Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
INPHO/Cathal Noonan Kevin O'Connor celebrates his crucial goal against BK Hacken with Cork City team-mate Sean Maguire.
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'I don't see why we can't go a step further' - Cork City set for Belgian battle
Kevin O’Connor fired his side into the next stage of the Europa League but they don’t want it to end there.

CORK CITY’S GOAL hero Kevin O’Connor paid tribute to the club’s supporters after last night’s Europa League triumph against BK Hacken, insisting that they can play an important role in spurring the side on to another memorable result in the next round.

In spite of miserably wet weather conditions on Leeside, there was a crowd of 5,336 at Turner’s Cross to see City eliminate the Swedish Cup holders from the competition thanks to O’Connor’s first-half volley, which gave John Caulfield’s men a 1-0 victory on the night — 2-1 on aggregate.

The win — which was City’s third over Swedish opposition in Europe — sets up a meeting with Belgian outfit KRC Genk in the third qualifying round. Captained by former Feyenoord and Rangers midfielder Thomas Buffel, Genk needed a penalty shootout to advance at the expense of Buducnost Podgorica in Montenegro.

City weathered a storm from the Gothenburg club in the first quarter of the game, with defender Alan Bennett clearing Mohammed Abubakari’s effort off the line just moments after goalkeeper Mark McNulty denied Nasiru Mohammed. O’Connor’s deflected volley in the 25th minute seemed to settle the home side’s nerves.

“We were hearing all week that the tickets were selling out and flying out. That’s what you want to hear because those are the games you want to play in; when the crowd is here and the atmosphere like that obviously,” O’Connor said.

When we went 1-0 up they just got right behind us. I think everyone defended to a man tonight and I think the crowd could see that, because they could see we were getting put under pressure, but every time we won a tackle, every time we chased anything down, they were right behind us.

“I think it kind of hit them [BK Hacken] more than anything how good our crowd was and how vocal they are. As long as they stay behind us like that and we’re playing at home, I don’t see why we can’t go a step further. We’re just going to enjoy it as it comes but obviously we’ll be looking to do well in the next round.”

The 21-year-old left-back added: “We’ll obviously look forward to the next round but we’re not just going to make up the numbers. We’re going to try and progress again because it’s history now and we just want to keep creating it.”

Cork City supporters celebrate a goal INPHO / Cathal Noonan  A crowd of 5,336 watched Cork City defeat BK Hacken at Turner's Cross. INPHO / Cathal Noonan  / Cathal Noonan 

While it’s a hugely significant achievement for the Cork City players to overcome a side of BK Hacken’s calibre, the financial implications of the result are also vital for the club.

City — who got the better of Linfield in the previous round — will now receive a minimum of €630,000 in prize money for this Europa League campaign, which is more than 12 times what they earned for finishing second in the Premier Division last season.

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It’s a welcome injection of cash for any League of Ireland club, particularly one whose holding company was wound up due to substantial debts just six years ago. Nevertheless, O’Connor says the players were only focused on matters on the field.

“I think, as a player, you don’t really think about that,” the Wexford native explained. “I think you go out and you just want to enjoy the moments. A couple of years ago Cork were in the First Division and they were dreaming of moments like this. Now that they’re back here in Europe again, you just want to get out and play the game.

“It’s the biggest game of the season you’ll play, Europe. If you progress through the first round it gets bigger again but everyone just looks forward to the games. Obviously it’s massive for the club — I think it’s worth about five league titles — but we don’t look at it that way as players. We just want to get out there, enjoy it and take every moment as it comes.”

So he won’t be marching into John Caulfield’s office this morning to demand a pay increase?

“Not yet anyway!”

Cork City eliminate Swedish Cup holders to progress in the Europa League

As it happened: Cork City v BK Hacken, Europa League second qualifying round second leg

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