Ireland’s 5 greatest ever club runs in European football

While not on the same stage as some of the continent’s biggest, we have documented Ireland’s five greatest ever club runs in European football.

Ireland’s 5 greatest ever club runs in European football.

European football includes some of the sport’s most prestigious club competitions, such as the Champions League, the Europa League, and the Europa Conference League.

Every year, millions tune in to the biggest games, where the top clubs from across the continent vie for the ultimate European prize. The structure is such that clubs from all European nations get their shot somewhere in the pecking order of qualification.

Irish football, admittedly, is not on the same level as most of Europe’s top leagues. But in years gone past, Irish teams have left their mark on European football.

Here are Ireland’s five greatest ever club runs in European football, ranked.

5. Shamrock Rovers, 2011 – the FAI’s most successful team

Shamrock Rovers played Tottenham.
Credit: Instagram/ @shamrockroversofficial

Kicking off our list of Ireland’s five greatest ever club runs in European football is kingpins Shamrock Rovers, who hold the title for the FAI’s most successful team with 20 League of Ireland titles.

In 2011, Rovers competed in the Europa League in what was a memorable period for the club. Managed by Michael O’Neill, the club became the first Irish team to reach the group stage of a European competition.

While Shamrock Rovers didn’t collect a point in the group stage, they did travel to White Hart Lane to play Tottenham Hotspur. A certain Harry Kane scored his first Spurs goal.

The semi-finals of the Champions League have kicked off. City play Madrid, while there is a Milan derby between Inter and AC. Check out the Champions League odds at Boyle Sports.

4. Drogheda United, 2008 – a near victory against Ukrainian giants


Drogheda’s 2008 European adventure came off the back of a very successful time for the club: a league title, a 2005 FAI Cup success, and two Setanta Cups.

Drogheda had got past Estonian side Levadia Tallinn 3-1 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. Next up were Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kyiv.

Kyiv had defeated Drogheda 2-1 in the first leg at Dalymount Park. The following week, Drogheda drew 2-2 with Kyiv in Ukraine and narrowly missed out on progression.

Adam Hughes missed a great opportunity with a few minutes remaining. Due to the away goal rule, a 3-2 win would have seen the Louth side move forward.

3. Derry City, 2006 – one of Ireland’s greatest ever club runs in European football

Derry City played Parsi St Germain.
Credit: Instagram/ @derrycityfc

Bringing Paris St Germain (PSG) to the Brandywell is enough reason to place Derry City’s 2006 run as third on the list of Ireland’s greatest ever club runs in European football.

Derry defeated Goteborg 2-0 on aggregate in the first qualifying round before pushing past Gretna comfortably 7-3 on aggregate in the second qualifying round.

Next up was PSG. Derry held the French club to an incredible scoreless draw at the Brandywell. However, Stephen Kenny’s side succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Paris to exit the competition.

2. Dundalk, 2016 – most points by an Irish club in a European group stage

Credit: Pixabay/ 7721622

The Dundalk team of the 2010s were one of the most dominant in Irish football history. Managed by current Ireland boss Stephen Kenny, Dundalk won three league titles in a row between 2014 and 2016 and added to their tally in 2018 and 2019.

Their 2016 European run was emblematic of this dominant period. The Louth side achieved an excellent feat by taking part in that season’s Europa League group stage.

Dundalk picked up an incredible four out of the opening six points, including a tenacious 1-1 draw away from home at AZ Alkmaar. Two narrow 2-1 defeats to Zenit and a defeat by Tel Aviv on the last day ensured their exit. 

1. Shelbourne, 2004 – a game away from the Champions League group stage

Shelbourne were a game away from the Champions League group stage.
Credit: Instagram/ @shelsfc

Taking the top spot on our list of Ireland’s great ever club runs in European football is Shelbourne’s mazy run in the Champions League and UEFA Cup back in 2004, almost twenty years ago.

Shelbourne battled past Icelandic side Reykjavik and Croatian titans Hadjuk Split to make the final round of the Champions League qualifying rounds. The Irish champions came up against Spanish side Deportivo La Coruña, who reached the semi-final the year before.

Shelbourne earned a draw at home but fell foul of a 3-0 defeat in Spain. Shelbourne then participated in the UEFA Cup play-off but lost to French side Lille 4-2 on aggregate.

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