Over the years, the success of the SSE Airtricity League clubs in Europe has been minimal. It is probably fair to say that over the past twenty years only Bohemians, Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne have had any sort of luck when they travelled from this Island. It was always seen as an added bonus to get away to Europe and sometimes the trips were used as a jolly up. All that has changed in recent times and now the expectancy levels are extremely high from everyone involved. Dundalk set the bar high for this season after their exploits in last years competition. It was going to be very hard work this season for our clubs to progress and this proved to be the case after the results in the first legs of the competitions this season, Dundalk were held to a one all draw in the Champions League against Rosenborg, Shamrock Rovers lost three two in the Europa League and in the same competition Cork City surprisingly lost one nil at home to AEK Larnacca.
Champions Dundalk were always going to have a tough game away against Norwegian side Rosenborg having been held one all in Oriel Park. They really put it up to Rosenborg and got off to a great start when centre back Brian Gartland gave them the lead, it was a superb start and it showed great character from Stephen Kenny,s men. They could have taken total control of the tie shortly afterwards when a bullit header from David McMillan from close range was tipped over by Rosenborg keeper Hansen. That save was to be the turning point of the tie and the home side got an equaliser just before half time when they scored through De Lanlay. Dundalk really gave it a go but it was an extra time from Vilhjalmsso that finally finished the tie. There was no shame in defeat for Dundalk and they did themselves and the SSE Airtricity League proud, in fact if a late chance by Benson had been put away, it would have put them into the next round on the away goals rule. Rosenborg now move on to play Celtic and that is a tie Stephen Kenny and his squad would have given their right arm for, alas it was not to be.
Runaway SSE Airtricity Premier League leaders side Cork, were to me the big disappointment this season. They have been doing so well domestically this season and after losing the first leg of their Europa League tie against AEK Larnacca one nil, it was a real shock to their system. The same scoreline in Cyprus put pay to any European dream for the men from the banks of the river lee. The Larnacca goal came in the 33rd minute from Taulemesse and that was the tie over. The Cork men huffed and puffed but did absolutely nothing that could have got themselves back in the tie. On a night when the Cork men said good bye to Sean Maguire and Kevin O’ Connor who are off to join Preston North End, the temperatures in the stadium were intense and this had a big effect on the game tempo of John Caulfield,s men. It is hard to be critical of a Cork side that have been magnificent this season, but I really fancied them in this tie and their failure to get through was a big disappointment. It just goes to show now that expectations are a lot higher for our clubs in Europe.
Shamrock Rovers went to the Czech Republic after losing their first leg three two against Mlada Boleslav. It was an extremely tough task for them to go and get anything in the second leg and they duly lost two nil, making it five two overall. Two first half goals from the home sides Chramosta on eleven minutes and when Mebrahtu grabbed a second on the half hour the tie was well and throughly finished. Rovers put in a superb second half performance but they were never going to turn the tie around, their best chance fell to David McCallister but he was unlucky not to score. I am sure Rovers will be back next season but this years adventure was lost in the first leg.