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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020

'Their manager was the most obnoxious person' - Remembering one of Pat's best European nights

A Swedish side face the Inchicore club in Europe for only a second time tonight – here we remember the first, a famous win over Elfsborg in 2008.

TONIGHT, SWEDISH OPPONENTS pitch up at Richmond Park to face Saint Patrick’s Athletic in Europe for only a second time ever – Norrkoping in the 2019/20 Europa League follow Elfsborg in the 2008/09 Uefa Cup.

A general view of Richmond Park Richmond Park. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

11 years ago, Ajax and AC Milan were loitering in the first round of the Uefa Cup with Pat’s a single qualifying tie away from joining them.

That tie was against an Elfsborg side a point from the top of the Swedish league and clutching the best defensive record in Europe, having conceded five goals in 18 league games.

With Pat’s away from home first, the tie drew out the usual anxieties about infrastructure and attendance that still dogs the League of Ireland today.

The game was played in Elfsborg’s new stadium, which had 18,000 seats in a city – Boras – of around 65,000 people.

Manager Johnny McDonnell bemoaned ahead of the game that whereas his opponents could get 12% of their city’s population to games, Pat’s couldn’t “get 12% of Ballyfermot.”

The tie was also cast over with the strange yet familiar hue of financial dysfunction across the League.

With the recession not so much pinching the League as it was delivering a series of brutal and concussive blows, the second leg coincided with the announcement that Cork City had been deducted points for financial irregularities and the news players had taken a 70% pay cut.

Resilience and stubbornness are some of the League’s best virtues, mind, and Pat’s came to embody them in the first leg.

Trailing 2-0 at half-time of the first-leg, McDonnell scrubbed away his relatively conservative 4-5-1 formation in favour of a 4-4-1-1, freeing Mark Quigley from the left to play behind the striker.

It worked – Quigley scored a penalty and Gary Dempsey headed in a late equaliser to give Pat’s a slender advantage on away goals. 

Gary Dempsey is mobbed by teammates after scoring Pat's celebrate a shock equaliser away to Elfsborg. Source: Anders Robertsson/INPHO

“It was one of my best games in any shirt”, remembers Quigley. “They respected us a little more going into the second leg.” 

Not that respect was being flaunted by the hosts at full-time – Elfsborg manager Magnus Haglund refused to shake McDonnell’s hand after the game.

“He was like, ‘Who the hell are youse lot?’, recalls McDonnell. “He threw his hands in the air; he was looking at me as if to say, ‘Who are youse Irish lads, coming over here to get a result in Sweden?’

“I was thinking, ‘Wait until you get to Inchicore, pal.” 

Elfsborg were late getting to Inchicore. 

For a training session the day before the game, their Sat Nav directed the team bus to Richmond Road rather than Richmond Park, meaning they hopped off to train at Tolka Park. 

Johnny McDonnell at the end of the game Johnny McDonnell. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

That wrong was righted for the game itself but judging by the reminisces, Elfsborg could have found the right Dublin stadium by chasing sound alone.

“It was one of the best nights ever”, says McDonnell. “Fellas still often say to me ‘Jaysis Johnny, the night against Elfsborg…’

“I’ll never forget the atmosphere in Inchicore that night, I’ve never heard a noise like it since.”

Quigley agrees. 

“It was an amazing atmosphere. They put in some temporary seating at the back of one of the ends, although the Shed End was closed because of European regulations. It was a packed house, it felt like more, it was a lovely summer’s evening.” 

Pat’s advantage was true but perilously slender, so they weren’t going to spend a night clinging to it. 

Hence they attacked, created, but spurned a series of first-half chances.

Mark Quigley Mark Quigley. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Not that Pat’s goalkeeper Barry Ryan was idle – he made a series of saves before he was finally beaten in the 63rd minute. A deflected shot fell at the back post for striker Stefan Ishizaki, who steered the ball beyond Ryan.

(At 37, Ishizaki is still playing with Elfsborg, having spent some time away as one of Robbie Keane’s strike partners at LA Galaxy.)

“They dropped off and played fairly defensive, thinking they would see the game out”, remembers McDonnell; “They shut up shop”, says Quigley. 

It didn’t quite work out that way. Pat’s needed a single goal to qualify and four minutes from the end, Jason Gavin – playing as a replacement for the suspended Jamie Harris – rose to head a Keith Fahey corner into the net, via a despairing, flailing Elfsborg deflection on the line. 

“From there, we knew one goal for them would kill us”, says Quigley. “But they didn’t score, and we broke. It was a ball by Alan Kirby, I snuck in off the shoulder, rounded the goalkeeper, and scored.” 

Source: stpatsfccom/YouTube

Having gone around the goalkeeper, Quigley walked the ball into the net, giving Pat’s fans a precious few seconds of jubilation without anxiety…and Quigley some time to have an argument with himself. 

“You know what I was about to do? I was about to stop it on the line and knock it in with my head. I’m not joking. But I said to myself, ‘Don’t take the piss.’

“I was thinking, ‘What if the ref pulls me for something?’ I don’t know if he would say it’s unsportsmanlike, I didn’t know what, but I said to myself I’d better just score the goal.

Afterwards the celebration with the fans and the players was, up until I scored the penalty with Sligo [against Pat’s, to win the League in 2012], my greatest moment in football. You dream of stuff like that, of scoring winners in Europe in the last minute, when the stakes are high.” 

“I’m glad he didn’t do that”, says McDonnell of Quigley’s Goal That Could Have Been.

“But I tell you what, it was good to get the win as their manager was the most obnoxious, horrible person…I never felt so good beating an opponent as I did beating that man. I’ll never forget him, he wasn’t a nice man to pit your wits against.” 

It was one of Richmond Park’s finest European hours but also its last of that year – Uefa deemed it wasn’t up to scratch to host games in the competition proper.

There was initial concern that Pat’s would have to play their next home game in Britain, given that Croke Park and the RDS were the only suitable venues and both were booked up. 

In the end, Pat’s played the first leg of their tie with Hertha Berlin in Germany’s Olympic Stadium and the RDS was free to host the return tie.

Pat’s European campaign ended there. A 2-0 defeat away from home to a side featuring Croatia’s international centurion Josep Simunic, on-loan Liverpool striker Andriy Voronin and Lukasz  Piszczek – now of Dortmund – was followed up with a goalless draw in the second leg.

Damien Lynch and Andriy Voronin Andriy Voronin of Hertha Berlin with Pat's Damien Lynch. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“It was a brilliant run in Europe that year”, reflects McDonnell. “It’s a great way of testing yourself. Keith Fahey was brilliant, Gary Dempsey too – the whole group was.

“It was brilliant for the club financially, and Keith Fahey got his move to Birmingham afterward.” 

Whereas Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk have profited from six group games in the first phase of the remodeled Europa League, Pat’s were thrown into straight knockout in 2008. “We did the groundwork”, says McDonnell, “and set the bar for teams to reach and fair play to Rovers and Dundalk for keeping it going.” 

For Quigley, the night has been tinctured slightly with hindsight’s reget.

“What a team that was: Fahey, N’Do, Gavin, Gary O’Neill, Dempsey, Kirby – we were a really top team. There was a Bohs team across the river as good as us, and Drogheda were a really good side. But how we didn’t win anything, I don’t know.

“Looking back at the team we had and the money that was spent on the team, we should have won a League or an FAI Cup.”

Pat’s clash with Norrkoping tonight affords them a chance to look back from a different angle, without regret, at what was perhaps an era’s greatest night.

The first leg of St Pat’s v Norrkoping in the first qualifying round of the Europa League kicks off at 7.45pm at Richmond Park and is live on eir Sport 1

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Gavin Cooney

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