The Fall and Rise of Drogheda United

“Battling Drogheda United bowed out of Europe despite twice coming from behind against Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev in this Champions League qualifier.”

The headline was relatively simple yet didn’t tell the full story of how the then League of Ireland champions nearly put one of the European greats out of the Champions League.

Drogheda United travelled to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev more in hope than in expectation having lost 2-1 in the first leg of their second round qualifier. It was an uphill task made all the more strenuous when the hosts grabbed a 13 minute lead. It appeared the ambitions of the Boynesiders were all but over. But then lady luck reared her head as the Irish side were awarded a 40th minute penalty which was converted by Shane Robinson. Queue the fightback or not. Paul Doolin’s men fell behind again and it looked like they were set to be put out of their misery when Artem Milevsky stepped up to take a penalty. But it was not to be and a glimmer of hope remained.

The Claret and Blue Army clearly hadn’t read the script as Graham Gartland levelled it up late on before the Drogs missed two glorious chances to steal the win, first with Adam Hughes missing a sitter before Robinson struck the post. A goal away from greatness yet their failure to convert brought a quick end to life at the top table for the Boynesiders.

That failure by Doolin’s men brought about rapid change at the club who had a huge opportunity to establish themselves as a strong force in Irish football. Doolin had brought about great change at United Park, establishing the club as a Premier Division side after their promotion in the 2002/03 season. He made all players full time at the club and this move reaped great rewards as he guided the club to their first ever FAI Cup win in 2005, and their first ever league title two years later.

Drogheda had seemingly banked on European success and their failure to advance past Dynamo Kiev almost brought the club to its knees. October 2008 saw the club go into examinership after failing to pay back a €500,000 loan to the revenue commissioners and a further €10,000 to Bohemians for use of Dalymount Park for their Champions League ties. Their ambitious plans for a new stadium and state of the art youth academy fell through and the future looked incredibly bleak. Despite a ten point deduction the Drogs avoided relegation but now there side was a far cry from the one which almost knocked out the Ukrainian giant. Gone were the iconic names of O’Brien, Ristila and Zayed and in their place were hungry up and coming kids. The club eventually found a reprieve thanks in large part to fan led fundraisers and in January 2009 the club escaped extinction.

What was to follow wasn’t pretty for the long suffering Drogheda fans. It would appear that their yo yo status which Doolin once shed was on the way back. Doolin left as the club moved to part time. The United Park outfit became nothing more than relegation fodder. A team once feared by all was now feared by nobody and the fortress that was once United Park became a fortress no more. The Drogs narrowly avoided relegation in 2009 as Alan Matthews steered them to a 2-0 win over Bray Wanderers in the relegation playoff.

Still financially crippled the claret and blue army would become a club devoid of any real expectation and their only ambition would be to avoid the drop. After a managerial merry go round in the 2010 season the club were ultimately relegated after only four wins and nine draws. However the Boynesiders where handed a reprieve when Sporting Fingal folded and they held onto their Premier Division place.

Mick Cooke took over in 2011 and was tasked with keeping a squad designed for the First Division in the top flight. The former Monaghan United manager succeeded in keeping the club up and even managed to record the clubs first derby win over Louth rivals Dundalk in 13 years. After his successful season at the newly renamed Hunky Dorys Park, Cooke penned a three year deal with the club.

Fast forward to the current season and Cooke’s side have tranformed themselves into serious title contenders by acquiring numerous stars from his old club including Sean and Ryan Brennan and the Drogs all time top scorer Declan “Fabio” O’Brien. The surprise package of the season have set about bringing the good times back to the banks of the Boyne and currently sit a point behind league leaders Sligo Rovers. With no European action this year the Drogs appear to have the advantage in the title race as both Sligo and St Patricks Athletic have faltered in the league given their European exertions. Few would now bet against Cooke bringing some silverware to Louth as the club remain in both the League Cup and the FAI Cup. It would appear the club are on their way back to the top, whether or not they can stay there remains to be seen.

Some Tweets from the @DroghedaUnited boys on Twitter showing the renewal of their fortunes.

Ryan Brennan (@RyanBrennan08) “Drogs 2nd in the league, in cup semi final and last 16 of FAI Cup. Not a bad year considering everyone wrote us off at the start!“

Declan Fabio O’Brien (@Fabster9) “Thanks for all the messages tonight, early days but another great night to be a Drog” (tweeted after Fabio scored his 100th goal for the Drogs in a 1-0 win over UCD on July 27th)

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