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'I've been to Ibrox as a Celtic supporter but to play there would be unbelievable'

Cork City need to defy a two-goal deficit in Luxembourg to secure a Europa League clash with Rangers.

ONLY ONCE BEFORE have Cork City overturned a first-leg deficit to advance in a European competition.

Back in 1993, City set up a Champions League first-round meeting with Galatasaray by coming from behind to eliminate Cwmbran Town in their preliminary-round tie.

IRISH SOCCER Pat Morely scored for Cork City against Cwmbran Town. Source: EMPICS Sport

Having lost 3-2 away to the Welsh champions, the Leesiders needed late strikes from Pat Morley and Johnny Glynn at Turner’s Cross to send them through on away goals, after Cwmbran had taken an early lead in the second leg.

For the 15th time in their history, City are trailing at the midway point of a two-legged European contest ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Progres Niederkorn (6.30pm Irish time) in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

They produced an abject display at home to the side from Luxembourg last Thursday, coughing up a couple of soft first-half goals that gave the visitors a 2-0 victory. It was the latest setback in an abysmal season for the club, who were the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions this time last year. 

Head coach John Cotter, who succeeded previous boss John Caulfield in May, would have hoped that European football could provide some respite from their domestic struggles.

However, Cotter’s side face a tall order if they’re to succeed in a tie they entered as the seeded team. Progres Niederkorn defied that status last week in Cork by winning away from home in Europe for just the second time in 13 attempts.

FC Progres Niederkorn celebrate after the game Celebrations for Progres Niederkorn after their win at Turner's Cross. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Requiring a minimum of two goals to avoid an early exit, City’s woes are compounded by the fact that they’ve drawn blanks in each of their last seven European outings. 

Nevertheless, veteran goalkeeper Mark McNulty is optimistic, citing the challenges they faced while defeating Linfield in this competition in 2016. City were 2-1 winners on aggregate, but a single goal would have turned the contest in favour of the Belfast side.

“We won 1-0 up at Linfield, came back and were 1-0 up at Turner’s Cross,” McNulty recalls. “Then they scored to make it 1-1. We were still 2-1 up on aggregate but I remember the pressure that day for the last 10 minutes.

“It’s a different game when the pressure is on. Hopefully we can go out [to Luxembourg], score and put the pressure on them because it’s much tougher when there’s a lot of pressure on you like that.”

McNulty added: “Just because they’re from Luxembourg or wherever, people automatically think these teams are poor. They’re not, they’re technically very good. We knew they’d be technically good. The goals we conceded were sloppy ones to give away.

Mark McNulty Cork City goalkeeper Mark McNulty. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Other than that, I don’t think I had a save to make in the game. I came off after the game not thinking I had done much, because I didn’t get much of the ball. If we can cut out the silly mistakes and score early, we’re still definitely in with a good shout.”

At stake tomorrow evening is a meeting with Rangers, who were eliminated from this competition by Progres Niederkorn in a major upset in 2017. Ahead of the home leg of their tie against St Joseph’s, Steven Gerrard’s already have one foot in the second qualifying round thanks to last week’s 4-0 first-leg victory in Gibraltar.

Having previously been to the home of the Glasgow outfit as a spectator for an Old Firm derby, McNulty is eager to capitalise on the opportunity to return to Ibrox as a player.

He said: “What a game to have in the next round if we can go through. Playing in Ibrox would be something else, it would be unbelievable. I was there as a Celtic supporter watching Celtic and Rangers and it was unbelievable, so to play there would be huge.

“What an incentive to go and try and win the game. We’ll give everything we have. Whether that’ll be good enough on the day, hopefully it will.”

Rangers v Celtic - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership - Ibrox Stadium The Celtic team in a huddle before their game against Rangers at Ibrox in May. Source: Jeff Holmes

Cork City hope to have Shane Griffin and Kevin O’Connor back from injury for tomorrow’s game in Luxembourg, but youngsters Cian Murphy and Cian Bargary are ruled out.

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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