Dundalk (finally) going to Windsor
A sharp intake of breath, that may have been audible on the other side of the border, greeted the first match-up as yesterday’s Setanta Sports Cup draw evoked memories of one of the darkest days in Irish football history.
Many of those inside the reception room of Belfast’s City Hall — despite not being old enough to actually remember it, or being born at the time — were well aware of the events of the last competitive meeting between Linfield and Dundalk in 1979, when sectarianism and crowd violence marred the first leg of a European Cup meeting at Oriel Park.
Now the Blues will finally host the Louth side at Windsor Park; 31 years ago Uefa slapped a ban on the return leg of that infamous tie being played anywhere in the UK or Ireland — with Haarlem, in Holland, ultimately the venue.
A black day it might have been, but Linfield’s last trip to Dundalk is a significant enough moment to be given a chapter of its own in the club’s centenary book, published just seven years later.
“The 1979 game was a bit before my time,” said Linfield striker Peter Thompson.
“Obviously though there is a bit of history between the clubs and this will be a big game for the clubs and the fans.
“I don’t know much about Dundalk, but we’ve been through this before, we know that the League of Ireland teams are strong and we’ll be expecting a tough game.
“One-off games you get a bit of luck and win, but two legs the better team generally goes through. The format is better. The group stages probably got a bit stale, so it’s more exciting to be in a knockout competition.”
Who the Blues, or anyone else for that matter, will face in the quarter-finals remains a mystery.
It wouldn’t be the Setanta Cup if there wasn’t come kind of puzzlement surrounding the draw.
This time, in the organiser’s quest to have as many north v south battles as possible it will only be when the winners of the first round are known, in over two months time, that they will be slotted into position in the last eight.
If Dundalk overcome Linfield over the two legs then they will be back in Belfast to face Glentoran, but if the Blues win then it’ll be wait and see — although they will most likely face Bohemians, if they win and Bohs defeat Portadown.