The 9th of July 2015 is a significant day, in one way more than others. A certain Chuck Blazer was given a lifetime ban by FIFA for corruption but, it is also the night when UCD AFC became the first ever Irish second tier side to win a Europa League tie – a nice piece of history for the university’s oldest club, formed in 1895.
However, this was not your classic plain-sailing European tie against some unknown quantity from the back of beyond. UCD, at the time were in the First Division (the second tier of Irish football) having suffered relegation from the top-flight of Irish football at the end of the 2014 campaign.
UEFA previously granted three spots for Fair Play each year in the Europa League, one spot for each country of three selected. With the Republic of Ireland falling into that category – UCD AFC were the side to benefit having been the cleanest side to take part in the Premier Division during the 2014 campaign. As a result, UCD AFC were on a European adventure for the first time since 2000.
Having been dismissed by many quarters heading into the tie, and with questions being raised about the merits of a second tier Irish side playing in the Europa League – the students brought an unlikely lead to Luxembourg – but a tall order still lay in waiting.
Manager Collie O’Neill told the University Observer; “My wife was ten days overdue as well at the exact same time. The team flew out on the Wednesday and did the training session on the pitch that night. I didn’t fly with them. I stayed and booked my own flight into Belgium at 5AM on the Thursday morning.
“Once I got to Belgium, I got a car hired to drive to Luxembourg. Of course, the flight I had booked – I had Tomas Boyle’s parents on it with me as well as another parent I brought along with me. They had no way of getting a bus or train Luxembourg so I said while I have a car you might as well jump in with me!”
Compared to the events that took place before the game, the opening stages of the second leg went according to plan – a one goal lead was achieved through the mercurial Ryan Swan but the game plan was thrown out the window following the dismissal of defender Sean Coyne.
“Going into the away leg, we went into it thinking we could do well. Remembering the game for the first twenty or twenty-five minutes we were doing pretty well. I wasn’t fearing anything, and Ryan’s goal eases the fears of that obviously, but I thought we were doing really well up until Sean Coyne’s sending off.
“Thinking back then, the only thing I remember from that was – I stood the players up in the changing room to show how we were going to defend at the half-time break. It was nearly like another training session in the dressing room. Thankfully we had a goalkeeper in Niall Corbet being brilliant on the night. We rode our luck and we got a result that will live long in the memories.
“Because it was the first moment of what you would call success it’s probably one of my favourite nights without doubt. Particularly with the amount of stuff that was going on with me personally at the time as my wife was ten days overdue as well at the exact same time, so it was a really great night.”
While it was a hectic night not only for the manager – spare a thought for the players who fought tooth and nail on a famous night for the club. Winger Jamie Doyle also added; “Without a doubt that’s my fondest memory of a game of football in my career to date.
“It was the most tiring game I’ve ever played we couldn’t get out of our half for most of the second half, but it was the best feeling after I’ve had on a football pitch to date. It was more of a tactical approach than games in the League of Ireland, you were given time on the ball in certain areas, two teams who liked to get the ball down and spray it around rather than the madness in the League of Ireland.”
Arguably one of the greatest achievements in European football from an Irish side in recent years – well, up until Dundalk’s run of 2016 – there are still plenty of untold stories from the time – from scouting opponents on YouTube to organising an unlikely third round tie against FC Krasnodar that never happened – the list is endless.
The collection of events will soon come to life as ‘One Night in Dudelange’, written by UCD graduate Kevin Burke will look to bring those unheard of stories to life – a must-read for any football or sports fan in general. The book is earmarked for launch early next month and it will be available via the publishing company online and from the UCD AFC club shop on matchdays.