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The 14 Most Iconic European Nights In League Of Ireland History

By Gavan Casey
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Mid-July to August is arguably the most important period in the League of Ireland calendar, as the country's finest clubs pit their wits against their European counterparts in both the Europa League and Champions League qualifiers.

Having learned who Dundalk will face in the Champions League qualification round this year, we thought it was time for a trip down memory lane.

We've delved into the archives to bring you highlights (where available) of Irish clubs' finest hours in European competition. Naturally, there are a couple of 'moral victories' amongst the bunch, but sure it wouldn't be Irish football otherwise.

(NB: Drogheda's 2-2 draw at Dynamo Kiev in 2008 and Bohs' 1-0 victory in Kaiserslautern in 2000 were not forgotten about, but omitted. Both games saw Irish sides exit Europe in heartbreaking circumstances whereas the following 14 results either saw Irish clubs advance or kept ties alive for the second leg).

Celtic 3-2 Dundalk (1979)

The Glasgow Herald reported after Dundalk's first leg defeat at Parkhead that “No one seemed to have told the collection of Irish bankers, butchers and company directors that they were not supposed to have a chance against the Scottish Champions: it was to be a picnic for Celtic and a goal feast for the fans. But brave Dundalk, with several players less than 100% fit, defied all the odds to and came so close to nearly pulling off an even greater shock.”.

The Daily Record also praised Dundalk’s performance: “Let me be blunt. This was not a case of the luck of the Irish. No Leprechauns guarded their goal. No blarney was used to con the Celts. The Parkhead crowd watched in eloquent silence as Dundalk celebrated a moral victory.”


The second leg in front of 17,000 fans at Oriel Park was even closer, with a dominant Dundalk failing to find the crucial breakthrough and the game ending in stalemate, seeing Celtic through on aggregate...where they faced Real Madrid in the European Cup quarter-final.

Tommy McConville would later joke of his famous miss that 'nearly night' in Dundalk:

I missed it because I backed Celtic! I got a nice house in Farndreg out of it!

Dundalk's official website have a few more of these yarns in this hugely entertaining article on the tie.

Limerick FC 1-2 Real Madrid (1980)

[Watch Video]

In the lead-up to the game, Madrid manager Vujadin Boškov – a Yugoslav footballing icon – told reporters: “We have respect for every side we meet, but I believe we will proceed to the next round."


And while the 57-time capped former international would ultimately be proved correct, he surely didn't expect his side to receive such a scare against the Munstermen in Landsdowne Road.

In their belated but brilliant match report, Limerick FC's official website states that Vicente Del Bosque was a notable absentee from a side that still included the likes of Laurie Cunningham and future two-time Madrid manager José Antonio Camacho.

That Madrid side came into the Limerick tie following their third La Liga title on the bounce, and had reached the European Cup semis a season previous. "This would be some task for Liverpool, never mind Limerick," announced Shannonsiders boss Eoin Hand. And yet it was his side who almost opened the scoring in front of just 6,000 fans at Landsdowne, with Johnny Matthews - who had previously netted in Europe against both Manchester United and Celtic for Waterford - having a goal ruled out for offside. Limerick would eventually find the breakthrough from a prodded finish by Des Kennedy after Jimmy Nodwell delivered a free-kick that he himself had earned after a foul by the iconic Madrid and Spain forward Juanito.


Juanito went off to notch a penalty and an assist for Francisco Pineda as Spain's capital club spared their blushes in Dublin.

Real triumphed 5-1 in the second leg at the Bernabeu, 7-2 on aggregate.

Cork City 1-0 NEC Nijmegen (2004)



City's 2004 Intertoto Cup run remains the stuff of legend on Leeside, and saw the Rebels trounce former European Cup finalists Malmo 4-1 on aggregate before being drawn against Dutch Eredivisie outfit NEC.

On another sunny evening at a sold out Turner's Cross, a magnificent Kevin Doyle header into The Shed at the beginning of the second half (12:40 in the above video) was enough to separate the two sides over two legs following a 0-0 draw in The Netherlands. Pat Dolan's side advanced to the quarter-finals of the competition where they exited 3-1 on aggregate to an Olivier Quint-inspired Nantes.

Partizan 1-2 Shamrock Rovers (2011)


After a more-than-respectable 1-1 draw in their home leg at Tallaght Stadium, almost nobody gave the Hoops a chance to progress over Champions League regulars Partizan Belgrade and become the first ever Irish side to reach the group stages of one of Europe's two major competitions.


Nobody told Stephen O’Donnell. His extra-time winner sealed his place in both Rovers and League of Ireland folklore, as Michael O'Neill's men made history and were drawn alongside Tottenham in the '11/12 Europa League.

UCD 0-0 Everton (1984)

In what remains the greatest result in UCD's history (barring perhaps their FAI Cup triumph the season before), Students' 'keeper Alan O’Neill produced a masterclass to keep Graeme Sharpe - who went on to score 27 goals that season - at bay during their Cup Winners Cup first round tie in Dublin.

Everton were booed off Goodison Park following a 1-0 victory in the return leg in front of 16,000 fans, but went on to win both the league and the Cup Winners Cup, which puts UCD's 1-0 aggregate defeat into some perspective.

Dundalk 1-1 PSV (1976)

A PSV side containing six Dutch stars from the '74 World Cup (twin brothers Willy and Rene van de Kerhof, Kees Krijgh, Adri Van Kraay, Jan Van Beveren and Willy Van Der Kuylen) couldn't get one over on the Louth men in their European Cup first round tie.

Seamus McDowall lashed home from range past national 'keeper Van Beveren after just six minutes, and the Lilywhites held out for 72 more before succumbing to an Eindhoven equaliser. PSV went on to beat Northern Ireland's Linfield 10-1 (Ten) on aggregate before bowing out to Saint Etienne in the semi-finals. Bayern would go on to beat PSV's French conquerors at Hampden Park that season and clinch their third successive European trophy.

Gretna 1-5 Derry City (2006)


Scottish Cup finalists Gretna suffered a crushing defeat on their European debut against a Derry side who had finished runners up to Cork City in the Eircom League a season previous.


Ryan McGuffie gave Gretna an early lead in the UEFA Cup first round, first leg - this following an uncharacteristic error by eventual Ireland international David Forde - but a Darren Kelly equaliser followed by a brace apiece from Kevin Deery and Ciaran Martyn saw Derry put the tie to bed before a return bout in The Brandywell.

Just three days beforehand, Gretna had beaten Hamilton Academical 6-0 in the Scottish first division, but a ruthless Derry outfit progressed to face Paris Saint-Germain in the second round proper - their third UEFA Cup tie in total, as they had seen off IFK Göteborg to reach the first round.

Aberdeen 1-2 Bohemians (2000)


"The name of Bohemians can now be added to those of Skonto Riga, Barry Town and Vilnius, so-called minnows who have brought the once-proud European tradition of Aberdeen to the brink of humiliation," wrote the BBC of Bohemians' famous UEFA Cup qualifying victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

"In one of the bleakest results of recent years for Scottish football, the Dons, European Cup-winners' Cup winners in 1983, crashed to a 2-1 defeat at home to the Irish part-timers."

The Dons had actually seen off Bohs in the same competition 13 years previously, but a last-gasp Trevor Molloy penalty put the Dubs in the driving seat ahead of their return leg at Dalymount. A 1-0 victory wasn't enough for the Scots as Bohs completed their revenge on away goals, eventually bowing out 3-2 on aggregate to 1998 Bundesliga champions Kaiserslautern (despite a 1-0 away win in their second leg.)

Shelbourne 0-0 Deportivo La Coruna (2004)


More on this one here.

Athlone 0-0 Milan (1975)


41 years ago saw one of the great upsets in Irish footballing history as a plucky AC Milan side escaped Westmeath with a slightly fortuitous 0-0 draw in the second round of the UEFA Cup.

A crowd of over 10,000 packed into St Mel's as Milan - who had Giovanni Trapattoni in their coaching setup at the time - failed to breach The Town's rearguard. And it could have been so much better had Athlone's poor John Minnock put his penalty past Milan stopper Enrico Albertosi on the half-hour mark.

The second leg at the San Siro (Athlone at the San Siro - just let the sheer beauty of that sink in) saw Minnock's side hold out for 70 minutes before succumbing to three late goals.

Cork City 1-1 Bayern Munich (1991)


So memorable was City's fixture with Bayern Munich in 1991, the German giants sent Cork a letter back in 2014 wishing the club a happy 30th birthday.

Only 10 months previously Cork sporting icon Dave Barry had lifted the Sam Maguire with the county's Gaelic footballers in Croke Park, but after running the Germans ragged with a burst from midfield, he opened the scoring for Noel O'Mahony's Rebels at Musgrave Park to wild celebrations.

German international Stefan Effenberg - who had written City off prior to kick-off - pulled Jupp Heynckes’ outift level. Two late Bayern goals in Bavaria were enough to see off Cork in the second leg.

Bohs 3-2 Rangers (1984)


Five members of the Gardaí and 12 supporters were injured as violence broke out during Bohs' legendary victory over Rangers in the European Cup.

Over 3,000 Rangers fans had made their way to Phibsborough - with many journeying down from Northern Ireland, but the Scottish champions came unstuck amidst a feverish atmosphere at Dalymount Park.

A youthful Ally McCoist gave Rangers the lead before a Rocky O'Brien brace on either side of David McPherson header levelled the sides at 2-2. Bohs pushed for the win, however, with Gypsy skipper Gino Lawless' stunning 20-yard effort after an excursion down Rangers' right flank sealing arguably the most memorable European victory in Irish club football history.

Rangers took the second leg 2-0 and advanced to the next stage.

Dundalk 3-0 BATE Borisov (2016)

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg against their 2014/15 conquerors, Dundalk BATE Borisov off the park (not even sorry) in Tallaght. A stunning opener from David 'McMillions' McMillan set the tone, before the former UCD man added his second - and fifth of this Champions League qualifying campaign - to send the Lillywhite faithful into ecstasy.

An incredible second half display, orchestrated in large by Stephen O'Donnell, Daryl Horgan and masterful early replacement Paddy McEleney, saw the Louth club put their Belarussian counterparts to the sword on one of the League of Ireland's greatest ever nights.

The victory saw Dundalk join Shamrock Rovers as the second Irish club to ever reach the group stages of one of Europe's two major competitions, but Stephen Kenny's men will be hoping to go one better after the draw is made on Friday afternoon.

Dundalk 1-0 Maccabi Tel Aviv (2016)

Shamrock Rovers reached the Europa League group phase in 2011-12. Their campaign gave us one memorable moment when Stephen Rice gave them a second half lead at White Hart Lane.

After this brief moment of delirium, Spurs regathered their composure and banged in three goals in rapid quick time, putting an end to dreams of a famous victory.

Rovers finished their run with six losses from six and finished well off the pace at the foot of the group.

Dundalk's odyssey thus far has been a very different affair. Ciaran Kilduff's header grabbed them a late draw against Alkmaar. It nearly goes without saying that this was the first point attained by a League of Ireland team in the group phase of a European competition.

And last night, we got the first win. Dundalk really are turning Tallaght Stadium into a fortress, and as Paul Dollery of the42.ie noted "it's about time someone did."

Again, it was substitute Kilduff who got the goal. The wonderfully creative Daryl Horgan dinked the ball into the six yard box and Kilduff side-footed home from close range.

Perhaps the strangest and most satisfying thing about Dundalk's win was that it really wasn't that surprising anymore.

SEE ALSO: Who Are Dundalk's Possible Opponents In The Champions League Playoff Round?

SEE ALSO: Here's The Seismic Amount Dundalk Have Earned After Historic Night In Tallaght

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