Dundalk's top 12 moments in European football

23rd November 2023

Top 12 European moments for Dundalk under Stephen Kenny, by Ciaran Callan... 12 Richie Towell vs Jeunesse Esch - Luxembourg 1st July 2014 In the sleepy Luxembourg town of Esch, Dundalk FC began the first of many European journeys under the Stephen

Top 12 European moments for Dundalk under Stephen Kenny, by Ciaran Callan...

12 Richie Towell vs Jeunesse Esch - Luxembourg 1st July 2014

In the sleepy Luxembourg town of Esch, Dundalk FC began the first of many European journeys under the Stephen Kenny era. After a frustrating first half which saw the Lilywhites dominate proceedings it wasn’t until mid way through the second half when a Richie Towell brace secured the vital away goals that saw Dundalk progress to the second qualifying round. 

So what was so special about this win? It was actually the first European match played in the 2014/2015 European calendar season. Due to other Luxembourg clubs participating in the same competition, this Europa League tie was played earlier than expected on a Tuesday, so for any quiz buffs out there take note. The first European goal in the 2014/2015 season was scored by none other than Dundalk’s very own Richie Towell. Even in first round qualifiers, Dundalk under Kenny were making history. 

11 Brian Gartland vs Jeunesse Esch - Dundalk 10th July 2014

Brian Gartland has a habit of scoring big goals. People tend to forget that two of his goals have been clinchers to win the SSE Airtricity League so its fitting that when it came to scoring the first home goal under the Kenny era, it would be the man who arrived the year previous from Portadown. As the sun beat down on a packed Oriel Park, Gartland sent Dundalk on their way with a powerful header following a Ruaidhri Higgins free kick. It settled the nerves as Dundalk went on to win 3-1 to set up a meeting with Croatian giants Hadjuk Split. 

This match wet the appetite of the home Dundalk faithful that European games are to be treasured and embraced and Kenny called on a large crowd to come support the side. Gartland’s knack of scoring important goals have become a staple of Dundalk FC’s fabric, for a centre back he has a remarkable record of goal scoring. 

10 Pat Hoban & Kurtis Byrne vs Hadjuk Split - Split 24th July 2014

There was an interesting backdrop to this story which shows the faith that Stephen Kenny has in his players. The day before the game, local Croatian press had predicted what starting eleven Dundalk would field the following night in the Stadion Poljud. When the team sheet was furnished key players such as Peter Cherrie, Patrick Hoban, Kurtis Byrne and Darren Meenan were all omitted from the starting eleven as Stephen Kenny decided it was time to frustrate his Croat hosts and the press. 

It looked as if the plan backfired as Jean Evrard Kouassi who became a bit of a pantomime villain in Oriel Park the week previous scored after 25 minutes. Under a fierce and hostile atmosphere of a vocal home support Dundalk gained their composure of the game as Hadjuk Split looked to see the game and tie out. The second half proved to be more nervous than they had expected as Kenny made changes to the side and Patrick Hoban latched onto a defensive error to slot an unlikely equaliser for Dundalk. Sensing the nervous disposition amongst the Croatian giants (Shelbourne ten years earlier still fresh in the minds of some) a high ball from Chris Shields from the right was slammed home by Kurtis Byrne to give Dundalk the lead. Dundalk pressed for a third and vital goal that would have seen the Lilywhites progress however Richie Towell’s effort was well saved in the 91st minute. The down but not out Dundalk players received a standing ovation leaving the pitch that night as Dundalk used this victory as a spring board to their first league title. 

9 David McMillan vs BATE Borisov - Borisov Arena 15th July 2015

What is it about Stephen Kenny and facing old foes? The last time the Dundalk manager had faced the Belarusian giants a 3-1 aggregate victory during his time at Bohemians was one of this European highlights as manager to date. A lot had changed since that 3-0 home win for the Dalymount side and BATE were now a completely different animal. Gerry Spain, Dundalk’s then oppositional analysts had certainly done his homework as Dundalk used all their technical ability and tactical organisation to take on the serial European group participants. 

Following Aleksandr Karnitski's early goal that had ratted Dundalk, speared on by the precocious Daryl Horgan and Richie Towell the ball found its way to David McMillan on the edge of the area, he calmly slotted past Syarhey Chernik to send the away end into raptures and give a precious away goal that Dundalk could take back to Oriel Park. The level terms was not going to last for long as Evgeni Yablonski restored BATE’s lead some six minutes later. That goal was the first Champions League goal for David McMillan in what would be the beginning of a fantastic goal tally in this competition. The home leg saw a tense 0-0 draw which saw BATE go through with some unsavoury scenes following the full time whistle. It was the mark of a side that thought they wouldn’t see Dundalk again for a long time, including the new villain of the piece Vitali Rodionov, how wrong they were. 

8 David McMillan vs Rosenborg, Oriel Park July 12, 2017

The term ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’ is a term used on many occasions and this terminology has particular essence to this moment in the Stephen Kenny European journey. Following a series of transitions following the end of the 2016 season, Dundalk found themselves without key players Andy Boyle, Daryl Horgan and Ronan Finn in their starting line up. While domestically they struggled the visit of Rosenborg to Oriel Park seemed to reignite the fighting spirit at Oriel Park. In a match in which Dundalk created plenty of chances to win the game outright it was one outstanding moment that stands out. As Dundalk continued to push forward as the first half wore on, following a series of half attempts to get the ball into the area, it finally fell to Michael Duffy. His cross was sent into the area and out of nowhere was the diving head of David McMillan, the hero of so many European tales struck again to nearly send old Oriel Park crumbling to its foundations. That movement proved pivotal in that 2017 season, they may not be at their best, but they were not far off the alumni class of 2016.

7 Brian Gartland & Ciaran Kilduff’s vs Rosenborg July 19, 2017

Two moments, two chances that could have changed the course of history. The away leg in the Lerkendal Stadion in front of some 14,000 expectant Norwegians the stadium was eclipsed into silence just 11 minutes in. 

Brian Gartland will admit at times he hasn’t performed to the best of his abilities in Europe but all of that was forgotten in one fleeting moment. A corner from Michael Duffy saw Gartland hit a powerful header goal wards that Andre Hansen, a known shot stopper, parry it into his own net to give Dundalk the lead. It seemed the team wearing their ‘lucky black jersey’ was about to pull off another shock victory. Yann-Erik de Lanlay got a deserved equaliser and as the game wore on Matthias Vilhjalmsson got the eventual game winner in the 8th minute of extra time but the drama wasn’t over yet. 

Ciaran Kilduff had scored two of Dundalk’s most important and lucrative goals in Europe so it was by no consequence that he was sent on with the task to repeat the feat and it looked as if he was about to with an effort in the dying embers of the game. After the ball was sent into the area, the Kilcock man stretched out to hook the ball over Andre Hansen and it was looking certain to be dropping into the top right hand corner of the net, that is until Hansen’s fingers tipped the ball over the bar. That’s how close it was…

Two moments, one of pure agony the other one of pure ecstasy. 

6 David McMillan vs FH Hafnarfjordur July 13, 2016

We all remember the group stages but it all began in one night in July, It’s almost two years to the day when the magical summer journey of the famous 2016 European run began with the visit of Icelandic champions FH Hafnarfjordur to Oriel Park. 

Seen as the best opportunity to progress for the Irish champions an expectant Oriel Park was sold out for the tie in a balmy Wednesday evening. It all didn’t go to plan when Brian Gartland went off with what turned out to be a broken wrist which ruled him out for the rest of the qualifying campaign, he was deputised by Paddy Barrett who did more than fill the void. He was excellent during the European run. On 66 minutes, Dundalk got their just rewards when a deep cross from the right by John Mountney was sent into the area, the ball seem to hang in the air for an age, when it eventually fell, David McMillan was on hand to hook the ball home to give Dundalk the lead. It all began with that goal and none of knew then how important it would be. 

5 David McMillan vs BATE August 2, 2016

After putting FH to the sword Dundalk were rewarded with another trip to Belarus to visit our friends from the year pervious BATE Borisov. When Stephen Kenny was manager of Bohemians he defeated BATE after reversing a 1-0 loss in Belarus with a 3-0 win in Dalymount Park a week later, it’s funny how history has a habit of repeating itself?

5,000 fans packed the Tallaght Stadium and they were not just from Dundalk, supporters from all over the SSE Airtricity League had descended on the south Dublin venue to see the contest. In a game that seemed to take the Belarusian giants by surprise, I commented prior to the game as a match ‘That will test to see who learnt the most from the games last season’, Dundalk got an A in my book and everyone else for that matter. 

Taking the game to BATE, with technical flair and piercing attacking play that saw a deserved home goal taken by McMillan just before half time shock the visitors and send the home support into dream land. As the rain poured down in the second half, Dundalk sensing the tension and nerve in the away side ranks sensed they were on the ropes, the killer punch was on the way. A cross from the right as McEleney weaved and bobbed his magic was met on the left by the rushing Dane Massey whose ‘cross’ was headed in again by McMillan. Sergei Veremko could only look on in disbelief as the ball flew past him. The demons of 2015 were well and truly banished. The tie clinching goal however? Well its further up our list. 

4 Ciaran Kilduff vs AZ Alkmaar AFAS Stadion, September 15, 2016

Picture the scene, the seconds are etching towards the 90th minute mark, you are 1-0 down in your opening group game of the Europa League and you are also a man down. Down the left, Chris Shields your defensive midfielder bursts down the wing imitating his best Daryl Horgan and he is chopped down in a tired and lazy defensive tackle. A free kick in a good position to send the ball into the area and see if one of your players can get a knick and see what happens. 

What happens next is what all Roy of the Rovers script writers couldn’t conjure up in their wildest dreams. The ball is whipped in by Horgan and in the ensuing tussle Wout Weghorst the tallest man in Alkmaar is out muscled and out headed by Ciaran Kilduff whose effort loops over Sergio Rochet and into the back of the net to equalise. The scenes in the moments directly following that goal will stay with me forever, it was a brilliant and exhilarating moment. 

But what made it so was not the goal, but the goalscorer. Ciaran Kilduff was the miracle man by all intensive purposes as he should not have been on the pitch at all that night, earlier that season the striker had broken a bone in his back in a clash with Brendan Clarke. Only for the fantastic medical team at Dundalk, coupled with sheer resilience of the man himself saw him back on the pitch so soon. Sums up all you need to know about Dundalk FC under Kenny, the players will literally break their backs in order to play.

3 Ciaran Kilduff vs Maccabi Tel Aviv , Tallaght Stadium Sept. 29, 2016

In a game which all fear and nervousness that should be expected of a side playing their first European group game at home were not to be found was a real  sight to behold. Dundalk took the game by the scruff of the neck and a team comprising of Israeli internationals including Yossi Benayoun were dumfounded by a supposed team of ‘part timers’ playing the kind of football that was full of confidence and flair. 90 seconds into the game, Patrick McEleney broke free and should have scored. By that moment it spurred the home side on in a game they dominated from start to finish. 

The reward for such confidence came in the 72nd minute when another moment of magic came from Ciaran Kilduff, who was having a good day as it stood, it was his birthday after all. Horgan’s clever ball from the left saw Kilduff ghost in late and volley the ball past Predrag Rajkovic to give Dundalk and Ireland it’s first group game win in a European competition. Like before he wrestled the match ball off and kept it to take it home as a memento, he now had two balls for the mantlepiece. 

2 Robbie Benson vs Legia Warsaw, Polish Army Stadium August 23, 2016

People often talk about the ‘where were you when’ moments of importance. In sporting contexts its usually about Packie Bonner’s heroics in Italy or Ray Houghton’s goal in the Giants Stadium. I was one of the lucky 29,066 souls in the Polish Army Stadium that saw in my opinion one of the best goals seen in the flesh as a football fan by Dundalk’s very own Robbie Benson. It was a goal that took to social media by storm and even saw Gary Lineker comment on the strike and I have since called it ‘The goal hailed around the world.’ 

In the 19th minute of a tense, loud and intimidating atmosphere, a throw in by Sean Gannon was sent into the area to David McMillan after a clever lay off by Horgan, McMillan seeing the run headed it down towards Benson and without breaking his stride hit a shot with such venom that it flew past Arkadiusz Malarz and the onrushing Michal Pazdan to crash into the top corner. 

The stadium fell silent as cheers erupted in the away end accompanied by yelps of shock and disbelief in the press box. It may have all been in vain in the end but what a moment it was and Benson’s apparent lack of celebration was bemusing at the time. For Dundalk the job wasn’t done yet and the celebrations could wait until later, if any. 

Unfortunately Michal Kucharczyk 92nd minute goal sealed the tie for Legia Warsaw and Dundalk had to accept a place in the Europa League, something that was met at the time with grave disappointment. Shows the character of the players in reality, the hunger was there to take it all. Finest of moments can tip the balance in your favour, even the ones so fleeting and brilliant as Bensons.

1 Robbie Benson vs BATE August 2, 2016

As the rain lashed heavily in Tallaght, the 5000 in attendance full of noise and cheer could have been sounded out if a goal for BATE Borisov at this late stage would have sent the Belarusian side through. It would have been a crime if they had, it would have broken this side and quite frankly BATE didn’t deserve it. It was quite fitting that when Dundalk were going to qualify they were going to do it with style.

With seconds remaining a tired pass from Mikhail Gordeichuk was met by Robbie Benson who picked the ball up and with pace bore down on the BATE goal. He had it all to do at this point and with calm and collective resolve he simply chipped the ball over the onrushing Sergei Veremko who seal the tie for Dundalk and to send the Tallaght Stadium into celebrations never seen before. 

The Dundalk side had finally cracked the glass ceiling of the European game, no matter what happened from this stage European football would be present in Ireland until December at least. Champions League or Europa League it didn’t matter, Ireland would have a representative. This was the top moment of them all, it mattered I felt the most.