This month the Mardyke Arena will be hosting a group of UEFA Women’s Under 17 tournament: across the Mardyke, St. Coleman’s Park and Turners Cross Ireland will clash with Belarus, the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. This tournament, scheduled for the week of the 26th of October, will mark yet another chapter in the storied past of European football in Leeside, stemming back to 1939 when an all-island (FAI) Ireland faced Hungary in front of 18,000 at the Mardyke.
Right up to this summer, international football has always held a foothold in the Real Capital, with the Republic of Ireland facing Belarus in their final UEFA Euro 2016 warm-up game; in a sun-drenched Turners Cross Martin O’Neill played a full-strength Ireland team, featuring players the like of James McClean, Shane Long and veteran Shay Given. Though it was not to be Ireland’s day in Cork last summer, it was an exciting return for Senior international football in the ‘Cross.
Underage Internationals, from both the male and female teams, are also a regular occurrence on Leeside, a personal favourite being the 2007 friendly between Ireland and England at Turners Cross, where a young Theo Walcott hit this reporter in the face with a clearance, concussing me.
European footballing competitions at club level have made a dramatic return to Leeside under former UCC manager (now Cork City manager) John Caulfield. Back in the days of our Grandfathers and Grandmothers, Cork Celtic and Cork Hibs regularly featured in European competition, meeting the likes of Schalke ‘04 and Valencia. The real legendary European story for Cork came in the autumn of 1990, when a then six year-old Cork City FC pulled European semifinalists Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup draw.
The tie was mighty, and with the game being moved from Turners Cross to the home of rugby in Cork, Musgrave Park was the place to be that Wednesday afternoon. In the build-up to the game, Bayern Munich captain Steffan Effenberg claimed that Cork City’s Dave Barry looked like his Grandfather.
Against the odds Cork City took the lead thanks to “Grandad Effenberg” himself, Dave Barry. An ecstatic Musgrave Park was soon quieted, however, as Effenberg soon equalised from a free kick. The game finished 1-1, and the hosts ran out 2-0 winners in the return leg, but the memories of that day in 1990 have never been forgotten in the People’s Republic of Cork.
In most recent years, Cork City FC have continued their fine run of European form. 2004 saw Cork City FC make Irish footballing history, as they were the first Irish side to reach the quarterfinals of a European competition, during that year’s Intertoto Cup. 2006 saw City once again make history by knocking out Cypriot opposition in the UEFA Champions League.
Following the dark days of 2008 and 2009, when financial mismanagement almost robbed Leeside of League of Ireland football, European football seemed to be reserved to the history books. Between 2009 and 2013, European football was little more than a sweet memory at the Cross, but under the new management of John Caulfield Cork City has witnessed a massive rise in fortunes and, eventually, a return to the European table.
Despite an early upset by KR Reykjavik, City pushed on in 2016 and progressed through three rounds of UEFA Europa League qualifiers, knocking out Linfield and BK Häcken in the process. European glory isn’t reserved for the Senior team, as the Under 19 side have qualified for the UEFA Youth League.