Comment: One giant leap for The Town

Emmet Ryan looks back on an extraordinary night for Dundalk FC and the League of Ireland as a whole

Emmet Ryan

Technology Correspondent @emmetjryan
30th September, 2016
Odds on Dundalk Europa League progress narrow. Pic: Getty

Welcome to dreamland. We are through the looking glass. Insert whatever statement that would normally sound over the top that you like. Dundalk FC have entered unchartered waters, not only for them but for Irish football as a whole.

That's what happened with Ciaran Kilduff's goal in the 72nd minute last night. Playing in Tallaght in order to meet UEFA requirements, west Dublin became south Louth for a night and there was a whole bunch of people there to share the party. The community of the League of Ireland steps up regularly in Europe. The dominant shade in the stand was, of course, lilywhite but for every yellow Maccabi Tel Aviv top there was a Galway United, Bohemians, Cork City, and more to match them.

The money is the easy part to talk about with what this win means for Dundalk. It is quite a big dollop of dosh, no question, but what was done to get it speaks far more about the journey the men from the town have taken.

When Shamrock Rovers got to this same stage of the Europa League, getting there was all anyone really had to celebrate as their six-game run sadly ended without a point. Dundalk got off the mark first time out with a hard-won point in the Netherlands. Last night, however, was another beast entirely. A win, a real life far from jammy victory, over a side with ample experience at this level was incredible. Dundalk got the big W, they now have four points out of six, the mission is accomplished and a new one has just begun.

Now we start asking what's next? Dundalk have chalked up two huge achievements in terms of League of Ireland history in their first two games. They are playing with house money and they want it all. The Lilywhites have four games to do the unthinkable and progress to the knockout stages. The odds, while still against them, narrowed big time last night.

Two games against Zenit St Petersburg await to define not just this dream season but a massive moment in the history of the League of Ireland. Zenit, with well known players like Danny and Axel Witsel among their ranks, are another step up again and they will bring out the absolute best from this Dundalk side. Even a point from that pair of games however would put Dundalk in full command of their future ahead of the return clashes with AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi.

The work done by Dundalk to come back from the brink just a few years ago to now have arguably the finest team to ever grace this league is extraordinary. Even listening to their players afterwards, there's a sense that they belong and not one of a side getting distracted by the potential to make history.

That's what makes this feel possible. Stephen Kenny's charges have been all around the block. The story of Robbie Benson playing Europa League football with UCD last season to now being a huge part of Dundalk's run to far greater heights in the same competition has been beaten into the ground by this corner. Every fan in this league has those kinds of connections, the lads who played with them or tormented them for another side who have now become part of a phenomenal line-up.

These are ordinary men playing extraordinary football and delivering time and again. It's not about the one big result, it's about keeping that run together week after week. A result like last night would normally be considered a miracle but this Dundalk side manufactures them like it's what should be expected. For this side, it is what is expected, and they have no intention of setting a bar for when they will be happy to see this journey end. They will attack to the last and that's keeping them not just alive but vibrant in European football. Bring on the Russians.

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