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The Top 20 Irish Performances in Europe (September 2008)

This article was featured in the Dundalk FC Magazine: Dundalk V Shelbourne: September 2008.

With any luck, by the time you are reading this, St Patrick’s Athletic will have beaten Hertha Berlin and have recorded the greatest result ever by an Irish side in European competition. This season has been a typically mixed bag for Irish clubs in Europe. Cork City’s performance in their second leg of their UEFA Cup clash with FC Haka (beaten 4-0 and 6-2 on aggregate) was a good old fashioned embarrassment to the domestic game that was once the norm. But despite a disappointing early exit for Bohs, both St Pats and Drogheda United delivered excellent results. Having failed by a whisker of qualifying for the final qualifying round of the Champions League some Drogs proudly announced that the 2-2 draw in Kyiv was “the greatest result ever achieved by an Irish Club in Europe™”. We all know that the poor air quality in Drogheda often leads to illusions of mediocrity…but what if they are right? Surely the Drogs exploits was not better than any of our exploits in Europe? Better than that of Shels, Bohs and Rovers? A formula was needed to try to scientifically put the Drog theory to test.

Who can lay claim to having the best ever Irish performance in European competition?

After literally thirty seconds of in-depth investigation as to how best to make this calculation, a framework was established. Basically, more points were awarded to teams depending on whether the match was played home or away, the quality of opponent, whether the tie was still “alive” when the match result was achieved (ie – Bohs recorded a sensational 1-0 win over Kaiserslautern in 2000 in Germany – but marks were lost as they were 3-1 down from the 1st leg). The other factor that was included was the “impact” of the result. The Dundalk and Shelbourne fans present tonight will all at some stage had to suffer the idiotic comments of your Celtic/Man U/Liverpool supporting acquaintances who attempt to cover up their inferiority complex and identity crisis by claiming the reason that they only support a British side is for reasons of quality. European results give us something to throw back in their face.

So, with the ultimate aim of provoking a debate in the bar after the match, we count down the Top 20 Irish performance in European competition…

20.Drumcondra 1-0 Vorwaerts Berlin
European Cup Preliminary Round
15th September 1965

Drumcondra’s European exploits up until this point had been a mixed bag. A 1-0 win over Byarn Munich in the 1963 UEFA Cup would have appeared very high up this list if it was not for the fact that they were already 6-0 down from the first leg. In 1958, they had lost 13-1 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid and they suffered another heavy defeat in 1961 when they lost 9-1 on aggregate to FC Nuremburg. This match against the East German champions was a first leg encounter at Tolka Park. Vorwaerts were a team almost entirely made up of members of the East German Stasi police force and also contained seven full East German internationals. On a damp dour night in Dublin,
Drumcondra took the lead in the 65th minute with a tremendous header from future Dundalk player Jimmy Morrissey. Unfortunately for Drums, they exited the competition after a 3-0 second leg defeat. To put their 1-0 1st leg in context – Vorwaerts returned to Ireland twelve months later to hammer Waterford 12-1 on aggregate.

19. Shelbourne 2-0 Hajduk Split
Champions League 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg
4th August 2004.


A magnificent occasion at Tolka Park witnessed Shelbourne overcoming a 3-2 first leg deficit to defeat the Croatian champions Hajduk Split 2-0. Dave Rogers put Shels on their way with a cracking shot from outside the area after 77 minutes before former Irish International Alan Moore sealed the victory in injury time. Split were not a particularly good team – but this was one of those occasions when the entire league was able to unite behind one team’s efforts to make progress in Europe. A rare example of an Irish side holding their nerve to overcome so-called superior opposition.

18. Limerick United 1-2 Real Madrid
European Cup First Round 17th
September 1980

A rare example of a defeat on the list – and for obvious reasons. Real Madrid’s only visit to Ireland for a competitive match came in the 1980-81 European Cup. Real had been knocked out of the 1979/80 competition by Kevin Keegan’s SV Hamburg after defeating Dundalk’s conquerors Glasgow Celtic in the Quarter Finals. The match
was moved to Lansdowne Road to cater for the perceived demand of the Irish football public. Eoin Hand’s team received a boost with the news that Real’s star striker, Carlos Alonso Santillana, had failed a fitness test. Also missing was current Spanish national team manager Del Bosque – who at the time was one of Europe’s best defenders. However, Madrid were still able to call upon captain Gregorio Benito, Jose Camacho, German international UIi Stielike and English international Laurie Cunningham.

Only 7000 people turned up to the match to the dismay of the Limerick board. However, they gave a superb account of themselves and only succumbed to the class of the visitors in the last 20 minutes. Limerick had a goal ruled out after 25 minutes when Johnny Matthew’s effort was deemed to be offside. However, Limerick entered into a dream world in the 52nd minute when they took the lead. Johnny Walsh arched a free kick into the Spanish penalty area that Garry Duggan flicked on for Des Kennedy to score from six yards. Limerick came close to extending their lead in the 57th minute when Matthew’s shot was cleared off the line. Then the Danish referee awarded Real a soft penalty in the 70th minute when keeper Kevin Fitzpatrick was deemed to have fouled Hernandez to allow Madrid to level. Madrid’s pressure finally paid
off in the 85th minute when Pineda scored the winner.

The second leg at the Bernabeu finished in a 5-1 win to the Spaniards. Real Madrid eventually reached the final only to be beaten by Liverpool in Paris.

17.Kaiserslautern 0-1 Bohemians
UEFA Cup 1st Round September 21st 2000


Some may argue that this is in fact the greatest result ever achieved by an Irish club in Europe. Kaiserslautern had won the Bundesliga in 1998 and eventually progressed to the semi final of the 2000/01 UEFA Cup. Roddy Collins’ side were magnificent as they dominated for long spells and took a deserved lead through Glen Crowe midway through the first half. Bohs held on for a remarkable win and earned themselves a standing ovation from the home support. However, without wishing to
take away from such a superb achievement, Kaiserslautern were 3-1 up from the first leg and rested a number of star players including French World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff.

16. Dundalk 1-0 Hajduk Split
UEFA Cup 1st Round 14th September 1977

Terry Flanagan was the hero with an 85th minute winner against crack Yugoslavian team Hajduk Split in 1977. Dundalk at no stage allowed the visitors to settle. Jim McLaughlin and Terry Flanagan set up Mick Lawlor to strike a fierce effort against the crossbar. Split also hit the woodwork through Surjak. Dundalk’s goal came when McLaughlin headed down to Flanagan who shot home from ten yards. Dundalk however found the return leg too much to handle and lost 4-0.

15. Dundalk 1-1 PSV Eindhoven
European Cup 15th September 1976

With some rare exceptions the Champion’s League has deprived the Champions of Ireland of an open draw when you have an opportunity to play against the best players of the world. By 1976, Dutch football was one of the best in Europe. PSV Eindhoven featured six full Dutch internationals that had performed so well at the 1974 World Cup Finals and were about to commence a long run to the 1978 World Cup Final. Jan Van Beveren, Adri Van Kraay, Willy Van Der Kuylen and Kees Krijgh were all in team along with two of the greatest players in the World – twin brothers Willy and Rene van de Kerhof. Also in the PSV squad was 6ft 3” Swedish international target man Ralf Edstroem.

Jim McLaughlin promised to attack and Dundalk set off at a very quick pace that unsettled the visitors. As early as the second minute, Jimmy Dainty, put through by Mick Lawlor, cracked a shot off the upright. Six minutes later Oriel erupted. Lawlor chipped the ball through to Frank Devlin. The referee overruled a linesman’s flag to allow Devlin to supply McDowall 22 yards out who struck a fierce drive past Van Beveren. Dundalk held the lead until the 80th minute when Van der Kerhof cross was hammered home by Deijkers.

The second leg was nowhere near as close as PSV ran out 6-0 winners.

14. Cork City 1-1 Byarn Munich
UEFA Cup 1st Round 18th September 1991


Musgrave Park was the venue for this fabulous occasion for Cork City FC in 1991. Unfortunately, only 4000 people showed up for a match that has gone down in Cork sporting folklore. Dave Barry, winner of two All-Ireland football medals, put Cork into the lead in the 26th minute when he burst through the defence to shoot past Hilringhaus. Bayarn equalised on the stroke of half-time through Stefan Effenberg. Padraig Harrington was called upon to make a number of good saves but Cork more
than held their own in the second half. A number of the Munich side had played in the German side that defeated Graham Taylor’s England side at Wembley seven days previously. Cork performed admirably in the second leg when they were defeated by 2-0 in the Olympic Stadium.

13. Shamrock Rovers 1-1 Real Zaragoza
Inter Cities Fairs Cup November 17 1965

A heartbreaking late goal denied Shamrock Rovers a famous victory over a star-studded Real Zaragoza team at Dalymount Parkin the 1965/66 Inter City Fairs Cup. Rovers startled the opposition with a strong attacking performance and took a richly deserved lead in the 44th minute. Johnny Fullam put O’Connell in possession from a throw-in and the winger pushed the ball back to Fullalm, who swung in a cross that Liam Tuohy dispatched to the net with a superb diving header. Zaragoza stepped up their performance in the second half but were met with stern resistance. Then, with time running out, up stepped full-back Reija to score from 40 yards. One week later in the return leg, Rovers produced a sensational defensive performance in one of the greatest fights ever put up by an Irish side in an away tie. Until eleven minutes from the end, Shamrock Rovers looked like forcing a play-off. Then Brazilian striker Canario swept through for the winner. Earlier Johnny Fullam had equalised an early Zaragoza goal.

12. Aberdeen 1-2 Bohemians
UEFA Cup August 10th 2000


Certainly Roddy’s finest hour. Two late goals from Shaun Maher and Trevor Molloy enabled Bohs to record a famous victory over Aberdeen in front of 14,000 fans in Pittodrie. It was no more than Bohs deserved after outwitting the Scottish Premier Division side, both in skill and commitment. Two weeks later, Bohs completed the job despite losing 1-0 at Tolka Park to progress on the away-goals rule.

11. FC Zurich 1-2 Dundalk
European Cup 1st Round 25th September 1963

Dundalk became the first Irish team to win a European Cup match with this magnificent victory in the second leg of their 1st Round tie with FC Zurich. It represented a huge win for Irish football. Results in the European Cup had been very damaging to Irish football as it provided clear evidence that we were well behind the rest of Europe.

Shamrock Rovers had lost 9-2 on aggregate to Manchester United in Ireland’s first attempt in Europe in 1957. Drums and Limerick also suffered heavy defeats. Dundalk had suffered stage fright in the first leg at Dalymount Park two weeks earlier when Zurich romped to a 3-0 win. Indeed, this result would have been ranked much higher if the tie had still been more alive. However, while Zurich obviously believed that their place in the next round was all but assured, the Dundalk team did not just fly over for a holiday. John Murphy and Patsy McKeown were now more than able for the Zurich attack including Swiss International Freddie Feller (“The Flying Postman”). Dundalk took the lead after 20 minutes when Jimmy Hasty collected the ball from a rebound and slipped the ball into the net. This goal gave Dundalk the confidence they needed and they pinned the Zurich defence into their own half for long periods. In the 57th minute Hasty ran at the Swiss the defence and nutmegged the right-half before sliding the ball past the keeper to make it 2-0. The tie was no longer dead. Dundalk had Zurich on the rack and kept up the pressure. After 70 minutes, Hasty had Zurich floundering again. This time, however, his shot rebounded off the crossbar and to safety. If it had gone in it would have made it 3-3 on aggregate and a play-off would have been required. However, late in the game Zurich capitalised on Dundalk’s tiredness but grabbing a goal to finish the tie off.

10. UCD 0-0 Everton
September 19th 1984 Cup Winners Cup

A superb performance for the FAI Cup winners against a team that would end the 1984/85 season as English League Champions and Cup Winners Cup Winners. Only Bayarn Munich gave Everton as much trouble as UCD in their run to the final. Kevin Sheedy was Everton’s main threat and came close in the 21 minutes. Dundalk players past and future produced big performances. Alan O’Neill was called upon several times to make saves while Paddy Dunning was outstanding against the Everton strike force of Adrian Heath and Greame Sharp. UCD’s best chance came from another future Dundalk player. Joe Hanrahan broke free of Kevin Ratcliffe but shot over the bar. Two weeks later and Everton were booed off the pitch following a 1-0 win thanks to a Greame Sharp goal. Everton manager Howard Kendall remarked: “Tactically our opponents were superb. They made it difficult for us and frustrated us”. Ultimately, this performance was not ranked higher due to the fact that both games were absolute borefests.

9. Bohs 3-2 Glasgow Rangers
September 18th 1984 UEFA Cup


No doubt Bohs fans would put this match at number one…and who can blame them? A riot off the park could not take away from the real drama on the pitch. Rangers dominated the early stages before McCoist gave them the lead after seven minutes. Rocky O’Brien capitalised on a defensive error to make it 1-1 after 25 minutes but Rangers went 2-1 up four minutes later from a Dave McPherson header. O’Brien struck again to level matters and Gino Lawless scored a sensational winner in the second half. Future Dundalk players on display that night: Dave Connell, Ronnie Murphy, Paul Doolin, Larry Wyse, Gino Lawless and Mick Shelley. Rangers comfortably progressed to the next round with a 2-0 win at Ibrox two weeks later.

8. Dundalk 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
European Cup Winners Cup 21st
October 1981

Look at the names on display in Oriel Park that night: Three time European Cup winner Ray Clemence, Irish Internationals Chris Hughton and Tony Galvin, England Internationals Steve Perryman and Glenn Hoddle, World Cup Winner Ossie Ardiles, Scottish International Steve Archbald as well one of the best strikers in English football at the time, Garth Crooks. This was one of the strongest teams ever to come to Ireland for a competitive match. Barry Kehoe stole the show in midfield as Pop Flanagan and Sean Byrne refused to allow Hoddle and Ardiles any time on the ball. Mick Fairclough scored Dundalk’s equaliser in the 81st minute after Crooks had given Spurs the lead. “My players were a credit to Dundalk and the country and I am not in the least intimidated at the prospect of meeting Tottenham again” said Jim McLaughlin. Two weeks later, Dundalk again produced a superb display but were beaten by a scrappy Crooks goal.

7. Shelbourne 0-0 Deportivo La Coruna
Champions League Qualifier 11th August 2004

Tonight’s guests most famous night. 24,000 people attended this match at Lansdowne Road to see Shelbourne take on a Deportivo side that was full of world class international players. Pat Fenlon’s team fully deserved a draw and, indeed, could have won the match had Alan Moore’s header not been brilliantly saved. Albert Luque, who was to be a spectacular flop at Newcastle, missed a great chance early in the second half while Steve Williams saved well from Victor Sanchez. Shels held their own
in the second leg but were eventually well beaten.

6. Glasgow Celtic 0-0 St Patrick’s Athletic
Champions League Qualifier 23rd July 1998

St Pat’s silenced 60,000 Celtic fans after this tremendous rearguard action at Parkhead. Pat’s manager Pat Dolan remarked “We came here to get some respect for Irish football and whatever happens in the second game at Tolka, I think we have succeeded”. It could have been even better for St Pats had future Lilywhite Martin Reilly picked up a pass from Paul Osam, checked inside Tom Boyd, only to see his well struck shot go narrowly wide. Ultimately, Celtic proved too strong in the second leg and progressed with an easy 2-0 win.

5. Dynamo Kyiv 2-2 Drogheda United
Champions League Qualifier 6th August 2008


How Drogheda United did not manage to beat Dynamo Kyiv last month will forever remain a mystery. Having fought back to level twice through a penalty from Shane Robinson and an 88th minute Graham Gartland goal, Drogheda had a few short minutes to grab a winner to knock the Ukrainian Champions out of Europe. Surely, with all their experience, Kyiv would calmly see the game out. But no…goalkeeper Lutsenko made a mess of a speculative cross-shot from Shane Robinson by parried onto the inside of the post before the ball ran agonisingly across the face of the goal. Seconds later, Adam Hughes somehow contrived to shoot over an empty net after Ibrahima Thiam had flicked on Alan Kendrick’s cross. If Drogheda had won this match it would have undoubtedly have been the greatest result ever by an Irish team. But, considering the fact that Kyiv went on to destroy Spartak Moscow in the 3rd Qualifying round, this match can be regarded as the worst performance by a top-class team against an Irish opponent since European football began.

4. Dundalk 0-0 Glasgow Celtic
7th November 1979 European Cup

Over two legs in October/November 1979, Dundalk put the fear of God into Glasgow Celtic and came within a whisker of booking a 1/4 final encounter with Real Madrid. Having pushed Celtic all the way in Parkhead and grabbing two vital away goals, Dundalk were full of confidence that they could snatch a 1-0 win to progress to the next round. 22,000 people somehow squeezed into Oriel Park to witness a night of drama. The circumstances of the encounter have been told on many occasions so we will not dwell on them here. But we all know about that miss….

3. Athlone Town 0-0 AC Milan
22nd October 1975 UEFA Cup


One of the most incredible and unlikely occasions in Irish football history. Athlone Town matched AC Milan all the way in this encounter at St Mel’s Park – and even missed a penalty. The incident occurred in the 30th minute when Terry Daly was hacked down by Scala. The 9,000 people in attendance were silenced, however, by Albertosi’s save from John Minnock’s penalty. Afterwards, while O’Brien made a number of good saves, both sides cancelled each other out. Milan won the second
leg comfortably at the San Siro. This was just before the pipe band on the pitch that was lead by a goat.

2. Shamrock Rovers 0-1 Valencia, Valencia 2-2 Shamrock Rovers
September 30th & October 10th 1963 Inter Cities Fairs Cup

Number 2 & number 1 involve some cheating as we are taking both legs together.

Real Madrid may have been the side that romped to European glory in the 1950s and 1960s, but in the early 1960s Valencia were not too far off catching up with them. Valencia won the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1962 following a string of sensational results. A 5-1 win at Nottingham Forest was followed by wins over Inter Milan and MTK Budapest before beating Barcelona 7-3 on aggregate in the final. In the following season Valencia retained their trophy after, bizarrely, defeating three Scottish teams (Celtic, Dunfermline & Hibs) before beating Roma in the semi-final and Dynamo Zagreb in the final. And so Valencia came to Dublin on September 1963 to begin the defence of their trophy with a match against Shamrock Rovers. The Hoops outplayed the visitors and should have won by a few goals. Tuohy, Mooney, O’Connell and Bailham all had numerous chances to score before the large crowd was silenced by Suko’s 72nd minute winner.

Usually, the next step for an Irish side was to go to the second leg and pray that they can keep the score down. Not this time. Rovers attacked from the kick-off, were a goal up at half-time, two up after 54 minute. 45,000 spectators at the Mestella stadium could not believe their eyes as Rovers played rings around the reigning champions. Liam Tuohy gave his side the lead after 39 minutes and Jackie Mooney extended the lead after 54 minutes. The legendary Brazilian striker Waldo pulled a goal back after 62 minutes. Rovers were 12 minutes away from a play-off (no away goals in those days) before Guillot made the score 2-2 with a clearly offside goal.

Rovers had given the greatest performance by an Irish team in Europe. It deserves it’s number one ranking due to the quality of the opposition and the fact that it was a competitive 2nd leg match away from home. Dundalk’s success against Zurich one month earlier was achieved against a team that were not in the same galaxy as Valencia. It’s better than the Drogs efforts against Kiev because Valencia played superbly well and gave 100% (unlike Kiev who looked like they had imbibed a litre of Vodka each before kick-off). It’s better than St Pat’s and Dundalk’s efforts against Celtic because, again, Valencia were a much superior side. Valencia breezed through the rest of the competition with facile wins over Rapid Vienna, Ujpest of Hungary and Cologne before finally succumbing to Zaragoza in the final.

1. Shamrock Rovers 1-1 Byarn Munich, Byarn Munich 3-2 Shamrock Rovers
9th & 23rd November 1966.

Shamrock Rovers were applauded off the pitch by 20,000 when they held the mighty Bayern Munich in the Cup Winners Cup.  The large attendance had just witnessed one a magnificent match. Bayern boasted a star-studded side that included the legendary Franz Beckenbauer. Bayern’s performance backed up their claims to be one of the best sides in the world. After they took the lead after 17 minutes it was assumed that Rovers would fall apart – but to their eternal credit – they gave Munich an incredibly tough test. Liam Tuohy, in particular, stood up to the challenge. The biggest compliment that can be paid to Rovers was that Beckenbauer was mainly restricted to defensive duties with limited forays into attack. Not that the Rovers defence had it easy with Gerd Muller, Nafziger and Brenninger keeping them occupied.

Liam Tuohy had already gone close before Sepp Maier saved well from a Frank O’Neill effort free-kick. Courtney then cleared an effort from Olhauser off the line. Bayern took the lead when Smyth had punched out a corner only as far as Koulmann who shot home left footed to the net. Rovers refused to panic and Dixon crashed a shot effort off the crossbar and Maier saved from Tuohy from close range.

Rovers deserved an equaliser and it finally came after 63 minutes. Kearin started the move when he swung in a cross from the left. Tuohy headed it down to Dixon who bundled to the net. The referee awarded the goal despite Maier’s prolonged protests at an infringement.

The night became too much for some individuals who started throwing missiles onto the pitch. The referee threatened to abandon the match and only a Tuohy speech over the PA stopped the trouble from ruining a great night. Indeed, it was Tuohy who very nearly capitalised on a Beckenbauer error when he latched onto a terrible back pass only for Maier to block his effort.

The second leg of this tie was played on a snow covered pitch and it only took five minutes for the hosts to take the lead. Gerd Muller fired in a close range shot that Smyth pushed out  – but Brenninger was on hand to slam home the rebound. After 12 minutes, Ohlhauser made it 2-0. Rovers were set for a hammering. However, they steadied themselves and made it to half-time without shipping any further goals.

The fightback began a few moments in the 2nd half.  Bobby Gilbert struck the crossbar with a fierce drive before he eventually managed to pull one goal back in the 53rdminute when his shot was deflected past Maier by Beckenbauer. Rovers equalised after 58 minutes when Liam Tuohy, with one arm bandaged having only been cleared to play 15 minutes before kick-off, burst through the defence to slot the ball past Maier. By now, away goals had been introduced to European competition and Rovers were, with half an hour left, ahead in the tie. Rovers defended magnificently to keep the Germans out – Smyth and Keogh in particularly in fine form – but with just seven minutes left – Muller made it 3-2 when he picked up a pass from Koulmann. Late heartbreak but one that should be remembered as one of the best by an Irish club in Europe.

The quality of the opposition, away from home, a second leg encounter with the tie still very much alive – everything suggests this as the greatest performance by an Irish club in Europe – except that, in the end, Rovers lost the match – this gives the 1st leg the accolade of the best ever single match – but, as with the 1963 encounters with Valencia, their ability to keep a tie against top team gives them the edge.