COMING home in the relative darkness from Pärnu to Tallinn, it gives one yet another opportunity to really appreciate what a special club we have in Cork City.
Not just the side, who again met and exceeded expectation with a 2-0 victory against Estonia’s Levadia Tallinn, matching the great side of 2005 who beat Baltic neighbours FK Ekranes by the same scoreline. A revered team in these parts, whose achievements look like they’re are going to be at least matched, if not bettered, by this special group.
Admittedly this wasn’t a performance for the ages by any means against an average Levadia side – John Caulfield himself admitting his team probably should have come away with a bigger win, given the fact that the Estonians were reduced to 10 men just before the half.
The fact that they had a chance to equalise did enough to stir the Leesiders into action, but at the risk of sounding arrogant it’s difficult to see how they would be able to beat City at Turner’s Cross, even given the equaliser.
A small but trusty band of supporters made their way in all manner of directions to Estonia. Some were fortunate enough to avail of the direct flight from Dublin, yours truly went via Copenhagen and Helsinki from the capital, racking up over 18 hours travel time in total. Some went to Birmingham from Cork, bussed to Luton, got a delayed flight to Riga, and then hopped on another bus to Pärnu after a short but essential sleep in a Latvian hostel.
The sunset leaving Helsinki; whose coast looked like it was shattered with a hammer – hundreds of islands scattered across the Baltic Sea basking in the yellow sunlight – was a glorious sight to a young man whose never had reason to venture to these parts.
Cyprus is set to be another first for yours truly, though plenty of those Rebel Army members will have fond memories of Dan Murray’s header at the National Stadium which secured City’s second-ever tie win in the Champions League, a tournament which we can almost certainly look forward to this time next year.
Back to slightly colder climates though, and a result which justified those travelling supporters’ decision to drop their lives and hard-earned cash to source a route to a provincial town in the Baltics. The commitment shown by those that travel the continent never ceases to amaze me, despite the draw that takes place just 10 days before the game in UEFA’s infinite wisdom.
Many of those simply weren’t able to travel, but looking at the thousands of messages flooding in on social media, forums and even to those listening to us on Rebel Radio, there was no doubt that the city, and indeed most of the country, were behind us; Europe offering that one time of year where League of Ireland fans wear all colours of those on the island.
Midtjylland was always going to be a step too far for Kenny Shiels’ Derry City, who are still in a rebuilding process, but another positive result for Shamrock Rovers in Iceland bodes well for next week, where many of us will (secretly!) be hoping that Dundalk can achieve the mammoth task of overturning Rosenborg, now in their 22nd season in the top tier of European football.
Closer to home however, a two away-goal lead to bring to Turner’s Cross will see something of a party atmosphere next Thursday, so unusual to be relieved of the tension usually seen in a second-leg tie on Leeside. One would hope that John Caulfield’s side will once again have a huge crowd that night, seen in all three games in 2016, to give them an extra push over the line.
Let us not forget for a minute either about the financial consequences of getting through the rounds, with €215,000 already secured for playing in this tie, and another €225,000 on the way if City can get the job done next week – the league champions we remind ourselves earn a miniscule €110,000 in comparison for an entire season’s work. John Caulfield once more spoke about bolstering the squad with midfielders McCormack and Keohane again starting in midfield, the remuneration from last year’s exploits undoubtedly assisting in that to no end.
For those gathered in ‘Sweet Rosie’s’ bar in Pärnu, belting out chants ranging across the 33 year history of the club, this was a question of local pride, City providing that extremely rare opportunity to support a side from Leeside in European competition.
And despite their modest numbers, they were able to make quite a sound, outsinging the small home support despite our position on the other side of the ground, wedged amongst the neutral pantomime crowd who turned out in huge numbers hoping, presumably, for an Estonian win.
In reality however it never looked likely, City controlling the game from early on, with McCormack and the newly retained Ryan Delaney making club captain and top scorer Rimo Hunt a virtual passenger in a game capped off with Steven Beattie’s gorgeous strike minutes from time. A fitting way to cap off another special trip following the Rebel Army, and seeing us onto the bus back with smiles on our faces.
A trip, and a result to savour, along with what is sure to be another marquee night down the ‘Cross when we all finally make our way back home.