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Waterford for the league, Rovers for the cup

From the Finn Harps v Waterford match programme – Issue 10 2020 (Monday 9 November)

Looking back five decades it was a time when Waterford were the dominant side in the League of Ireland. It was a period when the Blues won an incredible six titles in an eight seasons. This year is the 50th anniversary of Waterford completing a league three-in-a-row becoming only the second club at that time to manage that feat – equalling Cork United’s from 1940/41. Only Dundalk (2014-2016) and Shamrock Rovers (with a four-in-a-row in the 1980s) have since managed that feat since.  

Those league titles earned Waterford passage into the European Cup where they played clubs such as Vorwaerts Berlin, Galatasaray, Glentoran, AC Omonia along with a couple of European heavyweights. In 1968 they were drawn against the reigning European champions Manchester United. There were 48,000 in attendance to watch the first leg in Lansdowne road as Best, Law and Charlton took on the Blues. Law bagged a hat-trick with Johnny Matthews scoring for Waterford who would lose the second leg 7-1. In 1970 the Blues faced Celtic with Jock Stein’s side demolishing Waterford 7-0 in the first leg and 3-2 back in Glasgow after the Blues led in the second leg 2-0.

Domestically at this time while Waterford were dominating the league, Shamrock Rovers, who finished runners up in the league three years in a row from 1968/69, had effectively taken ownership of the FAI Cup. The Hoops were in the process of winning six-in-a-row playing an incredible 32 cup ties without defeat. 

The 1968 FAI Cup final saw Waterford face Rovers with the Blues favourites having won the league, Shield and the Top Four competition that season. Speaking to some of the Shamrock Rovers players who went head-to-head with Waterford in that cup final and in the league during that time, it is clear how high much esteem they hold for that Blues side.

“Not many people remember that era now but Waterford had a very talented team and played a great brand of football,” said Damien Richardson. “They were terrific. We had great respect for the Waterford team.”

Paddy Mulligan describes Waterford as “a wonderfully gifted team. We couldn’t win the league as they were winning leagues all round while we were winning the cup. That was a smashing Waterford team with Alfie Hale, Jimmy McGeough and John O’Neill.” 

The ’68 final in Dalymount had the second highest final attendance ever with 39,128 spectators squeezed into the ground. “I remember walking out from the dressing room and being absolutely astonished how full Dalymount was,” recalled Richardson. “It was mind-boggling to see it – what a crowd.”

Mick Leech scored twice for Rovers with Mick Lawlor getting the other goal and Leech is remembered for patting the Waterford ‘keeper Peter Thomas after he slotted away Rovers last goal with a minute remaining in the match.

“We went 3-0 up and he was lying on the ground,” said Leech. “I’d great respect for him as a ‘keeper and I just tapped him on the head and said ‘hard luck Tommo, maybe next year’. In some ways I’m sorry I ever did it because people got the wrong impression and thought I was taking the piss out of him. That was never the case.”

It would take a decade for Rovers to win their next cup and a further two years for Waterford who defeated St. Patrick’s Athletic 1-0 in the 1978 final. It was Peter Thomas’ only winners medal and it went with the five League of Ireland titles he won in remarkable successful period for Waterford.

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