght. As was the case in Alkmaar, Ciaran Kilduff was the hero as his 72nd-minute strike proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Unfortunately for Stephen Kenny’s side, they ran out of steam for the remainder of their fixtures, losing the next four and exiting at the group stage, albeit with their heads held high after a very strong campaign.
Shelbourne 0-0 Deportivo La Coruna (11/8/2004): Champions League Qualifier
A League of Ireland side holding a team from La Liga would always be noteworthy, but Deportivo were a major European player at the time. Spanish champions in 2000 and Champions League semi-finalists just months before they came to Lansdowne Road, Depor were expected to simply sidestep Shelbourne on their way to the group stages.
What followed was a surprisingly even contest, with both sides cancelling each other out. Shels took an extremely impressive 0-0 draw to the Riazor and although they were beaten 3-0 in the return leg, the Irish side definitely showed that they were no pushovers.
Partizan Belgrade 1-2 Shamrock Rovers (25/8/2011) Europa League Qualifier
Shamrock Rovers defied all sorts of odds on the way to the Europa League group stage in 2011. Having drawn 1-1 against Serbian side Partizan Belgrade in the first leg, few would have given Michael O’Neill’s outfit a sniff of progression – a task that was made all the more daunting when they went 1-0 down just after the half-hour mark.
However, nothing restores confidence quite like a thunderbastard, and Pat O’Sullivan’s blistering goal with just less than an hour gone restored belief in the Hoops. Extra time was to follow, and Shamrock Rovers sealed the win with nine minutes remaining via a Stephen O’Donnell penalty.
Dynamo Kiev 2-2 Drogheda United (6/8/2008) Champions League Qualifier (Agg: 4-3)
While Irish performances in Europe are generally regarded as “plucky”, Drogheda’s 2-2 draw in Kiev was massively frustrating. Twice they went behind and twice they fought back (the second time being in the 88th minute), and will feel that they left it behind them. Dyamo Kiev goalkeeper Taras Lutsenko made a mess of a Shane Robinson shot that rolled along the line after hitting the post, and seconds later Adam Hughes blazed over with an open goal at his mercy.
The result still goes down as one of the most impressive from an Irish side, but it was almost so much more than that.
Cork City 3-1 Malmo (19/6/2004) UEFA Inter-Toto Cup 1st Round First Leg
As emphatic a victory as you are likely to see from an LOI club in Europe (bar, perhaps, Derry’s 5-1 win at Gretna two years later), this was a professional and ruthless performance from the Leesiders. John O’Flynn put the home side with less than ten minutes on the clock, and Dan Murray doubled the lead with half an hour gone.
Murray got his second and City’s third with an hour gone and although they were disappointed to concede with five minutes remaining, manager Pat Dolan would have been confident that his side had done enough to progress to the next round. A 1-0 win in Sweden the following week was proof of that.
Kaiserslautern 0-1 Bohemians (21/9/2000) UEFA Cup 1st Round Second Leg (Agg: 3-2)
Chasing a 3-1 deficit to the Bundesliga side (who were crowned German champions barely 24 months previously) was never going to be easy, but Roddy Collins and his side gave it a damn good go. Glen Crowe, so often the hero fir the Gypsies down the years, slotted home into an empty net ten minutes before half time to fave Bohs fans dreaming of a miracle comeback.
That was not to be, but then-Kaiserslautern coach Otto Rehhagel still said of the defeat: “It’s one of the worst games we have played since I have been here.”
Celtic 0-0 St. Patrick’s Athletic (23/7/1998) Champions League Qualifier
Irish champions St. Patrick’s Athletic headed to Celtic Park, against Henrik Larsson et all, more in hope than in expectation but left with their heads held high. Pat Dolan’s side even had one or two chances to leave Glasgow with a shock win, but were more than happy with the 0-0 draw at the home of the SPL winners. Unfortunately, a 2-0 reversal in Dublin would see Pats exit the competition.
Cork City 1-1 Bayern Munich (18/9/1991) UEFA Cup 1st Round First Leg
“The plucky part-timers from Ireland against the mighty Bayern Munich” was how this was being billed before kick-off against the Bundesliga giants rolled into Musgrave Park for a UEFA Cup clash against Cork City. If, however, they hadn’t realised they were in for a tough tie, Dave Barry’s 26th-minute strike made that abundantly clear.
In a side full of German internationals, Steffen Effenberg equalised on the stroke of half time to send the teams in at 1-1, a score that would remain unchanged. Bayern would end up seeing the tie out 2-0 in the second leg but Cork City had more than held their own in that famous first leg.
Dundalk 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (21/10/1081) Cup Winners’ Cup 2nd Round First Leg
Tottenham’s 1981 FA Cup winners came to Dundalk boasting a plethora of big names such as Glenn Hoddle, Ray Clemence and Ossie Ardiles (as well as Irish internationals Chris Hughton and Tony Galvin), but left Ireland with plenty of work to do.
Mick Fairclough’s late goal cancelled out Garth Crooks’ opener meaning Dundalk would go to White Hart Lane full of confidence. In the end they left the Cup Winners Cup at the last sixteen stage in the return leg (with Crooks again the scorer), but manager Jim McLaughlin was still immensely proud of his players.
Athlone Town 0-0 AC Milan (22/10/1975) UEFA Cup 2nd Round First Leg
A great result that could have been even greater but for an unfortunate penalty miss from John Minnock. Nontheless, this was the day when the European aristocrats of AC Milan were frustrated by Athlone Town in front of a 9,000-strong crowd. As is the case with so many of these stories, however, Milan duly did the necessary in the second leg at the San Siro.
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