After season of setbacks - and a broken back - Dundalk's hero chose his moment perfectly

Kilduff was Dundalk’s hero with a late, late Europa League equaliser.

Kilduff: equaliser guaranteed Dundalk an extra €120k in prize money.
Kilduff: equaliser guaranteed Dundalk an extra €120k in prize money.
Image: Karel Delvoije/INPHO

CHRIS SHIELDS PAID tribute to Dundalk’s late goal hero Ciaran Kilduff after last night’s 1-1 draw with AZ Alkmaar gave the Lilywhites a point in their historic first-ever European group stage match.

Kilduff’s 88th-minute header cancelled out Stijn Wuytens’ opener on the hour. The game was marred by a head injury sustained by the Dutch midfielder when he collided with Gary Rogers in scoring the goal.

Despite AZ looking much more likely to score when the match eventually did restart, some last-ditch defending and Kilduff’s first European goal for the club now has Dundalk dreaming of potential progress in the competition.

Speaking to The42 after the game, Shields — who like Kilduff was a second-half substitute, and won the free kick from which the goal arrived — praised the striker’s contribution on a momentous evening.

“He was fantastic. It’s great for him,” the midfielder said.

“Ciaran’s had such a season full of setbacks. He broke his back, which is unheard of. He came back and scored against Shels. And then he was so unlucky to miss out on the Legia away game because of a knee injury.

“He’s come back and played a major part in us getting a draw.”

Kilduff was on the field for just three minutes when he got his head to Daryl Horgan’s free kick to level the match and send the away support behind that goal delirious.

On a night of firsts, the goal was Kilduff’s first in European competition. When you consider the 27-year-old has ample European experience both with Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers too, that might come as a surprise to many. He picked the perfect time to break his duck.

Shields also took time to single out the contribution of Dundalk’s defenders as they weathered the second-half onslaught from AZ before striking late to deny the hosts an expected three points.

“It’s a credit to our defenders that we didn’t concede a second. Garts, Boyler, Dane and Sean, they did brilliantly all game. It’s down to them that we seen it out.”

Gannon, Boyle and Shields in particular made crucial blocks and clearances in the late stages prior to Kilduff’s header. Keeping concentration was key in getting a draw and ensuring the away dressing room was all smiles come full time.

“A point feels a small bit like a win tonight, given the circumstances,” he continued.

“It’s a happy enough dressing room. We’re all happy. One nil down, a man down, against an established European team. Not many sides would have come back and got a point.”

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Dundalk’s European adventure is making a habit of proving doubters wrong. At every new hurdle, people expect them to fall. But if Dundalk can accumulate a few more points from somewhere, the importance of these European encounters will only increase.

“It does excite you for more European nights. You hear professional players talk about big European nights. We want to experience that. Tonight was one of them, and we want more. We’ve shown we can do it.

“The fans travelled very well and there was a great atmosphere. I’m sure they enjoyed it just as much as we did at the end.”

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Barry Landy

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