THERE is nothing like it. The buzz, the anticipation, the excitement.
European football in Cork, there is nothing like it.
Cork City fans of all generations have stories to tell and memories to recall about some of the incredible nights when their football club shared the pitch with teams from the continent.
Some of the older fans may remember the first ever game in Europe when City travelled to the capital of the old USSR to take on Torpedo Moscow in the old Cup Winners Cup.
What an introduction. The first leg in Moscow saw the Leesiders lose 5-0, the return leg ended in a more dignified 1-0 loss on home soil meaning the Passports had to be put back in the cupboard for the time being.
Little did they know at the time though but their next European tie would see City enjoy arguably the greatest night in their history.
It was actually at a poolside bar in Shanghai, China when the news of their opponents in the first round of the 1991/92 UEFA Cup was broken to the players.
The majority of the players were taking in the sunshine and enjoying a much-needed rest from their pre-season excursions in the Far East when the directors emerged and told them the draw; “Lads, we got Bayern Munich!”
“We were told it was Bayern Munich, it was a shock” Dave Barry once told me in an interview.
“We were sitting there looking at each other going Bayern Munich? The initial thing was shock though, we thought this is going to be a 10-0 hammering.” But it wasn’t.
Barry famously fired City in front at Musgrave Park before Bayern eventually responded through Stefan Effenburg snatch a 1-1 draw before they would go on to win the second leg 2-0 at the Olympic Stadium in Munich.
“As you get older and you see what Bayern Munich are doing now, the structure of the club, the history, it’s massive in European and world football. To actually score against them was just…..
“You look back on it and think it was some achievement really. At the time I think we took it for granted saying it’s a part of sport but we gave them a right fright,” added Barry.
He was right and it thought the club an important lesson even at such an early juncture. It showed them that they shouldn’t be daunted by the team they were facing. It showed them that if they gave it everything they had then they could upset the odds and earn a positive result against anyone.
They took that mentality into their first-ever Champions League campaign in the 1993/94 season and they secured their first victory over two legs when they knocked out Cwmbran Town of Wales on away goals after a 4-4 draw on aggregate.
That success would see them come up against another big name in the next round as they did battle with Turkish giants Galatasaray.
The Istanbul club treated City with more respect than Bayern Munich did and it allowed them to win both legs by the narrowest of margins.
That generation of Cork City fans were spoilt. Trips to the Czech Republic, Belgium, Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Ukraine and Sweden followed before the end of the 1990s.
But it wasn’t until the middle of the 2000s when the next generation would get the chance to revel in their own European glory. Malmo FF, good times.
If Cork City 1 Bayern Munich 1 was arguably the Rebel Army’s greatest result, Cork City 3 Malmo FF 1 was arguably their most accomplished performance in Europe.
And just to prove their quality they finished the job in the second leg with a 0-1 win thanks to a goal from current coach Liam Kearney.
Next up in the second round of the Intertoto Cup was Dutch side NEC Nijmegen. A solid display and a clean sheet on the road meant another win at Turner’s Cross would be enough to see them progress.
The tie was still locked at 0-0 at the beginning of the second half until super Kevin Doyle planted a stunning header into the far bottom left corner to send the old standing Shed End into raptures.
City would keep another clean sheet and another famous European scalp was in the bag. Their run would end against a talented Nantes side but those games would help them grow in stature.
The league win in 2005 would see Cork return to the Champions League for the 2006/07 season. The draw in the first stage would see them meet Apollon Limassol of Cyrpus.
The longer this article goes on the more uncertain I am about which result was actually City’s best. Cork City 1 Apollon Limassol 0 is certainly up there with the greats, Apollon Limassol 1 Cork City 1 is just a little bit further behind, maybe.
Former Champions of Europe Red Star Belgrade would prove to be a class above in the next round before off the field issues would eventually deprive the county of European football.
And now to the generation of today, who in recent years saw Seanie Maguire run riot against Linfield and Levadia Tallinn. The reasons for this stroll down memory lane is to remind fans not to take these European exploits for granted.
At a time when Cork City currently sit seventh in the Premier Division, tonight’s clash against FC Progrés Niederkorn may well be their last European match in Cork for quite some time. A big crowd and a big atmosphere could help the team rally to create another memorable night to add to the list. There is nothing like it.