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Crossing Borders; the Hidden History of Irish Football in Europe

Tonight Cork City FC welcome Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) side Linfield to Turners Cross in the second round of their UEFA Europa League Qualifying campaign. While only a few miles separate the clubs, clashes between NIFL clubs and League of Ireland (LOI) clubs have been scattered across the European competitions, with the dream of a united league and national team forever a topic for debate. In all European Competitions, across the European Cup/Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League, there have been five meetings between clubs from both leagues:

Beginning back in the 1970/71 European Cup, Waterford United took on Glentoran; a game played over two legs, the hotly contested affair was a smooth victory for the Waterford men, who ran out a comfortable 4-1 aggregate victory across two legs.

Possibly the most infamous tie between IFA (NIFL) and FAI (LOI) sides came in the 1979/80 European Cup campaign when Dundalk were picked to play Linfield during the European Cup qualifier draw. Held mere weeks after the murder of the Earl of Mountbatton and the Warrenpoint Massacre, where 18 British Soldiers were killed by Republican paramilitaries, tensions where high in Oriel Park.  In a the three hour period surrounding the game crowd troubled eclipsed the football: Linfield supporters’ buses were pelted with stones on arrival, and tricolours were burned in the stands by Linfield fans in retaliation. As the police baton-charged fans, and bricks & bottles were launched between the groups, Dundalk and Linfield drew 1-1 in the end; in the second leg, played in the sleepy town of Haarlem in Holland on neutral soil,  Dundalk were 2-0 winners on the night.

Other clashes over the years include Linfield meeting Shamrock Rovers in the 1984/85 European Cup campaign, with Linfield progressing over the Hoops on away goals after  a 1-1 draw in Dublin. Shelbourne and Glentoran met each other in the Champions League qualifiers in the 2005/06 campaign; against a Shelbourne team bursting with talent from Glenn Crowe to Owen Heary, Glentoran couldn’t cope as Shells ran out comfortable 6-2 winners.

Tonight’s meeting between Cork City and Linfield is the first between any IFA and FAI Clubs in the UEFA Europa League. Despite the clubs knowing one another from their days in the now-defunct Setanta Sports Cup, this tie is new territory for both clubs, and is something Cork City manager John Caulfield will be hoping to see as an, “All Ireland Derby,” and, combined with the financial incentives from qualification, tonight is a massive night for both clubs.

With Sean Maguire’s winner in Windsor Park Cork City hold the slim advantage at 1-0. Both managers, John Caulfield & David Healy, know the disappointment & the importance of these European nights. The stage is set, the Linfield bus is ready and the bags are packed. For Turners Cross, a quiet parish in the Cork City suburbs, the whole island will be watching.