Partizan Shamrock Rovers

Recently we featured a piece showcasing 11 League of Ireland clubs’ best moments in European competitions, and now we can bring you the second and concluding part of that series.

Having featured the likes of Bohemians, Dundalk, and Cork City in Part 1, we now go through every Irish club from Galway United onwards alphabetically to pick out each of their highlights on the continental stage, be it progressing to the group stage of a major tournament or simply a respectable result against an ultimately superior opponent in the qualifying rounds.

Galway United: 0-1 v Lyngby, European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1985

Galway United have lost all six matches that they have played in European competitions, leaving them with one of the least distinguished records of any clubs to have competed at that level. The first of those is probably the one of which they can be most proud, going down narrowly to Danish outfit Lyngby in a match played at Denmark’s national stadium in Copenhagen despite being a man light for a portion of the game.

Galway’s Sportsground (the home leg was moved from their usual Terryland Park venue) was packed for the return fixture and, despite another gallant performance, they went down 2-3 to the Danes. Nonetheless, it was a far superior effort to the heavy aggregate losses they shipped to Groningen and OB Odense in their two subsequent European ties.

Home Farm: 1-1 v Lens, European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1975

Home Farm sensationally won the FAI Cup as an amateur club in 1975 under Dave Bacuzzi and were rewarded with a European Cup Winners’ Cup tie against French side Lens, who were considered overwhelming favourites. Around 1,000 spectators witnessed the Whitehall club’s first-ever match in Europe and may have been fearing the worst when the visitors took an 11th-minute lead.

However, Mick Brophy restored parity just nine minutes later and the Dublin outfit held on for a well-merited 1-1 draw. Alas, there would be no heroics in the return leg in France, in which Lens won 6-0.

Limerick: 1-2 v Real Madrid, European Cup, 1980

League champions under Eoin Hand in 1980, Limerick were rewarded with a plum tie in the first round of the European Cup as they were drawn against six-time winners Real Madrid. The home leg was moved to Lansdowne Road at the other end of the country but was poorly attended, with only 6,500 paying to see the game.

Limerick got to half-time on level terms with Los Blancos and even had the temerity to score first through Des Kennedy. One of European football’s greatest shocks seemed to be on the cards until the Spaniards equalised with a dubious penalty and netted the winner just five minutes from full-time. A Johnny Matthews goal was also disallowed, proving that it wasn’t meant to be the Blues’ day. They were trounced 5-1 at the Bernabeu but the memories of the first leg and that spell when they led against the eventual finalists will surely be treasured by any Limerick fan who can recall it.

Longford Town: 1-1 v Litex Lovech, UEFA Cup qualifying, 2001

Then under the tutelage of future Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny who was still only 29 years old, the Town qualified for the 2001 UEFA Cup, their first foray into Europe, courtesy of reaching the FAI Cup final and were handed a tough tie against Bulgarian outfit Litex Lovech, who had won two league titles in the previous four years.

In a newly-opened Flancare Park, a ground built by some of the club’s supporters, Longford took a surprise lead through Keith O’Connor and only an outstanding save from the visitors’ goalkeeper prevented the hosts from doubling their lead. However, Litex plundered a late away goal and won the second leg 2-0, although the Town had done themselves proud in their debut on the European stage.

Shamrock Rovers: 2-1 v Partizan Belgrade, Europa League qualifying, 2011

In 2010, Shamrock Rovers had ended a 16-year wait for a league title and acquitted themselves well in a European tie against Juventus. The following year, they earned a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Partizan Belgrade, participants in the previous season’s Champions League group stage, but faced a tough task in the second leg of their Europa League play-off.

Partizan seemed to be cruising into the group stage when they held a half-time lead but the Hoops then equalised in stunning fashion with a 25-yard volley from right-back Pat Sullivan. Michael O’Neill’s team held out for extra time, in which they looked dead on their feet. However, they won a penalty after a goalkeeping error and Stephen O’Donnell duly converted it. 

Needing two goals in five minutes, Partizan gave up and lost their cool. Instead, Rovers could celebrate becoming the first Irish club to qualify for the Europa League group stage after claiming a significant scalp. Alas, they would lose all six group matches, with a teenage Harry Kane scoring his first senior Tottenham goal at Tallaght Stadium in December 2011.

Shelbourne: 2-0 v Hajduk Split, Champions League qualifying, 2004

Shelbourne needed away goals to squeeze past KR Reykjavik in the first round of the 2004/05 Champions League qualifiers, although a 3-2 defeat in the away leg of their subsequent tie against Hajduk Split gave them a fighting chance of upsetting the Croatian side at Tolka Park. Pat Fenlon’s team more than matched their opponents on the balance of play but, going into the final quarter-hour, still hadn’t found the goal they needed.

Cue Dave Rogers’ long-range howitzer to give them the lead on the night and the away goals advantage in the tie. Then, with the visitors chasing a last-gasp equaliser in stoppage time, Shels broke and Joseph Ndo teed up Alan Moore for the goal which sent the 10,000 in attendance into raptures and confirmed their passage to the final qualifying round. They gave a stellar account of themselves against the previous season’s semi-finalists Deportivo La Coruna, drawing the first leg before losing 3-0 in Spain, but the win over Hajduk was as memorable as it was surprising.

Sligo Rovers: 2-1 v Rosenborg, Europa League qualifying, 2014

Prior to the 2014/15 Europa League qualifiers, Sligo Rovers had only won one of eight two-legged European ties and one fixture in total. They were still favourites to overcome Lithuanian minnows Banga Gargzdai though, and breezed past them to set up a second qualifying round tie with famed Norwegian outfit Rosenborg, who were admittedly a shadow of their turn-of-the-century peak.

John Coleman’s team were away in the first leg and would probably have settled for keeping the tie alive for the return clash. Instead, second-half goals from Alan Keane and Danny North had them on the cusp of a huge shock and even a late own goal didn’t deprive them of a famous win in Trondheim. Unfortunately, they couldn’t finish the job at The Showgrounds, losing 1-3 and bowing out of the competition. Six years later, that remains their last foray into Europe.

Sporting Fingal: 2-3 v Maritimo, Europa League qualifying, 2010

Sporting Fingal only existed for four years but still managed to win an FAI Cup in that time, thus earning them a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds. They faced Maritimo, regular participants in Portugal’s top flight, and travelled to the island of Madeira for the first leg. 

Veteran striker Glen Crowe gave the European virgins a surprise lead which was overturned in the second half before Lorcan Fitzgerald equalised in the 87th minute. Liam Buckley’s team seemed on course for an excellent draw, only to be caught deep into stoppage time by a sucker punch. The Dubliners would also lose the home leg 3-2 but, having been disbanded just a year later, those involved in the European campaign couldn’t be faulted for endeavour when many feared they could have been trounced by the Portuguese outfit.

St Patrick’s Athletic: 2-1 v Elfsborg, UEFA Cup qualifying, 2008

St Pat’s easily dispatched of Latvian outfit JFK Olimps to set up a UEFA Cup qualifying tie with Elfsborg of Sweden. Johnny McDonnell’s team earned a fine 2-2 draw in the away leg to give themselves a strong chance of reaching the competition proper.

Stefan Ishizaki’s 63rd-minute goal at Richmond Park left the Inchicore men with a mountain to climb, one which looked even steeper as the clock reached 85 minutes with no further changes to the score. A slightly fortuitous Jason Gavin equaliser then set up a rousing finish, although St Pat’s needed another goal. 

It came courtesy of Mark Quigley to cap off a breakaway move and put the seal on a famous night for the home side, who went on to play Bundesliga regulars Hertha Berlin in the UEFA Cup first round. They went down with honour, losing 2-0 on aggregate and gaining a draw in Dublin.

UCD: 0-0 v Everton, European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1984

UCD’s surprise FAI Cup final win over Shamrock Rovers in 1983 earned them a crack at one of Everton’s greatest teams in the following year’s Cup Winners’ Cup. The likes of Dundalk and Drogheda had been trounced by double figures by English clubs in the past, with some fearing that the university outfit would receive similar treatment.

A Toffees side featuring Kevin Sheedy, Trevor Steven, Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid, and Paul Bracewell came to Belfield and were amazingly held to a goalless draw by the south Dublin part-timers. While Everton narrowly prevailed 1-0 at Goodison Park, a late UCD effort struck the crossbar – a few inches lower and the underdogs would have gone through on away goals. Nine months later, Everton went on to win the competition having already been crowned champions of England. 

Waterford: 3-1 v Glentoran, European Cup, 1970

Waterford may have been all-conquering in the League of Ireland in the late 1960s but had been roundly outclassed on the European stage prior to taking on Northern Ireland’s Glentoran in the 1970/71 European Cup. They fell behind to an early goal in Belfast but swiftly equalised through John O’Neill. Second-half goals from James McGeough and Alex Casey secured the Blues’ first win in Europe.

A second leg win set them up for a crack at Celtic in the next round but they were thumped 10-2 on aggregate and have only won one European tie since, against Maltese minnows Hibernians. The cross-border win against Glentoran 50 years ago was as good as it got on the European stage for Waterford’s finest-ever team.