Neal Horgan: It’s time to enjoy another great European adventure

When the players of FC Haka of Finland walked off the pitch at Turner’s Cross in July 2008 following an entertaining 2-2 draw, few of the home fans could have predicted that it would be seven long years before the ground would hold another European club fixture.

Neal Horgan: It’s time to enjoy another great European adventure

Even fewer could have predicted the turmoil that would engulf the club over the following few years.

Thankfully that’s all history now.

For despite the haunting significance of that last European fixture for the club, the visit of KR Reykjavík tonight represents a return to happier times.

Cork City FC has played a total of 42 times in Europe and apart from two periods — (1) the first five years after its creation in 1984, and (2) the last seven years — the club has never remained outside of Europe for longer than three years. The City fans have grown to love their European games, and who could blame them?

One could also be forgiven for thinking that it all started for Cork City with the visit of Bayern Munich in 1991, but the club had actually already been to Moscow in 1989.

Declan O’Connell, owner of Lee Travel on Prince’s Street in Cork City, was commissioned to organise these ventures for the club.

“There were great times,” he told me recently. “The trip to Moscow is when we first found out about Patsy Freyne’s morbid fear of flying. Torpedo put us up in a boarding school, which didn’t impress the lads, but I moved the lads out to a national-run hotel after the first night. Tony O’Donoghue had just been hired by RTÉ.

“We all thought ‘who is this guy?’ But then he turned out to one of our own and we had a great time with him.

“It was a journey into the unknown so we hired a Russian interpreter who happened to be a professor of Russian history in Liverpool. He told us he had been hired by all the greats, including Bill Nicholson, Shankly and Alf Ramsey over the years on their clubs’ trips, but he was actually full of praise for Noel O’Mahony.

“I guess he just recognised another real football man and that impressed him greatly.”

Then there was Bayern.

Declan was actually the one to travel to the draw, and (in pre-internet days), to ring back the good news to the chairman.

“They were happy enough alright but I was too busy dealing with the Bayern nominee at the draw to enjoy the moment. I handed him a few pages of printed-out material on our city but he handed me a huge folder in return.

“After quickly reading my print-out he became very concerned regarding the distance between Cork Airport and the match venue (Musgrave Park). He wouldn’t believe me when I said it would take about five minutes. In the end, and despite my insistence, he still decided to ship their team bus all the way from Germany to carry the Bayern lads five minutes down the road.

“In the return leg, Munich was very busy as the beer festival was on and Bayern were good enough to help us find accommodation. Some of the lads even featured in the papers in Germany a few days before the game enjoying themselves at the festival. Despite this the lads came very, very close to knocking Bayern out a few nights later.”

Declan mentions the trip to Haifa to play Maccabi Haifa as another highlight.

“The lads caught me a beaut on that one. Dave Barry, who was manager at that time, asked me to go around to the lads and to inquire as to what they wanted to eat for breakfast. They all seemed to want ham omelets.

“When I relayed their orders to the chef he threw down his knife as if he had been asked a hundred times already that morning and shouted at me, “I told you, we do NOT eat ham in Israel. The lads had a good chuckle.”

Other notable memories include club volunteer Noelle Feeney organising extra goods for the people in Chernobyl — which was not far away from where Cork City were playing — against CSKA Kyiv in the Cup Winners Cup in 1998.

“In the home leg, Ollie Cahill was outstanding,” says Declan. “Before playing the return leg, as some kind of reward, CSKA awarded him with a huge ghetto-blaster in front of us all, which we all felt was quite strange.”

Declan felt strange again, a few years later in Nijmegen, Holland when asked, along with some of the other travelling party, by manager Pat Dolan to stand in a corner of the ground so as to block the CCTV cameras from potentially capturing Cork City’s training session.

“Dolan was meticulous in his preparations and I remember that he was even talking to the Dutch players before the game and was able to surprise them by telling them what he knew about them. It must have worked as we knocked them out afterwards.”

There is a more serious side to things tonight. Europe is of more interest than usual for Cork City and for the other Irish clubs because of the recently increased prizemoney on offer for progression.

The league’s Europa League representatives, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers, St. Pats and UCD are to receive a minimum of €200,000 which will rise to €410,000 should they proceed past the first round.

Thus, should they proceed past the first round in Europe then they will receive more than four times the current prize money (€100,000) for winning the League of Ireland outright.

So progressing to the next round is the priority but not just because of the money.

The League of Ireland’s co-efficient has been steadily decreasing from a record high of 30th in 2010 to 43rd in 2015.

During the same time-period the national team’s Fifa ranking has dropped from 36th to 60th and, if recent results are anything to go by, Martin O’Neill’s men will find it tough to qualify for the enlarged European Championships for 2016.

There’s no use hiding it. Things are bad. And that’s without even considering recent happenings away from the pitch.

In this context, the return of European football to Turner’s Cross tonight is a rare good news story for Irish football.

Here’s hoping for a good result tonight for City and the other Irish clubs. We could all do with some good news at this stage.

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