Since the Champions League went to a group stage with the 1991/92 edition (the last tournament to be called the European Cup, before the competition became the Champions League), no Irish, Northern Irish, or Welsh side has made it into the competition proper.
In 2004/05, League of Ireland side Shelbourne made it all the way to the third qualifying round, where they held Deportivo La Coruna to a 0-0 draw in the first leg before succumbing 3-0 in the second leg.
This year, it’s on League of Ireland champion Drogheda United to carry the mantle for the British Isles’ ‘lesser’ leagues.
Drogheda isn’t exactly a ‘newcomer’ in European competition, as they made it to the second qualifying round of each of the last two UEFA Cup competitions. However, this is their first foray into Europe’s top-tier club competition after winning their first League of Ireland title last year.
Drogheda knocked off Estonian side Levadia in the first round, winning the first leg 2-1 and sealing a 3-1 aggregate triumph with a 1-0 away win in the second leg.
But, they’re facing a much bigger fish in the second qualifying round in Dynamo Kiev, who may well have taken some beatings lying down in last year’s Champions League against the likes of Manchester United, but are a regular in the group stage.
And if Drogheda want to equal Shelbourne’s feat and put themselves in position for the seemingly impossible, they’re up against it to do so.
On Tuesday night, Drogheda hosted Dynamo at Dalymount Park in Dublin, and fell behind in the 23rd minute to a Taras Mikhalik goal. However, they shook off that early deficit, and shortly after the second-half restart, leveled the match at 1 with a goal by Adam Hughes.
However, their hopes of going to Ukraine on level terms were dashed when Dynamo’s Olexandr Aliyev netted in the 86th minute to give the Ukrainian runners-up a valuable second away goal and a 2-1 victory.
It may well seem like there’s a mountain to climb, especially when they’re going up against a relatively proven and decorated side on the European stage, but at least they know they can score goals after finding the net at home. And if they can do that twice and keep Dynamo at bay for 90+ minutes, Drogheda United will have their ticket to the third qualifying round.
If they do make it that far, it’ll be the test of all tests, as they could meet the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, or Juventus with a berth in the group stage on the line.