Will we go all the way?

We are one with the Hoops, with the Hoops we’re in love
Hold our head high as the underdogs
We are not fairweather but foulweather fans
Like brothers in arms, in the streets and the stands

There’s magic in the ground and the green score board
The same one I stared at as a kid keeping score
In a world full of greed I could never want more
Someday we’ll go all the way

And if you ain’t been I am sorry for you
And when the day comes with that last winning goal
And I’m crying and covered in beer
I’ll look to the sky and know I was right
To think someday we’ll go all the way

Yeah, someday we’ll go all the way
Oh, someday we’ll go all the way

With apologies to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, I’ve reworked his song about his beloved Chicago Cubs. This track was released in 2008 when the Cubs had gone 100 years without winning the biggest prize in baseball – the World Series.

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Now that’s a proper sporting famine that can put Shamrock Rovers’ FAI Cup one in the ha’penny place. However after the semi-final drama in Dalymount Park last month, Rovers are Aviva bound in a few weeks and are just one game away from ending a 32 year wait to win the FAI Cup.

The Hoops are the ‘cup specialists’ and maybe we should embrace it. That tag was bloody hard won over nearly a century. The Hoops played in the very first FAI Cup final in 1922 and secured their first of a record 24 FAI Cups 94 years ago. We are one of only two clubs to have played in every FAI Cup competition and Rovers hold the record for appearances in semi-finals (47) and finals (34 including next month’s game) and

In terms of victories there was a five-in-row from 1929 to 1933, back-to-back wins in both the 40s and 50s and in the 1960s Rovers essentially owned the FAI Cup. Just three times in that decade were green and white ribbons not adorning the trophy for Rovers and this year is the 50th anniversary of securing a sensational six-in-a-row..

There was just one cup secured in the 1970s before a purple patch that coincided with the final years in Milltown. Rovers dominated the League of Ireland in the mid-1980s. They made four consecutive FAI Cup finals, winning three of them in a period when the Hoops won four league titles. After winning their last FAI Cup in 1987, the Hoops departed Milltown and the decision by the Kilcoyne family to leave Glenmalure Park is a big reason for the subsequent Rovers cup famine.

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Having moved around countless ‘home’ grounds in Dublin and getting into severe financial difficulties trying to complete Tallaght Stadium, it meant the Hoops had difficulty fielding competitive teams capable of challenging for league titles and cup successes in the intervening years.

The Hoops only major trophy in their time between leaving Milltown and getting to Tallaght was during their tenure at the RDS when they won the 1993/94 league title. That was the one period when the Hoops had the stability of a home ground that was effectively their own rather than renting venues off their rivals.

Rovers have gotten to just three FAI Cup finals since the 1980s. A shock 1-0 defeat to Galway United in 1991, a loss in Tolka Park against Derry City in 2002 and the 2010 final lost on penalties to Sligo Rovers.

Damien Richardson, who won the cup with the Hoops in 1968 and 1969 and managed the Hoops between 1999 and 2002, had this to say about Rovers’ cup tradition and subsequent cup famine when he spoke to this author last year.

“When it came to cup football Shamrock Rovers had an aura about them. Milltown came alive for cup week even if it was the first round. Everyone senses were heightened.”

Looking back on his time as a manager he said “it was a different Shamrock Rovers. It was difficult time for the club. It is something that I find incongruous when you look at the tradition of Shamrock Rovers in the cup. I would love Shamrock Rovers to win the cup as I think it would be more important than winning the league because of the cup tradition.”

Rovers last made the final in 2010, on the back of Rovers winning their first league title since 1994. The Hoops, under manager Michael O’Neill, had been involved in a titanic tussle with Bohs that season with the Hoops securing the title thanks to a 2-2 draw in Bray, beating Bohs by a better goal difference of two.

Current Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley saw red in the FAI Cup final that followed. It was scoreless after extra-time before Sligo Rovers prevailed on penalties as Rovers failed to score any of their spot kicks.

That 2010 final now looks like a missed opportunity although that wasn’t the view at the time. Hoops supporters thought an opportunity to win the cup would come their way soon again but it hasn’t worked out that way. Since 2011, the Hoops have reached five semi-finals (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019) but only this year’s one ended in victory.

However something is building at Rovers under Stephen Bradley. It has been slow progress at times for some impatient supporters but the Hoops Head Coach has changed the playing style and completely overhauled the Hoops squad over his three years in charge.

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He has brought players in to suit his preferred passing game and he secured second place in the league five games from the end of the league campaign. That is the best result for Rovers since they won the title eight years ago and it certainly looks like they can take on Dundalk in a tighter title tilt next year. But first up there is the cup final between the pair. Dundalk looking for a treble and Rovers looking to win the cup for the first time in over three decades.

Noel Larkin was part of the last Rovers team to lift the trophy. He has an indelible image from the day showing how much the cup meant to supporters and to his own family.

On the 25th anniversary of that cup win Larkin recalled “when I went over to my Dad after collecting my medal, the tears of pride and joy were streaming down his face. That to me is the memory I have of winning the cup that day. It means so much, to so many people, not just the players.”

You’d suspect should Rovers manage to end the cup famine and go all the way to get a fabled 25th cup win, there will be plenty of tears shed. The Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016 so why can’t this be the year that Rovers go all the way in the FAI Cup.

The late winner in Galway, the victory in the dramatic semi-final Dublin Derby at Dalymount Park means maybe, just maybe, this can be Rovers’ year. Of course, it is the hope – or is it the Hoops – that say that will kill you!

Published in Hoops Scene 19/2019 (Shamrock Rovers v Cork City – 25 October)
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