In normal circumstances, the League of Ireland quartet of Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City, and Bohemians would have been gearing up for their entrance to the qualifying rounds of UEFA competitions around now. However, the impact of coronavirus on the world of football means that they, and dozens of other clubs around Europe, will have to wait another few weeks to get their 2020/21 season underway. 

In the absence of European fixtures for Irish clubs this week, we look back at some of the most memorable nights on the continent for the 22 League of Ireland teams who have participated in UEFA tournaments throughout the years. Some have had more distinguished feats than others but nevertheless we’ve picked out what, in our view, is each club’s finest night on the European stage.

Athlone Town: 0-0 v AC Milan, UEFA Cup, 1975

Having overcome Vålerenga of Norway in the first qualifying round in 1975/76, Athlone won themselves a plum tie against two-time European Cup winners AC Milan. More than 10,000 spectators packed into St Mel’s Park and an excellent performance by Amby Fogarty’s team saw them earn a goalless draw. Indeed, the best chance of the game fell to Athlone, only for John Minnock’s penalty to be saved by Enrico Albertosi.

They held out for more than 70 minutes in the return leg at the San Siro before three late goals from the Italian side saw them progress to the next stage. Athlone qualified twice for the European Cup in the 1980s but that draw against AC Milan remains their high point in continental action.

Bohemians: 2-1 v Aberdeen, UEFA Cup qualifying, 2000

Aberdeen, former European Cup Winners’ Cup conquerors, were humbled at Pittodrie in the qualifying round for the UEFA Cup in 2000/01 by Roddy Collins’ Bohemians. The Scottish side even had the lead courtesy of a Robbie Winters effort but Bohs stunned the hosts with two goals in the final 10 minutes.

Shawn Maher levelled the game before, in stoppage time, Trevor Molloy’s penalty sealed a famous win for the Gypsies, who could afford to lose the return leg 0-1 and still advance to the competition proper. They bowed out in the first round against Otto Rehhagel’s Kaiserslautern, Champions League quarter-finalists only 18 months previously, but not before a fine yet ultimately fruitless 1-0 win in Germany in the second leg.

Bray Wanderers: 1-1 v Trabzonspor, European Cup Winners’ Cup qualifying, 1990

Bray’s first foray into Europe saw them host Trabzonspor in a match that was moved to Tolka Park from the Carlisle Grounds. They fell behind to a second-minute goal but roused themselves to earn a very creditable draw against the Turkish outfit thanks to Martin Nugent’s equaliser early in the second half.

Unfortunately, Pat Devlin’s side lost 2-0 in the second leg but they had exited in battling fashion. Their only other European outings were in 1999 when they were thumped 4-0 home and away by Grasshoppers Zürich in the UEFA Cup qualifiers.

Cork Celtic: 1-1 v Slavia Sofia, European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1964

Legendary names such as George Best, Uwe Seeler, and Geoff Hurst have all worn the Cork Celtic colours, however briefly, although the Leesiders never made waves on the European stage. The only continental tie they ‘won’ was courtesy of a walkover from Omonia Nicosia in the 1974/75 European Cup and, of the four matches that they played in Europe, they lost three and drew one. 

They travelled to face Slavia Sofia in the first round of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964/65 and left Bulgaria with a creditable 1-1 draw. Unfortunately, they were beaten in the return leg at Flower Lodge and, a decade later, their European Cup run was emphatically ended by Ararat Yerevan.

Cork City: 1-1 v Bayern Munich, UEFA Cup, 1991

Previous Leeside incarnations Cork Hibernians and Cork Celtic had played in Europe but the Rebels’ finest hour on the continent was their 1991/92 UEFA Cup first round clash against Bayern Munich, semi-finalists in the European Cup the previous season. The first leg was moved from Turners Cross to (very) nearby Musgrave Park, to which slight modifications were hastily made as 4,500 flocked to the venue for a Wednesday afternoon kick-off.

The ground erupted on 26 minutes when Dave Barry gave Cork a shock lead against the Bundesliga giants, who equalised through Stefan Effenberg shortly before half-time. Both teams had chances in a fantastic second half but Noel O’Mahony’s side had done enough to earn a famous draw. A valiant effort in the second leg at a sparsely-attended Olympiastadion was in vain as City went down 2-0 but that was no disgrace against a side who included future Champions League winner Effenberg and 1994 World Cup champion Mazinho.

Cork Hibernians: 0-0 v Schalke 04, European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1972

After breezing past Cypriot minnows Pezoporikos in the first round of the 1972/73 Cup Winners’ Cup, winning both legs for a 6-2 aggregate triumph, Cork Hibernians met far more formidable opposition in German side Schalke 04 in the next stage. In front of 8,000 fans at the first leg at Flower Lodge, they held their illustrious visitors to a goalless draw.

Schalke eased through the return leg, two early goals setting them up for a 3-0 win in Gelsenkirchen, but the result in Ireland was one on which Dave Bacuzzi’s team could reflect with pride.

Derry City: 1-0 v IFK Göteborg, UEFA Cup qualifying, 2006

IFK Göteborg were not as strong a side as the team which reached Champions League quarter-finals in the 1990s but they were still expected to have too much for Derry City, especially at the Ullevi Stadium in the first leg. Despite having Sweden internationals Stefan Selaković and Marcus Berg to call upon, Göteborg lost to a late header from Sean Hargan, with future Republic of Ireland goalkeeper David Forde preserving the lead with two fantastic saves in the closing minutes.

To prove it was no fluke, Derry also won the return leg 1-0 at the Brandywell and eventually reached the first round proper, in which they met Paris Saint-Germain. Yes, this was a pre-Qatari PSG side, but they still would not have been expected to be held to a goalless draw in the first leg on Foyleside. Goals from Edouard Cisse and Pauleta at the Parc des Princes consigned Stephen Kenny’s team to defeat but their European adventure in 2006 was one to cherish.

Drogheda United: 2-2 v Dynamo Kyiv, Champions League qualifying, 2008

Drogheda’s standout European moment was a heartbreaking one but their performance in the away leg of their 2008/09 Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Kyiv was among the finest that an Irish club has produced in UEFA competitions. The Ukrainians had won the first leg 2-1 at Dalymount Park and, as regular group stage participants, were likely to breeze through the return fixture on their own patch.

An early goal for Dynamo Kyiv threatened to open the floodgates but Shane Robinson levelled the match with a penalty. The home side scored again and were coasting through until the 88th minute when Graham Gartland made it 2-2. Paul Doolin’s team were one goal away from winning the tie and Adam Hughes ought to have scored it, squandering what should have been a tap-in, and a last-ditch Robinson effort came off the post. Gallant elimination was rough justice on what been one of Drogheda United’s greatest-ever performances.

Drumcondra: 4-1 v Odense, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, 1962

Drumcondra were a fixed presence in the League of Ireland for nearly 50 years until merging with Home Farm in 1971 and they played six European ties in all, all but one of those coming in the 1960s. The only one of those that they won was against Danish outfit Odense in the first round of the 1962/63 Fairs Cup, thrashing them 4-1 at home and managing to eke through 6-5 on aggregate.

That was, in fact, the first time an Irish club had won a two-legged tie in UEFA competition and, while they were thumped 6-0 at Bayern Munich in the next round, they had the consolation of winning the second leg 1-0 and can always lay claim to beating the German powerhouse, even if it mattered little in the greater context.

Dundalk: 3-0 v BATE Borisov, Champions League qualifying, 2016

Dundalk had been narrowly edged out by BATE Borisov in the 2015/16 Champions League qualifiers and the two clubs met again in the same tournament the following summer. The Belarusian outfit, who had beaten Roma in the previous season’s group stage, won their home leg 1-0 and the Lilywhites had a tall if not insurmountable task ahead of them in the return.

Tallaght Stadium hosted the second leg and David McMillan levelled the tie on the stroke of half-time. He struck again on the hour mark to put Dundalk ahead on aggregate but, all the while, BATE needed just one away goal to swing the tie their way. Stephen Kenny’s side withstood some late pressure from the visitors before wrapping up a superb victory with a breakaway Robbie Benson goal.

They were unluckily edged out by Legia Warsaw in the subsequent play-off round but then entered the Europa League group stage, in which they drew away to AZ Alkmaar and beat Maccabi Tel Aviv before losing their following four fixtures. Of many great European nights in 2016, the humbling of BATE was the pick of the bunch.

Finn Harps: 0-0 v Bursaspor, European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1974

The Ballybofey outfit have one of the poorest records of any Irish club in Europe, losing seven of their eight matches and failing to progress in any tie. In the first round of the 1974/75 European Cup Winners’ Cup, they met Bursaspor, falling to a disappointing if not overly degrading 4-2 defeat in the first leg in Turkey.

A goalless draw in the return fixture was Finn Harps’ best result in Europe and, while not enough to take them through, at least enabled them to exit with dignity. The same did not happen in European ties against Derby and Everton in subsequent years, with the Rams beating them 12-0 at the Baseball Ground in 1976.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of the series next week!