Dundalk secure famous win and €360k in prizemoney after heroic win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in Tallaght
Published 29/09/2016 | 19:01
This is the story that keeps on giving.
It has graduated beyond a flash in the pan. It has moved beyond the expectation that Dundalk will politely doff their cap and leave the European stage to the teams that are used to this level.
Stephen Kenny has built a squad which believes that they belong. And they continue to prove it.
On another epic night in Tallaght, the history-makers delivered the latest landmark achievement with another European goal from supersub and birthday boy Ciaran Kilduff securing all three points - the first win for an Irish club in group stage football.
It adds an extra €360,000 to the coffers, but they are no longer measuring success in economic terms. Qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League is now a possibility with four points from their opening two games.
They have deserved them, with Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze unwilling to make excuses afterwards.
"We are creating a legacy for ourselves," said the jubilant goalscorer. "But the aim now is to get out of the group."
Crucially, he struck at a time when it appeared they were temporarily on the ropes. Discipline was the word that Kenny kept going back to afterwards. They were clever when it mattered.
"Collectively, we are getting better," he said. "The rate of improvement is there for all to see. We were tactically astute and passed the ball brilliantly."
The League of Ireland champions looked comfortable in the company of a side with ten internationals in their starting team and, while they had spells out of possession, they should have led at the break.
Scouting reports on Maccabi had indicated that they had a brittle defence and Dundalk found gaps when they got bodies forward.
The yellow shirted rearguard, which featured ex-Premier League veteran Tal Ben Haim, were remarkably static - especially when full-backs Dane Massey and Sean Gannon advanced.
Inside two minutes, the hosts should really have gone in front when a Dave McMillan flick released Patrick McEleney. He had almost too much time to think about a right-footer that he shot tamely at Predrag Rajkovic, the Serbian national goalkeeper who suffered against Ireland in Belgrade earlier this month.
Rajkovic had some ropey moments including when he flapped at the rebound from a Ronan Finn shot that was pushed up into the air. He did make an array of saves but, in truth, this was a tale of poor finishing from the Irishmen.
Daryl Horgan, with a chance to impress in front of the watching Martin O'Neill, was a constant menace before the interval yet the final touch let him down following a move that involved the sprightly Finn and Massey.
The contentious moment that led to the match officials being booed off at the halfway point was a penalty call involving Robbie Benson, but replays suggested that Maccabi left full Omri Ben Harush had not made contact.
Benson and Finn's industry was important, though, with Chris Shields outstanding in the suspended Stephen O'Donnell's regular role in front of the back four.
Maccabi did have opportunities too and there was a spell in the opening exchanges where Dundalk didn't get a touch for a couple of minutes. However, they were incapable of really getting in behind the sturdy Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland and they were reduced to speculative attempts that failed to adequately trouble Gary Rogers.
"The continuity in our back four is extremely important to us," said Kenny. They were resilient after the interval with Maccabi owning the ball again for a spell without ever looking like penetrating.
They were on top, though, and Kenny sought an injection of energy by introducing Kilduff for the tiring McMillan.
He almost scored with his first touch but Dundalk were then pegged back and a spell of loose defending concluded with a chance that Icelandic international Vidar Orn Kjartansson overclubbed.
The sceptic might have suggested that fatigue was setting in. But this Dundalk group has reserves of energy and they summoned up another huge effort to make the famous breakthrough.
There were parallels with the drubbing of BATE here in August as McEleney weaved his way down the right-hand side and then switched the play to the far post.
He found Horgan in space and the Galwegian gathered his balance and then chipped over Benson into the path of the grateful Kilduff who did the rest from close range to celebrate turning 28 in style.
"My best moment in football," he beamed afterwards. "I'm away to open my presents now."
Arveladze worked his bench in search of the equaliser, digging into his reserve of seasoned internationals with Yossi Benayoun summoned.
Kenny said beforehand that he urged his troops not to worry about reputations and it showed.
His back four were immense with Arveladze furious at his side's slow pace of play. Dundalk were able to stay in shape and embarked on breaks that might have put the result beyond doubt.
Finn fired one effort into the side netting and then Horgan scampered into space and drilled the ball across the goalline with a fortuitous Maccabi clearance coming to the rescue.
Maccabi pressure yielded one major opening ahead of the four added minutes with Dundalk snoozing as they raged at the concession of a free-kick.
It was quickly taken and found Barak Yitzhaki, but a full-length dive from Massey managed to get his body in the way. At key junctures, Dundalk were braver. And better.