Hero of 2016 envious as Dundalk aim to create more magic moments in Europe

Ciarán Kilduff: ‘There’ll be others writing new headlines during this campaign and I wish them the very best.’

ciaran-kilduff Former Dundalk striker Ciarán Kilduff, now of Shelbourne. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

HE HAS SCORED decisive goals in the group stages of the Europa League, but the students at Scoil Dara in Kilcock afford Ciarán Kilduff little scope for indulgence when the greatest days of his football career are broached.

“They’re all mad about Fifa [the video game] at the minute so they’re telling me how bad I am on that,” says Kilduff. “I probably don’t take too long to remind them about the goals!”

Secondary teacher by day and League of Ireland footballer at night, Kilduff is approaching the end of his second season at Shelbourne. The Tolka Park side can begin looking forward to another campaign in the Premier Division thanks to Sunday’s big win over Sligo Rovers, which should be enough to secure their top-flight status for 2021.

However, as one of his previous clubs prepare to take on the Europa League group stages again, the 32-year-old striker has been looking back over some treasured memories.

Several of his former team-mates will be involved when Dundalk face Norwegian champions Molde tomorrow evening at Tallaght Stadium (5.55pm, Virgin Media Two and Virgin Media Sport) in their Group B opener.

The game will evoke fond recollections of 2016, when his contributions were pivotal on more than one occasion as the Lilywhites competed on this stage for the first time.

It may have been new territory for Dundalk, but Kilduff had been there before. He was also a member of the Shamrock Rovers team that made a similar breakthrough in 2011.

“It’s something that I was lucky enough to be part of twice,” says Kilduff, who played for Rovers against a Tottenham side that included Harry Kane in Tallaght nine years ago.

ciaran-kilduff-celebrates-scoring-the-equaliser-with-after-the-game-with-stephen-kenny Kilduff celebrates with Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny after the draw against AZ Alkmaar in 2016. Karel Delvoije / INPHO Karel Delvoije / INPHO / INPHO

“I still know a lot of the lads at Dundalk and I’ve stayed in touch with them, so I’m delighted for them getting there again, but you can’t help being envious of them. I hope they do really well. They deserve it because they’ve worked hard for it.”

In 2016, Dundalk began their campaign in Group D by defying the 71st-minute sending-off of captain Stephen O’Donnell to earn a draw away to Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar.

The hosts had taken the lead with just over an hour played, but Kilduff – having just come off the bench – headed in Daryl Horgan’s free-kick with 89 minutes on the clock to spark scenes of delirium in the away end.

Back in Tallaght a fortnight later, Kilduff was the hero again as Dundalk’s historic adventure continued with a win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in which he grabbed the only goal.

Although Stephen Kenny’s side were unable to progress to the knockout stages, to this day Kilduff “constantly” finds himself reminiscing about that special period four years later.

“Being involved in games like that is a surreal experience,” he says. “When you’re playing in the Europa League group stages, there’s almost a feeling that you’ve really made it as a footballer because you’re going to big stadiums and playing against top players.

“Those moments were the highlights of my career and for a lot of the lads who were in that group. It’s no disrespect to the League of Ireland – I love the league and I’ve played in it for over a decade – but those games are the ones you remember the most.”

In addition to Molde, Dundalk find themselves in a group with English Premier League giants Arsenal and Austrian outfit Rapid Vienna.

ciaran-kilduff-scores-a-goal Scoring the winner against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Kilduff, who also won League of Ireland Premier Division titles with both Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, says: “Dundalk have got a great draw, with glamour ties against Arsenal and two other teams where they’ll probably feel they can target points.

“The only thing I feel sorry for the lads on is that the games are behind closed doors. That might take away from the sense of occasion, but don’t get me wrong: it’s still huge for them.

“We had some great moments in 2016 and people still talk about Stephen Rice’s goal for Rovers against Tottenham at White Hart Lane. I have no doubt that there’ll be others writing new headlines during this campaign and I wish them the very best.

“Like I said, they’re the moments I still cherish the most. When I do finally hang up the boots, they’ll be the ones that come to mind first. You pick up a few medals along the way but you get some incredible moments too. It’s a special thing to be part of.”

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