Historic draw for ten-man Dundalk against AZ Alkmaar on Europa League debut
DUNDALK made history on an epic night in Holland by coming from behind with 10-men to draw with AZ Alkmaar on their Europa League group stage debut.
Ciaran Kilduff's 89th minute header prompted pandemonium in the away section at a shocked AFAS Stadium as Stephen Kenny's side bounced back from the dismissal of captain Stephen O'Donnell to secure a famous point.
The result will boost the coffers by another €120,000 - more than the prize for winning the League of Ireland but this was all about the achievement.
And this ranks up there with the great Irish performances in Europe as Kenny's charges achieved their target of picking up points at the first attempt.
They looked in trouble after a fine first hour was undone by poor decision making.
The League of Ireland champions were extremely competitive at the home of Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar but they fell behind to a goal from nothing after 61 minutes when keeper Gary Rogers needlessly raced from his goal to cut out a long ball from centre-half Rens van Eijden, with AZ's Stijn Wuytens getting there quicker and suffering a blow to the head as he converted.
After a long and worrying delay, Wuytens was stretchered off and later regained consciousness in the dressing room.
The picture was rosier at the interval after a first half which fell in line with Kenny's pre-match thoughts.
He suggested that Dundalk's positive approach would lead to situations where their defence ended up in a game of 4 v 4 with AZ's pacey and youthful attackers.
However, he may not have envisaged that scenario coming to pass inside two minutes, though, and it led to a fortunate escape when Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh struck the post.
The League of Ireland champions steadied the ship thereafter with centre-halves Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland calm and composed, and O'Donnell an influential figure. He was unlucky to pick up his first caution.
Daryl Horgan was dangerous going forward and might have given the Lilywhites a shock lead but Sergio Rochet was able to cut off his dangerous run.
Dundalk did ride their luck just before the interval when Fred Friday's close-range attempt was ruled out for offside. Replays showed it was the wrong call.
That incident led to some tensions between the bench and the locals were anxious as the lowest-ranked side in the competition demonstrated that they weren't phased by the step up to this level.
In that context, the soft opener was difficult to swallow and it was Dundalk that initially struggled to recover. They were seriously on the ropes when skipper O'Donnell was dismissed after a careless challenge which resulted in a deserved second booking.
But Kenny's charges regrouped and his subs made a huge impact. Chris Shields made a lung-bursting run that culminated with a free kick that the wonderful Horgan teed up for a towering header from Kilduff.
Nine minutes of injury time followed, but they ended with an Irish celebration.