Dundalk secured one of the finest achievements of any Irish team by progressing to the Champions League playoff stages with a 3-1 aggregate defeat of Bate Borisov to secure European group-stage football this season.
Midfielder Robbie Benson reflected on his best moment in football after the Irish champions overcame a first-leg 1-0 deficit against their Belarusian opponents through a goal in either half from David McMillan and a late third from Benson himself.
“It’s tough to sum up, when you hear people say it will take a while to sink in, that’s how I feel now,” said Benson. “It’s the best feeling I have had in football and the lads feel the same. We know that we have eight more games at least in Europe and that will go a long way.
“We’re not content with the Europa League we want to make the Champions League. It’s great for everyone, to be able to do it with this group of lads is an incredible feeling.”
Stephen Kenny’s side are now in contention for a group-stage place and are in the champions’ side of the draw so will not face Manchester City, Porto, Villarreal, Roma and other playoff entrants. They also and have the safety net of playing in the Europa League even if they are eliminated at the next stage.
McMillan’s first goal came in the 44th minute following fine play on the left wing from Daryl Horgan. Retaining possession under pressure from three defenders, Horgan found space to send a fine cross towards McMillan from which he jumped to head into the top corner.
The 27-year-old’s second, in the 58th minute, was equally impressive but came amid Borisov’s poor defending. Their lack of pressure allowed Dane Massey to collect the loose ball inside the area and chip towards the unchallenged McMillan, who sent a diving header into the back of the net.
Instead of defending their lead, Dundalk instead pursued a third goal. It came in the last minute when Benson, who replaced McMillan in the 78th minute, broke through on goal and showed his composure to calmly finish beyond goalkeeper Sergei Veremko.
Victory will earn Dundalk an estimated cash windfall of around €6m.
This article was written by Guardian sport, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd August 2016 22.55 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010