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The Kings of the FAI Cup – 50 years on from the Shamrock Rovers six-in-a-row

October 29, 2019 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene 6/2019

2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Hoops winning six successive FAI Cup and Macdara Ferris looks back at that crowning achievement by speaking with four members of the 1969 FAI Cup winning team – Damien Richardson, Frank O’Neill, Paddy Mulligan and Mick Leech.

50 years ago Shamrock Rovers completed their sensational FAI Cup six-in-a-row by defeating Cork Celtic in the FAI Cup Final replay at Dalymount Park.

“The cup was very very special for Shamrock Rovers,” said Damien Richardson when he recalled those six-in-a-row days. “As pro footballers the bonus for winning the cup was 50 quid if I remember correctly so that was important to us!

“We were single-minded about it. We wanted to win the cup final. I was injured for the first game on the Sunday. We didn’t play well and on the day we were lucky.”

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Cork Celtic had taken a 27th minute lead before the Hoops were handed a lifeline with a penalty kick soon after. However Celtic ‘keeper Tommy Taylor saved Frank O’Neill’s spot kick and it looked like Rovers’ record run was coming to an especially as the Hoops trailed going into the final ten minutes of the match.

“You need luck to win six in a row and I missed a penalty in that final,” said Frank O’Neill who was a central part to the Rovers cup success that decade. Not only did he pick up a medal in each of those wins, he was also part of the Rovers team that had won the cup in 1962.

If the luck wasn’t with O’Neill from 12 yards, it came to the Hoops through a goal line clearance and an equaliser nine minutes from time when a former Rovers captain turned the ball into his own net to hand the Hoops an equaliser and a replay.

“Christy Cananvan had cleared one off the line which would have put Cork two up and we would have been dead and buried,” recalled Paddy Mulligan. “We came back. We had that resilience and never say die attitude.

“John Keogh was credited with the late goal that came from a corner kick from the left at the Phibsborough end of Dalymount Park. Frank O’Neill took it and I had made the run and got on the end of the cross but John Keogh then got the top of his head to it and he was credited with the goal. John had soldiered with us for so long and he was unfortunate to head it on into his own net. I thought at the time it should have been my goal as it was heading into the goal anyway!”

‘Rovers live to fight on – Celtic’s brave bid thwarted’ read the headline in the Irish Press the next day. Having come so close to losing in the first match, the Hoops made no mistake second time around and dominated the replay. Mick Leech scored twice in the first half and Damien Richardson, who had missed the first game due to injury, wrapped up the victory with the final goal in the 4-1 win.

“I was fit for the replay and I played upfront with Mick Leech,” said Richardson. “I had good game that night and between myself and Mick we caused them a lot of problems.

“I flicked one on to Mick who went on to get the opening goal. Once we scored that was the game almost decided because in Cork Celtic’s mind Rovers never lost a replay. It was almost as if the Celtic players went ‘ah that’s it’ after we got the first goal.”

For O’Neill, it was the culmination of an incredible period in the FAI Cup at Shamrock Rovers. “We won it seven years out of eight. The cup run just went on and on,” said O’Neill.

“In 1964 we won it after the replay. We won it the next year and the next year and once again. After that there was the five in a row to equal the previous record that was also held by Shamrock Rovers from back in the 1930s. And then the six in a row but we never talked about it. It was just another cup final that you went out, played in and won.”
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It was Shamrock Rovers’ 32nd consecutive game in the FAI Cup where they had avoided defeat and the win saw them lift the trophy for the 20th time. In a twist of fate, the six-in-a-row began and ended with the Hoops defeating Cork Celtic in a replay after the initial final finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.

There would be no seventh successive FAI Cup win though and while there would be a three-in-row of league and cup doubles in the 1980s for the Hoops, it seems the FAI Cup has brought nothing but misery for Rovers since leaving Milltown!

“To think that the next time they won it was 1978 when Giles was there is incredible,” said Leech. “That was a 10 years spell before they won it and then it was the 1980s before the next FAI Cup win. I can’t believe that the last time Rovers won the cup was in the 1980s when they were playing in Milltown. That was over 30 years ago. For it to go that way is incredible but maybe there is better days ahead.”

‘Rovers get record’ read the headline in the Irish Independent after that 1969 FAI Cup Final replay win. ‘Shamrock Rovers have done it! At Dalymount Park the Hoops established a record that will probably never be equalled.’ That sentence still remains true today 50 years on from that amazing crowning glory of the six-in-row.

Will we go all the way?

October 28, 2019 Leave a comment

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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