In the second part of the Drogs European History, we pick up the story in 2006 when, as reigning FAI Cup champions, Drogheda United qualified for the UEFA Cup competition. On the 13th July Paul Doolin marched his men into Finland.
The Drogs were drawn against Finnish side HJK Helsinki in the first Qualifying round of the UEFA Cup and the team travelled to Finland for the first leg.
Just four minutes before half time Shane Robinson struck the club’s first ever European goal, shooting home from the left hand corner of the box to give the Drogs a welcome half time lead. The second half saw the Finns come back at Paul Doolin’s side and, despite Dan Connor saving a 74th minute penalty, Markus Halsti finished off a corner kick to level the tie just six minutes from full time.
With United Park no longer deemed suitable for European competition, the second leg took place at Dalymount Park, which would become Drogheda’s home-from-home over the following three seasons as the Drogs mounted consecutive European campaigns. But the club’s relationship with the Dublin venue got off to a bad start when Farid Ghazi gave HJK a 36th minute lead on the night and a 2-1 aggregate lead in the tie.
This was the situation at half time but Drogheda rallied after the break and Graham Gartland equalised on 57 minutes to once again bring the tie level. The tie went to extra time and fortune finally swung in Drogheda’s direction when they were awarded a 96th minute penalty that was duly dispatched by Damien Lynch. Eighteen minutes later Lynch became the first Drogheda player to score twice in a European match, slotting home a second penalty after Shane Barrett had been hauled down inside the area.
With their first European win under their belt Drogheda went into the second qualifying round full of confidence. Another trip to Scandinavia beckoned with Norwegian side IK Start providing the opposition. Drogheda traveled to the Kristiansand Stadion in the southern tip of Norway for the first leg when a 66th minute goal from captain Fredrik Stromstad was enough to give Start a 1-0 lead heading into the return leg at Dalymount.
This was a tense affair, the score remaining obstinately in the Norwegians’ favour until the 84th minute when Eamon Zayed struck his first European goal to level the tie. Again, Drogheda faced extra time, but on this occasion there would be no further score and the contest duly went down to the lottery of a penalty shootout.
With the allotted five penalties taken, the score remained level, each team having dispatching four of their kicks. Gartland had missed for the Drogs, while Dan Connor had saved Valencia’s effort. Remarkably, the next twelve takers were successful, at which point every player on the pitch, including the two ‘keepers, had taken a spot kick and the score was still tied at 10 – 10.
The referee decreed that the cycle must begin again and, cruelly, Gartland missed for the second time. Stefan Barlin did not, scoring for the Norwegians and ending the shootout at the 24th attempt.