In the latest look back on historic moments in Irish football, Arthur Duffy revisits Derry City’s terrific run in the UEFA Cup in 2006, where they knocked out IFK Goteborg and Gretna before coming up short against Paris Saint-Germain.
Flashback by Arthur Duffy (Derry Journal)
What is the one event in Irish football that sticks out for you?
Derry City’s fantastic roller coaster ride in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup, which saw The Candystripes go so close to reaching the group stages of the competition having successfully negotiated two qualifying rounds.
Drawn against two-times winner of the competition, IFK Goteborg, in the opening round, the Stephen Kenny-managed side recorded sensational 1-0 victories both in Sweden and in the Brandywell one week later. That set up a tie with Scottish outfit Gretna, which they got through to meet French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
Why was it so significant?
Having been paired with hot favourites, Goteborg, in the opening round, Derry were not given much hope of advancing any further. Even securing a respectable result was scoffed at by many considering the Swedish side’s history.
Although that first leg stunned everyone, myself included – I was one of two local journalists (BBC’s Ritchie Kelly being the other) who travelled over to cover it. We watched a superb performance with a Sean Hargan goal separating the sides thanks to a late header from a corner kick.
Back at the Brandywell for the second leg, it was another 1-0 win for Derry. This time Stephen O’Flynn got the goal in front of a capacity crowd and suddenly people started to believe that an extended run in Europe was possible, if they could keep producing big performances.
Derry then humiliated Scottish fairytale club Gretna, when recording a 5-1 victory in Fir Park in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie, which allowed Kenny to rest several players for the second leg which ended in a 3-3 draw.
Who were the major people involved and what impact did they have?
Kenny had been appointed the new Derry manager two years prior to that European campaign and the Dubliner successfully rebuilt the team which was dominated by local players. It was his handling of the team that really set the wheels in the motion for everything.
Amongst the players involved were Republic of Ireland goalkeeper David Forde, the now-retired trio of Hargan, Peter Hutton and Kevin Deery, wing wizard Paddy McCourt, the hard-working pair of Killian Brennan and Kevin McHugh, and Barry Molloy, who continues to anchor their midfield in the 2014 season.
Each individual played their part, but it really was a team effort. The 4-5-1 formation worked a treat and helped raise the bar to meet each challenge head on. Indeed, the scoreless draw with PSG in the first leg of the first round proper was only achieved because of that team effort.
Brennan’s spectacular shot which crashed off the PSG crossbar was something special and it helped show that Derry were one of several teams boosting the standard across the League of Ireland – something which would be reinforced by other teams in years to follow.
Is there a particular moment from that event that stands out?
I’ll never forget the queue of Derry fans outside a bookmakers in Glasgow on the morning after the Gretna game. Those supporters, who were clearly ‘under the weather’ from the celebrations the night before, had all backed their candy striped heroes at prices of 6/1 on the day of the game.
Was it an event that caught the attention of the Irish public?
It certainly did as every national media organisation was represented in Glasgow for the Gretna game and, of course, in the Brandywell for the PSG fixture. Amazingly, BBC Northern Ireland actually covered both legs of the PSG clash live, despite the fact that Derry played their football outside of the BBC’s jurisdiction.
What was the knock-on effect from it?
Derry were acknowledged as a team going places but, there was also a downside, in that Kenny attracted the attention of clubs abroad. His tactical approach and decision-making during each game didn’t go unnoticed and he subsequently left the club to managed Dunfermline in the Scottish Premier Division late that same year.
I also believe that another knock-on effect was the impact that the results and performances had on other League of Ireland teams as they went on to make significant inroads in European competitions. The league needed a team to show that such results were possible.
Check out previous Flashbacks from SWAI members…
Philip Quinn on the night Ireland qualified for Italia ’90
*Image courtesy of Sportsfile