Aaron Drinan was the hero for Cork City FC U19s as the Rebel Army recorded Irish footballing history as they overcame Finnish opposition HJK Helsinki 1-0 (on the night and on aggregate) in the UEFA Youth League at Turners Cross on Wednesday night.
City came into the second leg of their first-round clash on the back of a 0-0 draw with the same opposition in Finland three weeks previous, and a second half penalty from Aaron Drinan was enough to see City through to the next round where they will meet Italian giants AS Roma.
In a slow first half, it was the hosts who would dominate. Going into the game as cup holders and an unbeaten run in their league (up until their domestic knockout stage defeat to Finn Harps), City started well with barrage of pressure on the HJK Helsinki defence, which saw Drinan forcing his way down the left-hand side only for his shot to go just wide.
City passed the ball well, with Alec Byrne and Drinan linking up well; but neither could muster a shot.
Seconds later, City’s pressure was rewarded again when Edozie Ogbene was brought down outside the penalty area. Up stepped left back Kevin Taylor who saw his shot well saved by Robin Källman in the Helsinki goal.
HJK responded well and countered against the City pressure, but Henrik Ölander’s shot was meek and fizzled just wide of the City post.
A spark ignited the HJK attack and soon they were on the hunt again with Lassi Lappalainen crossing it in for Timo Stavitski, but David Coffey covered it well in goal.
HJK’s pressure worked again when City captain Alec Byrne fouled Ölander. Obed Malolo’s resulting set-piece rounded the City wall, but went straight into Coffey’s arms.
It was City who finished the half the strongest with a barrage of chances. Good pressing and passing play brought Källman out from goal, who indirectly dropped the ball to Daire O’ Riordan who kept his shot low but just wide at the Shed End.
Seconds later a City corner forced a goal mouth scramble. The ball landed to O Riordan again who fired well over and into the heart of the Shed.
In the closing seconds of the half, O Riordan threaded through to Alec Byrne who shot again wide. In a match highlight, a final shot of the first period from O Riordan forced a finger tips save to deny City once more.
From the restart City charged forward and good pressing was soon rewarded when Omar Jama handled the ball in the area, the referee pointing straight to the spot. Up stepped Drinan who fired it low into the St. Anne’s end to give City a 1-0 lead.
HJK responded well with Saku Ykätupa teeing up Lappalainen on the left flank, but his effort was gathered up by Coffey.
HJK attacked again, and before long Malolo found space outside the box, but a weak shot was calmly gathered up by Coffey. As the half rolled along, Ölander teed off Lappalainen but Coffey gathered once again. HJK freshened the attack well replacing Jusif Ali with Antti Ulmanen. Two excellent chances ensued for the visitors, with Ölander crossing it into Stavitski who shot well in the area to force an excellent sliding save from Coffey. Seconds later, Coffey was to the rescue again clearing it off the lines for City with an unusual heading save from an Ulmanen header.
From a City corner, HJK broke with Lappalainen teeing off Stavitski wide, who saw his attempts well blocked by Kevin Taylor.
City sprung to life late on, and a Kevin Taylor corner was almost turned in by Ogbene, but Källman denied City’s newest First Team player.
In the closing moments, HJK ever resilient in attack, saw a header just wide when substitute Eetu Vertainen fired wide and low.
Seconds later a cross in for Stavitski was fumbled and wide of the post following a Ölander cross.
On tired legs, City manned their lines. In the closing seconds, a disputed corner brought every man forward for the visitors, with ten men in the box, Coffey pulled off a clawing save to deny Öllander a late equaliser.
Cork City: David Coffey, Kevin Taylor, Peirce Phillips, Conor McCarthy, Cian Coleman, Alec Byrne, Aaron Drinan (Jordan O Reagan 85’), Denzil Fernandes, Chiedozie Ogbene, Daire O Riordan (Patrick Crowley 89’) (Cian Leonard 90’), Adam O Sullivan.
Subs not used: Adam Mylod, Ross Welch, Ronan Hurley, James Fitzgerald.
HJK Helsinki: Robin Källman, Joachim Böckerman, Henrik Ölander, Aapo Halme, Valetti Vesiaho, Obed Maolo. Lassi Lappalainen, Omar Jama (Eetu Vertainen 70’), Saku Ylätupa, Timo Stavitski (Tuuka Kurki 88’), Jusif Ali (Anti Ullmanen 65’).
Subs not used: Imari Hieta, Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan, Kalle Salmi, Elias Mattila.
Referee: Petur Rienert.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: David Coffey (Cork City).