Bohemians 3 F91 Dudelange 0 (Bohs win 4-0 on aggregate)
At least lightning did not strike twice. Not on Bohs watch. None of the Luxembourgers who sent the Stephen Kenny era as Republic of Ireland manager into a tailspin were in the Dudelange team although Dejvid Sinani was filling a similar attacking role to what little brother Danel performed at the Aviva stadium last March.
The connection to that 1-0 World Cup qualifier loss remained tenuous until the elder Sinani snapped a volley on 24 minutes that James Talbot easily gathered.
The scars of Kenny’s Ireland have nothing to do with the journey this maturing Bohemians outfit are suddenly on. European nights are the building blocks of any young career, but such motivation appears to be overshadowed by these professional Irish players desire to play in their national stadium as much as possible.
They return in four days time to face Greek side PAOK.
What became evident from the opening exchanges in front of 8,000 delighted witnesses was that being a gifted teenager striving to qualify for the Europa Conference League guarantees close attention. Dudelange, trailing 1-0 from the first leg, had no interest in rolling over. We imagine the surroundings inspired them to shut down the obvious threats of Dawson Devoy in possession and Liam Burt on those cutting inside runs.
With Nélito Dos Santos Da Cruz stamping his meaty thighs on the central third, Bohs needed alternative routes to sate Georgie Kelly's thirst for goals. Wide they went, with fullbacks Andy Lyons and Anthony Breslin raiding the flanks at every opportunity but thoughts of another flowing evening in the big house were initially stalled by the visitors' high pressing game.
Turns out, an unrelenting work ethic is also part of Keith Long’s squad. Bohs to a man scrapped and harried and passed with an impressive accuracy under pressure, all typified by Keith Buckley’s cajoling shift.
Kelly is hardly a stranger to punishing nights bouncing off large centre halves, so when the Donegal striker drew a thump off Kobe Cools, and Breslin whipped the resulting free kick into the box, Robert Cornwall’s diving header all but secured safe passage to the third qualifying round.
The second goal was similar, except it was an out swinging ball by Ali Coote that Ciaran Kelly headed back across the goalmouth for Georgie Kelly to nod home.
When Kelly slipped home the third, his 14th of the season, it cued up 20 minutes of Bohemians on the old south terrace to run through their full repertoire of 1980s tunes. In another time, they would be booking flights for a few roasting days in Thessaloniki the week after next.
Progress does guarantee two immediate boons for the Phibsborough club; €550,000 in Uefa cash for the coffers and a bite off the Greek cup holders. The first leg, back up Lansdowne road, is next Tuesday as Shamrock Rovers are out on Thursday at Tallaght stadium against Teuta of Albania. The toughest gig of all falls to Dundalk who are away to Dutch giants SBV Vitesse.
The wonder now is whether the government will expand the current social experiment of supporters returning to stadiums beyond the current golden number. Considering the Aviva attendance was successfully increased from 6,000 to 8,000 in the past fortnight - without using any corporate boxes or the entire east side premium level - a nudge towards 12,000 among the 51,700 seats should be doable.
Whatever the agreed number, Bohs and League of Ireland fans in general are expected to snap them up in minutes. Tickets go on sale for Bohs members at 10am, and 3pm to the general public.
Truth be told, Dudelange are no Luxembourg. Much like Dejvid is no Danel - the younger brother’s reward for scoring the goals that put Dudelange into the Europa League proper in 2018 was a contract with Norwich City and currently Huddersfield Town.
It gets serious now. PAOK just beat Feyenoord 2-1 in a pre-season friendly.
Bohemians: Talbot; Lyons, Cornwall, C Kelly, Breslin; Coote, Buckley (Levingston 74), Devoy, Burt (Ward 83); Tierney, G Kelly (Finnerty 87).
F91 Dudelange: Joubert; Delgado (Bojic 38), Cools, Diouf; Van den Kerkhof, Morren (Kabore 80), Dos Santos Da Cruz; Bettaieb (Ninte Junior 79), Sinani (Meratovic 64), Hadji (Hassan Nader 64).
Referee: Gergo Bogár (Hungary).