Dundalk FC are just one step away from reaching the Champions League group stages after an outstanding 3-1 aggregate win over BATE Borisov in the third qualifying round on Tuesday night.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Belarus, two goals from in-form striker David McMillan either side of half-time edged Dundalk 2-0 ahead in the return leg at Tallaght Stadium, and substitute Robbie Benson wrapped up a famous win with another goal in the 90th minute to seal a 3-0 win on the night.
Stephen Kenny’s side will now take their place in the Champions League play-off round, and, even if they lose, they are guaranteed a place in the Europa League group stages.
They will also be guaranteed prize money in the region of €7m.
Dundalk’s victory is undoubtedly one of the best ever results produced by an Irish side in a European competition, and was achieved against a BATE Borisov side that took four points off Roma in the Champions League group stage last season.
— Kevin Kilbane (@kdkilbane77) August 2, 2016
Superb @DundalkFC ! Champions League playoffs!!
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) August 2, 2016
Unbelievable. Dundalk win 3-0. One of the best achievements from an Irish football team at any level.
— Daniel McDonnell (@McDonnellDan) August 2, 2016
— An Pucan (@anpucangalway) August 2, 2016
Thanks to everybody for their incredible support. As for Stephen, Vinny, the players and the rest of the backroom team: Unbelievable lads!
— Dundalk FC (@DundalkFC) August 3, 2016
There was also an element of revenge after Dundalk went out of last season’s competition at the hands of the same opponents, losing 2-1 on aggregate in the Champions League second qualifying round.
The second leg tie was switched to Shamrock Rovers’ Tallaght Stadium due to Oriel Park not meeting the requirements for this stage of the Champions League, but any fears that the move would hinder Dundalk proved to be unfounded, as a big crowd gathered to support the side on what proved to be an unforgettable 90 minutes for everyone who witnessed it.
It wasn’t comfortable viewing in the early stages, as BATE enjoyed the better possession while Dundalk looked nervous and were guilty of giving the ball away too easily.
The Lilywhites also suffered a blow when they lost Ronan Finn to injury after half an hour, although his replacement Patrick McEleney was to play an important part in the proceedings later on.
But Dundalk made the vital breakthrough on the stroke of half-time, when great work by Darryl Horgan on the left saw him deliver a cross on to the head of David McMillan, and the in-form striker buried a header into the back of the net from six yards to give his side the lead on the night and pull them level on aggregate.
The half-time whistle sounded moments later and was met with a rapturous response, and the volume level increased on the hour, when Dundalk went ahead on aggregate.
The goal came from what was an over-hit cross by Patrick McEleney, but the ball was returned into the box by Dane Massey and David McMillan headed home his second goal of the night to take his tally to five Champions League goals so far this season.
As the game entered its closing stages Dundalk could have been forgiven for trying to shut up shop and hang on, but they pushed on and looked for more goals, with McMillan going off to a standing ovation 12 minutes from the end, and being replaced by fellow striker Robbie Benson.
Patrick McEleney and John Mountney both had chances for Dundalk before Benson made his mark on the night when he dispossessed Kendysh, outpaced the central defenders and produced a cool finish to wrap up an outstanding win over a side that have been Champions League regulars over the past few seasons.
Dundalk can now look forward to the draw for the final qualifying round on Friday in Monaco.