Dave Donnelly reports from the Aviva Stadium
Dundalk may have had to play their play-off away from Oriel Park but they had a local boy in Daniel Kelly to thank as the substitute’s late goal sealed a historic 3-1 win for the Lilywhites.
The Ringsend man, who grew up barely a mile from the stadium, showed calm and composure to finish off a lightning-quick counter-attack to ease the nerves in his adopted town.
Those nerves had been building as the League of Ireland champions had been forced to work harder than expected by the unfancied Faroese side.
They were fortunate not to have let a two-goal lead slip when Kelly pounced nine minutes from time, the goal itself coming seconds after KÍ had spurned a superb chance at the other end.
Goals either side of half time from Sean Murray and Daniel Cleary had the hosts away from home in cruise control against a side who hadn’t created a single chance in the first half.
They eventually upped a gear, however, and went close on a number of occasions before Ole Erik Midtskogen deservedly halved the deficit midway through the second period.
KÍ, who had hammered Dinamo Tbilisi 6-1 in the previous round, were a side transformed and had enough chance to level it up before Kelly’s breakaway goal ended the contest.
The drama of the second half was in stark contrast to the mundane first half in which what little goalmouth action there was had been created by the hosts.
Patrick Hoban headed wide and Patrick McEleney forced a routine save from Kristian Joensen inside the opening five minutes but the visitors succeeded in slowing the tempo.
Dundalk were the better side, marginally, but there seemed little threat to KÍ’s goal when, all of a sudden, the hosts took the lead just past the half-hour.
Stefan Colovic’s cross was nodded goalwards by Hoban and, as Joensen made a less than convincing effort to punch clear, Murray nipped in front of him to head home.
The goal bore no small amount of resemblance to his goal against Sheriff seven days ago, which forced extra time and penalties, though 90 minutes would be enough today.
And those second 45 minutes looked set to be a cakewalk for Dundalk as Cleary made it 2-0 within three minutes of the resumption.
A corner kick was, again, less than perfectly dealt with by the Faroese and, with Joensen nowhere to be found, the ball broke to Cleary to volley home at the back post.
As the hour approached, KÍ seemed to switch a gear and soon their passing moves were sticking, they were committing more bodies forward and, crucially, finding gaps in the Dundalk defence.
Patrik Johannesen gave warning with a wonderfully-struck effort from 20 yards that forced a fine low stop from Gary Rogers.
From the resulting corner, captain Brian Gartland had to head off the line as his team crumbled and opposing captain Jákup Andreasen looked to have squeezed his shot home from a tight angle.
Substitute Boris Dosljak had another chance shortly after following Johannesen’s raking crossfield ball, but it was a difficult one to take first time on the volley and ran wide.
Lessons weren’t heeded and KÍ got the goal their second-half performance deserved as a 20-yard thunderbolt from Ole Erik Midtskogen flew past Rogers into the bottom corner.
A vicious strike from Jóannes Bjartalid very nearly drew KÍ level, the shot swerving all over the air as it bore down on Rogers and he could only parry it to Johanessen, who blasted wide.
And Bjartalid should have levelled things up three minutes later when a fine passing move saw Dosljak pull back for the midfielder but he scuffed his shot with the Dundalk defence on their heels.
It proved a very expensive error as, moments later, Murray charged down a clearance and Dundalk had a three-on-two, Murray finding Kelly inside and he calmly poked the ball home.
Even then it wasn’t finished as Rogers was compelled to pull off another terrific stop to tip Odmar Faero’s close-range effort over the bar.
Thankfully for Rogers, and several of his teammates, that was the last KÍ could muster and he will take his place in the group stages for the second team in five years.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Hoare, Brian Gartland, Dan Cleary, Darragh Leahy; Greg Sloggett, Sean Murray, Patrick McEleney (John Mountney 81); Stefan Colovic (Daniel Kelly 71), Michael Duffy, Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 71).
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Cameron Dummigan, Andy Boyle, Will Patching.
Booked: Patrick Hoban (67).
KÍ: Kristian Joensen; Jesper Brinck, Odmar Faero, Deni Pavlovic (Jonn Johannesen 87); Patrik Johannesen, Jóannes Bjartalid, Heini Vatnsdal, Jákup Andreasen; Ole Erik Midtskogen, Jóannes Danielsen, Pall Klettskard (Boris Dosljak 55).
Subs not used: Lukasz Jarosinski (gk), David Langgard, Ísak Simonsen, David Skrbic, Ólavur Niclassen.
Referee: Maurizio Mariani (Italy).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Gary Rogers (Dundalk).