By Ashley Cox

TWENTY-FOUR years after the unforgettable tie that connected the clubs forever, Barry Town will make a sensational return to Aberdeen in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers, but only if the Jenner Park outfit can beat NSI Runavík in the Faroe Islands next Thursday on August 20.

After weeks of futile speculation, Barry's European destiny was confirmed in the draws for the Preliminary Round and First Qualifying Round, which were staged remotely and respectively at UEFA's Swiss headquarters on Sunday and Monday afternoon.

To wind back the clock to September 1996, few could forget the moment Richard Jones' long-range strike stunned Aberdeen at Pittodrie, before the rain-drenched rollercoaster return leg in Barry ended in the cruel reality of a European exit.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, Barry could have the chance to rewrite history against the dogged Dons, with the one-time European Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Super Cup winners awaiting either the Town or Runavík on Thursday, August 27.

Whatever carrot might dangle in the distance, Barry's latest European odyssey was already set to be memorable when they were paired, dramatically, with the former Faroese champions in Sunday's Preliminary Round draw.

After trips to Andorra and Gibraltar had fallen by the wayside in Saturday's pool process, supporters at the re-opened Jenner Park clubhouse thought perhaps a 'home' tie at the Cardiff City Stadium would be on the cards, or maybe a sun-kissed showdown with Tre Fiori in San Marino.

Instead, for the first time ever, Barry will head extreme north to the volcanic, 18-island archipelago of the Faroes, with their one-legged tie with NSI to be played to a finish at the 6,000-seat Svangaskarð stadium in Toftir (6pm kick-off, behind-closed-doors).

NSI were third in last year's Faroe Islands Premier League and sit fourth in their present campaign, with eleven wins and two draws from their 16 fixtures to date (including the heaviest victory of the season, a 5-0 rout of Ítróttarfelag Fuglafjarðar in May).

Managed by Swedish former defender Glenn Ståhl, some might recognise Ståhl's assistant Jens Martin Knudsen as the famed bobble-hatted goalkeeper, who featured for the Faroes against Terry Yorath's Wales in the qualifying stages of the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

Among Runavík's top players is the FIPL's all-time leading goalscorer, Klæmint Olsen, a one-club man approaching his 200th goal from almost 300 appearances.

Making his international debut against Germany in 2012, Olsen scored his first for the Faroe Islands against Spain, no less, in a UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier in Torshavn.

NSI have never progressed in a two-legged European tie, yet have snatched some eye-catching one-off results, including wins on home soil against Dynamo Tblisi and Linfield, as well as a goalless draw in 2011 with 2010's Europa League runners-up, Fulham.

2018 meanwhile saw the Svangaskarð host a proper goal festival, as Edinburgh's Hibernian eventually emerged victorious by six goals to four, after trailing Runavík twice.

Then, last summer saw the islanders fall 2-0 on aggregate to Northern Ireland's Ballymena United, shortly after Barry had been beaten 2-1 by Ballymena in a friendly.

Although Barry would lose their equivalent qualifier 4-0 to Cliftonville, consensus suggests a notably stronger Town squad will make the charter flight to the Faroes next week.

Manager Gavin Chesterfield has recruited three full internationals to Jenner Park this calendar year, with David Cotterill, Theo Wharton and Nathaniel Jarvis adding the kind of quality and experience that could prove decisive in the all-or-nothing environment of a one-off knockout match.

With Jenner Park staples Chris Hugh and Luke Cooper supported by January signing Kyle Patten and his former JD Cymru Premier Player of the Month sibling Robbie Patten, the emergence of Evan Press as a first-team fixture was one of the positives of Barry's 2019-20, alongside a standout season for Luke Cummings in defence.

While keeping his cards comfortably close, Chesterfield has now cast a pondering eye over his playing squad in two welcome warm-up games against Connah's Quay Nomads and The New Saints; Wales' European representatives pooling resources to accelerate match fitness.

However, with the yellow and blacks of NSI in the midst of their competitive season, it remains to be seen how much of a factor such sharpness (or lack thereof) ends up being, with Barry supporters hoping their team's comparative freshness may ultimately stand them in good stead.

Some in search of an omen were enthused on Sunday night when, moments after Aberdeen and Motherwell were placed in the Runavík/Barry pool, a Scottish Saltire-like skyline was seen high over the town.

Others had already noted that the last time Barry progressed in the former UEFA Cup, they won wearing red on August 20, advancing to play Aberdeen.

For the football romantic, the thought of history repeating itself is a naturally enticing one.

However, sweet dreams of Aberdeen could be dashed in 90 minutes, with extra-time and penalties on standby to separate the sides, should their Toftir tussle culminate in stalemate.

At the time of writing, Barry were working to arrange coverage for the Runavík match for those back home, with further information to be publicised when confirmed.

Sadly, as per UEFA guidelines, any return to Pittodrie the following week would be another behind-closed-doors match; and with the city of Aberdeen's ongoing Covid-19 struggles, their First Qualifying Round tie with Runavík or Barry could yet end up at a different venue altogether.

In these unprecedented times, Barry have shown their appetite for European success remains defiantly high.

Now, in a matter of mere days, we will learn whether this chapter ends in deflation... or sensation.