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John Coady’s reflections on his Shamrock Rovers European campaigns

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene 12/2017 – Shamrock Rovers v Celtic 

With Shamrock Rovers welcoming Celtic to Dublin today as the Scottish Champions prepare for their Champions League qualifying campaign, Hoops Scene spoke with John Coady who was an instrumental player in Rovers’ famous four-in-a-row team who played against Celtic in the European Cup 31 years ago.

 

Coady’s Shamrock Rovers side were the kings of the League of Ireland in the mid-eighties but their results in Europe couldn’t quite deliver on their domestic dominance. The defender, who won six league titles and three FAI Cups in a career that also included a two year spell with Chelsea, is still a huge Rovers fan and is regularly to be seen following his former club. We got Coady’s reflections on not only the Celtic game but each of the four European campaigns he was involved in with the Hoops.

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“I fancied us against them,” said Coady about the first leg of the tie between Shamrock Rovers and Celtic held in Milltown in September 1986. “Anyone who was at that match will testify to the opportunities that went a-begging that night.”

 

The Hoops created a number of chances, only to be beaten by a solitary break away goal scored with less than ten minutes to go. Coady recalled the superb performance of the Celtic goalkeeper, Ireland’s legendary number one international ‘keeper, Packie Bonner that evening.

 

“Packie was brilliant for them that night. I couldn’t believe how big he was. He was a f****** giant of a man. We threw everything in on him and from corner after corner big Pat was catching them all. He was nearly coming out to the edge of his box to do it, swatting fellas out of the way.”

 

Bonner’s dominance in the box played a part in Celtic’s break away goal scored by Murdo MacLeod which came from a Rovers set piece. “I was taking the corner and I decided in my wisdom not to hurl it in on top of Packie. So I tried to hit Mick Neville with a rehearsed move. It didn’t quite make it and the shot was fluffed and they broke and scored. So I always feel a little bit guilty about that goal!

 

“Having said that we should have been ahead by then. Liam O’Brien was immense for us that night and how he didn’t score I just don’t know but Packie Bonner was one of those reasons.” O’Brien’s last game for Rovers before moving to Manchester United was in the second leg in Glasgow that Celtic won 2-0.

 

The demand for tickets for today’s friendly has seen Rovers temporarily increase the size of the stadium – the first time the capacity in Tallaght has gone above 6,000 since Rovers’ participation in the group stages of the Europa League in 2011. It was a similar case when Rovers played Celtic in 1986; having heard Coady’s tale I’m sure the safety of the temporary stand in Tallaght will be better than the one in Milltown.

 

“The Board in their wisdom decided to erect a temporary scaffold stand – it was like they had a few lads throw it up the afternoon of the match! We came onto the pitch from around the back of it but all we could see was this thing swaying with all the people in it. I swear it was moving. That thing looked ready to collapse and I don’t know how but it managed to stay up. I was playing left back along side it and all I could hear was this thing creaking and I was waiting for nuts and bolts to hit the field!

 

“We could have taken a lead to Celtic Park easily and if we had had something to defend that was when we were possibly our most dangerous and at our best. The crowd was fantastic in that great stadium (in Glasgow). Everyone was really friendly but the result was a shame.

 

“We got a couple of injuries ahead of the second leg and we went a bit deflated. I didn’t think they were great shakes at the back at the time but their strength was in midfield with MacLeod and Paul McStay and their strikefore with Mo Johnstone. Paul McStay though was a different animal, a beautiful footballer and one of the best I ever played against.”

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Two years previously Rovers, after a 25 year absence, were playing in the European Cup taking on Linfield. Today’s visitors to Tallaght could be taking on the Belfast club in Champions League qualifying next week if the Blues manage to overcome San Marino opponents La Fiorita. The Rovers loss to Linfield back in 1984 is one that got away according to Coady.

 

“To this day it still hurts me how we didn’t win in Windsor as we missed five or so golden opportunities to score. We played them off the park but we just couldn’t get that away goal. They came down to Dublin and bang got that goal from the corner. It still irks somewhat.”

 

There has been much discussion about security for the potential Linfield v Celtic clash this season so it is interesting to hear Coady talk about playing in Windsor Park in the first leg in Belfast which finished scoreless.

 

“There was security everywhere and something we had never seen before with policemen on horses, police with rifles and dogs. I didn’t mind as I thought we were going to beat Linfield as I thought we were the better team by miles – but I always thought that!

 

“I remember we were warming up before the match and we had these dark green O’Neill’s tops at the time. Dinny Lowry came on to collect all the tops and he went ‘all right lads, let them have it’ and we took off them off to reveal the gleaming green and white hoop jersey underneath. The abuse and venom coming out of the stand was just, well you could feel it, and you could cut it with a knife. The ground was full of hatred.”

 

Linfield scored first in the return leg and while Peter Eccles equalised, the Blues’ away goal was enough to see them through. “It was awfully disappointing and a huge opportunity missed. No doubt about it.”

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The following season the Hoops were drawn against Honved in the European Cup and in the build up to the game, Rovers played a couple of pre-season tournaments in Portugal and Spain.

“Louis Kilcoyne (Rovers’ Chairman) was in UEFA and he pulled a stroke and we went on a pre-season tour in Lisbon. We played Sporting Lisbon and Benfica in a three way tournament and then we travelled up and played a three way tournament against Santander and Atletico Madrid. They were great fixtures for us as part-timers. We beat Sporting Lisbon 1-0 and drew with Benfica in the Stadium of Light.”

 

The Hoops played the first leg against Honved in Hungary, losing 2-0, before being defeated 3-1 at home with Coady scoring the only goal of the game. “We played them off the park in the first half in the away leg but with no reward. You have to put these teams away. Once you get on top in Europe, if you don’t take your chances, the opposition will do you. We were only part timers so we were getting so tired at the end of matches.”

 

The opposition had six Hungarian internationals in their team including Lajos Detari who subsequently played a couple of seasons in Serie A and in Mexico 86 scored Hungary’s last goal at a World Cup. “We saw him later in the World Cup running the show and that took the pain of defeat off a bit when you saw what he was doing to really world class players.” Detari scored three goals against the Hoops in the tie.

 

Last week Shamrock Rovers completed their Europa League First Qualifying Round tie against Stjarnan. The only time other time Rovers played Icelandic opposition was 35 years ago in the UEFA Cup. The Hoops defeated Fram Reyjavik 7-0 on aggregate. While Coady didn’t play in that tie, he did play in the following round away to Universitatea Craiova and it was a memorable journey behind the Iron Curtain to Romania for Rovers.

 

“I roomed with Mick Smyth who was a very famous Rovers goalie from the late 60s but he was second to Alan O’Neill at the time. I was only a young raw fella on my first European away trip. Mick was an experienced player and when he opened his case, it was full of nylon stockings and Levis which he duly proceeded to flog to every servant in the hotel!

 

“The food was rubbish. We flew through Zurich and I remember Louis saying on the plane ‘listen lads, see all the chocolate they are giving, grab every single bit you can as you ain’t going to see food like that till you leave Romania again.’

 

“Myself and Mick decided to go for a stroll around Craiova to see the place pre-match. We saw a big long queue. Mick was really inquisitive and he goes up to the top of the queue and sticks his head in the door and they were selling bread. Next thing a whole load of ‘auld wans’ in the queue were going mad telling us to get back to the end as they thought he was skipping in. It was an eye opener. I just felt so sorry for the poor people. It was gruesome with people in queues for food.

 

“For the match it was a full house in a concrete bowl open air stadium with army everywhere. There must nearly have been 20,000 soldiers! They had this great number 10 playing for them It was 2-0 and the number 10 was doing all sorts of tricks on the ball so Ronnie Murphy just gave him one and was sent off!

 

“We were pretty much stuffed over there. Alan O’Neill played brilliantly. He pulled off a few great stops. 5-0 was a fair reflection on the tie and we were just so glad to get out of the place after and still be over 11 stone!”

 

With six League of Ireland winners medals (four with Rovers and another two with Derry City and Dundalk respectively), there are only four players who have one more than Coady. With Dundalk having come into this season with three-league titles in a row, Hoops Scene asked Coady how he felt about Dundalk’s attempt this year to match Rovers’ four-in-a-row record.

 

“I start to worry when any team wins their second league title! I don’t want to give up our record as it is something that we are just so proud of. Not only that but the three doubles that went alongside as well. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing Cork run away with the league this year!”

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