Former Dundalk FC defender Niclas Vemmelund (right) with Ciarán Kilduff before the ‘tragedy of Trondheim’. (Pic: Sportsfile)
The last time Dundalk FC played in the Champions League qualifiers, Niclas Vemmelund had a certain compatriot wedged deep in his pocket.
Nicklas Bendtner, the big Danish striker who led the line for Rosenborg over both legs of the opening round tie, struggled to get a kick against Dundalk’s No.19, who, in spite of Stephen Kenny’s repeated efforts, departed after just one season.
His performance during the epic second leg in Trondheim, where Dundalk bowed out in extra-time, losing 3-2 on aggregate after both 90 minutes had ended one apiece, was especially heroic.
Vemmelund laughs, in the wryest sense, when the circumstances of the tie are relayed to him. Dundalk players emerged from the dressing room on that evening in Norway with rosy-red eyelids, many of them hobbling. The defeat, which ended their European summer, was crushing.
“It’s always tough when you lose like that in extra-time,” Vemmelund tells The Democrat.
There was a sense, however, that he was searching for stronger terms to define the lingering pain.
On his shackling of ‘Lord Bendtner’, the Dane added: “I just find it easier to play better when faced with an opponent who is at a higher level than yourself.
“It’s easier to step up your levels and I feel like everybody in the team at that moment were able to do that.
“We played two good games. The first was maybe a little bit boring compared to the other one where everything was at stake.”
His display, Vemmelund reckons, wasn’t really picked up on in his native land, despite it coming against one of the country’s biggest names. Not that he’s overly regretful of that.
He feels he has “a better name after it”, but describes the Danish transfer market as “terrible” in that “it’s like a rotation system with transfers, players switching club all the time”.
Regardless, the 26-year-old, who played with Derry City before joining The Lilywhites, used the opportunity of playing in Norway to showcase himself, which subsequently led to interest from several lower tier clubs in Denmark.
“It’s like a show, everyone is looking at you. I just felt that I had to play a good game up there (against Rosenborg) to be seen again and keep my name out there back home in Scandinavia. That was a big factor for me.”
Of course, prior to scoring in the 2017 FAI Cup final defeat by Cork City, Vemmelund had already made the decision to depart Dundalk and sign a deal with a club back home in a bid to be closer to his family.
His current side, Middelfart, are in the Danish third division and narrowly missed out on promotion last term. The standard, he accepts, is much lower in relation to playing quality, but he has grasped the opportunity, continuing his formal education on the side, while his partner has recently given birth to their first child.
“I’m happy where I am,” he says.
Kenny and his graduation to the international fold entered the conversation, with Vemmelund wishing him well, while the defender often looks for Dundalk’s result on a match night and remains in some contact with his former team-mates.
Ultimately, his career fighting out of Oriel Park may have been brief, but he certainly made an impression, with his biggest imprint having been formed in the tragedy of Trondheim.