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Ranking Every Win By A LOI Club In European Cup & Champions League

Ranking Every Win By A LOI Club In European Cup & Champions League
John Dodge
By John Dodge
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In 1957 Ireland joined the elite of European club teams by submitting its champion to the European Cup for the first time. It was a tough opening fixture for Shamrock Rovers, who were beaten by eventual semi-finalists Manchester United. Apart from three years in the mid-1990s when the Champions League only allowed the top 24 nations to enter, our champions have competed since that 1957/58 season and, to no-one’s surprise, with little success. League of Ireland clubs have only progressed through 18 European Cup/Champions League ties in competition history.

We’re going to attempt to rank each of those knock out wins. It’s completely subjective, of course, and we’ve no doubt readers will disagree with almost of all it.

We’ve tried to factor in opposition, round, seeding and performance amongst other things. Is a win in both legs of a game you’re seeded to win more impressive than squeaking past a team that’s seed just above you?

Oh and we’re only talking about the times when Irish clubs progressed, so great one leg performances where the club was ultimately knocked out don’t count. Now you know the parameters, let’s get on with the ranking.

1 – Dundalk v BATE Borisov (3-1 agg) – 2016

BATE Borisov had reached the Champions League group stage in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Between 2008 and 2018, they only failed to reach the CL or Europa League groups only twice.

One of them was in 2016 when Dundalk beat them in the Champions League in the 3rd qualifying round.

Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk were dominating domestically but their first CL campaign in 2015 ended in defeat to BATE. A 0-0 draw in the second leg at home in 2015 may have given them a bit of hope going into 2016 but not many outside Dundalk gave them too much hope after Dundalk had squeezed past FH of Iceland in the 2nd round. A 1-0 defeat in Belarus opened the door for one of the great European nights in Tallaght stadium in the second leg.


Dundalk were sensational and deservedly took the lead through Dave McMillan just before half time. He scored again on the hour mark and a third form Robbie Benson wrapped it up and ensured Dundalk of (at least) Europa League group stage. For quality of opponent and the round it was played in, this is our clear number one.


2 – Shelbourne v Hajduk Split (4-3 agg) – 2004

One of the reasons stated for the LOI changing to a summer season in 2003 was to help our clubs compete in Europe. 2004 saw two Irish clubs win through two rounds in Europe for the first time with Cork City advancing in the Inter-toto Cup and, far more impressively, Shelbourne becoming only the second ever Irish side to get past 2 rounds in the top competition.


After an away goals win over KR of Iceland, Shels would face Hajduk Split of Croatia in the 2nd qualifying round. Shels took the lead early in Split but were 3-1 down in the final minute when Alan Moore scored to give them hope. Pat Fenlon’s charges missed several chances before Dave Rogers scored a stunning volley to put them ahead in the tie with just over 10 minutes to go.

Hajduk threw everything at Shels but in injury time Alan Moore scored again to send Tolka Park into raptures and set up a tie with Deportivo La Coruna.



3 – Waterford v Glentoran (4-1 agg) – 1970

The first European Cup win for a League of Ireland club came at the 14th time of asking in 1970. The first win for an Irish League club came in 1965 when Derry City beat Lyn of Norway and Linfield reached the quarter finals in 1966-67.

Glentoran had yet to win a tie themselves but were only beaten by finalists Benfica on away goals in 1967-68 and a year before the Waterford game had beaten Arsenal 1-0 in the home leg of their Fairs Cup tie. It was Waterford’s fourth European adventure and after heavy defeats to Vorwarts (East Germany), holders Manchester United and Galatasary, 1970 provided their first real chance of progression.

The Blues won 3-1 in Belfast and 1-0 in Kilcohan Park to record only the fifth ever win for a LOI club in Europe and the first in the European Cup.



4 – Cork City v Apollon Limassol (2-1 agg) – 2006

Cypriot football has improved dramatically over the course of their UEFA involvement. In 2005, their champions Anorthosis beat Dinamo Minsk and Trabzonspor before losing to Rangers in the third round. Apollon LImaassol were hot favourites for their tie against Cork City in 2006 but the Leesiders prevailed.

Billy Woods got the winner in Turners Cross as the champs took 1-0 lead to Cyprus for the second leg. Played in baking heat, Appollon took the lead through Polish international Lukasz Sosin before Dan Murray scored to put City back ahead in the 75th minute. Only three years later the Cypriot champions, APOEL, reached the Champions League groups putting City’s achievement in some more context.



5 – Dundalk v Hibernians (2-1 agg) – 1979

For the first time ever in 1979, a LOI club won a second tie in Europe when Dundalk beat Hibs of Malta after beating Linfield in the preliminary round.  Goals by Liam Devine and Hillary Carlyle gave the Lillwhites a 2-0 win in Oriel Park before their trip to Malta at the end of September.

Despite losing 1-0 the LOI champions did enough to reach the second round where they almost caused a huge shock against Celtic. Losing 3-2 in Glasgow and coming very close to beating them in Oriel Park in the second leg.



6 – Shelbourne v Glentoran (6-2 agg) – 2005

A year after they played four rounds in Europe, Shels entered the 2005-06 as the first ever Irish club to be seeded in the Champions League qualifying round. They drew Glentoran to set up an all-island clash for the first time in 21 years.

Shels won 2-1 in the Oval thanks to a Jason Byrne double and ran out easy 4-1 winners in Tolka Park with another Byrne double being added to by Owen Heary and Glen Crowe.  The 6-2 aggregate win remains the record win for a League of Ireland club in the European Cup/Champions League.


7 – Bohemians v Omonia Nicosia (2-2 agg – away goals win) – 1979

Our second win in the European Cup came in 1979 when Bohs beat the Cypriot champions on away goals. Bohs lost 2-1 in Cyprus with Padraig O’Connor scoring just before half time.

The second leg had to be played 150km from Dalymount Park as UEFA sanctioned the club for clashes in their UEFA Cup tie with Newcastle United the previous year. Bohs decided on Flower Lodge in Cork, now Pairc Ui Rinn, and promptly won 1-0 thanks to a Paddy Joyce goal. A European win was rare in 1979 but to do so without any home advantage is extra special.


8 – Dundalk v Linfield (3-1 agg) – 1979

Our number 8 victory also saw a game played away from the second leg’s host’s home ground.

Dundalk’s 1-1 draw in Oriel Park was played out in front of sustained rioting with a huge travelling support intent on causing chaos. UEFA punished Linfield by precluding them from playing the second leg in Ireland or the UK and at short notice, the second leg was moved to Haarlam in the Netherlands. Cathal Muckian scored twice to give Dundalk a famous win and they moved on to face Hibs of Malta in the next round.

Most Dundalk fans will rank this higher than the win against Hibs in the next round.



9 – Cork City v Cwmbran Town (4-4 agg – away goals win) – 1993

Between 1979 and 2000, the LOI champions only won one round in the European Cup and Champions League, which was in 1993 when Cork City beat Welsh champions Cwmbran Town.

Cork City were expected by most in Ireland to win this tie. Cwmbran were the first ever League of Wales champions in 1993 and therefore this was the first ever Champions League tie for a Welsh club side. It didn’t start great for Cork who were 3-0 down after only 27 minutes in Wales before goals from John Caulfield and Anthony Buckley kept the tie alive.

City went behind in the second leg too before late goals from Pat Morley and Johnny Glynn put them through to face Galatasaray. It mightn’t have been a great performance, but being the only win in 20+ years gets this win a place in our top nine.


10 – Shelbourne v Sloga Jugomagnat (2-1 agg) – 2000

As mentioned above, Cork City’s win was the only EC/CL win for LOI clubs between 1979 and 2000.

While Sloga Jugomagnat of Skopje, Macedonia may have been unknown this side of the world, they were the seeded team and the Macedonian league was ranked well above the LOI.

Shels brilliantly won the away leg thanks to a late Richie Baker goal. Garry Haylock scored to put them ahead in Tolka Park before a goal from Macedonian international Arben Nuhiu with nine minutes to go put the Dublin side on edge. They managed to see the tie out for their third European win and their first in Europe’s premier competition.


11 – Shelbourne v KR (2-2 agg – away goals win) – 2004

Before they could Hadjuk Split, Shels needed to beat KR of Reykjavik. One of the reason stated for the LOI moving to a summer season was to help with European performances and it might have played a part here as Shels narrowly got passed another summer season club.

Falling to a two goal deficit in Iceland, Shels needed a pair of goals in the last seven minutes to salvage a draw with Alan Moore and an OH providing them.  A nervy second leg in Dublin ended 0-0 and the unseeded Shelbourne caused a mild shock to advance to the second qualifying round and set up that famous win over Hadjuk Split.


12 – Dundalk v FH (3-3 agg – away goals win) – 2016

Dundalk’s route to the group stage of the Europa League started with a win over FH of Iceland. Dundalk didn’t play well in the opening leg in Oriel Park and a 1-1 draw gave them a lot to do in Hafnarfjörður. Dave McMillan scored twice away and the 2-2 draw was enough to take them on their way to a game with BATE Borisov in the 3rd qualifying round.

Not many would have predicted the group stages after this narrow win against their seeded opponents from Iceland.


13 – Bohemians v Levadia Maardu (3-0 agg) – 2001

After their terrific UEFA Cup performance in beating Aberdeen and winning a leg against Kaiserslautern in 2000, Bohs were seeded in 2001 and drew the Estonian champions Levadia Maardu (now Levadia Tallinn).

A comprehensive 3-0 at home paved the way for easy progression, something that not a lot of League of Ireland clubs have experienced. Shaun Maher set the tone with a goal after two minutes and Glen Crowe notched twice. A 0-0 draw in Tallinn was enough to see the Gypsies through.


14 – Drogheda United v Levadia Tallinn (3-1 agg) - 2008

Only twice in eight years from 2001 to 2008 did the LOI Champions not progress past their first opponent, but Drogheda United were the last to do for a few years.

For the second time on this list, Levadia Tallinn were the opposition and the seeded Drogheda side won both home and away legs. The home leg was played in Dalymount Park and despite falling behind, second half goals by Ollie Cahill and Faz Kuduzovic gave Drogs a 2-1 win to bring away to Estonia.

Graham Gartland scored the winner as Drogs sealed their third European win in 3 seasons. In the next round, Drogs pushed Dynamo Kiev all the way and were the width of a crossbar from ensuring UEFA Cup group qualification at a minimum.


15 – Bohemians v BATE Borisov (3-1 agg) – 2003

This BATE Borisov were a different proposition to the one faced by Dundalk in 2016 with their big investment yet to materialise.

Bohs were the seeded team once again but lost the first leg 1-0. A terrific second leg performance in Dalymount Park earned a 3-0 win with Stephen Caffrey, Bobby Ryan and Glen Crowe all scoring. It was the first year of summer football for the LOI and there was a sense that wins at this round were becoming the norm.


16 – Shamrock Rovers v Flora Tallinn (1-0 agg) – 2011

Despite being Ireland’s most successful club, this narrow win over Flora Tallinn is Shamrock Rovers’ only win in the European Cup/Champions League to date.

Michael O’Neill’s side were seeded for the tie against the Estonian champs and expectations were high that the LOI would get its first CL win in three years. Chris Turner scored the only goal in Tallaght and despite a nervy performance in Tallinn, Rovers did enough to progress after a 0-0 draw.

Rovers went on to have one of the great LOI performances of all time beating Partizan Belgrade in Serbia to qualify for the Europa League groups. Like Dundalk in 2016, they didn’t start their campaign on fire.


17 – Dundalk v Riga FC (0-0 – win 5-4 on penalties) - 2019

The nature of ranking wins is that some good wins, and we think all wins in the Champions League are good, have to be ranked lower than others. And so it is that Dundalk’s win on penalties in 2019 over the Latvia champions is our lowest ranked on-the-field win.

Still domestically dominant, Dundalk had earned quite a bit of European success and would have been seen as a scalp for Riga. A poor performance in Oriel Park was matched by a gritty performance in Riga and a pair of 0-0s sent the tie to penalties. Gary Rogers was the hero of the day saving twice to allow Sean Hoare to score the winning penalty in sudden death.


18 – Cork Celtic v Omonia Nicosia (walkover) – 1974

For the sake of completeness, we’re going to list Cork Celtic advancing in 1974 after political unrest in Cyprus stopped Omonia from talking part in 1974. Celtic’s only European Cup tie was against the Soviet champions Yerevan Ararat in the next round.

So there you have it, every knock out tie won by the League of Ireland champions in the European Cup or Champions League ranked. You’re going to have your own opinions on this list, feel free to let us know.

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