Thomond Throwback

An article I wrote for Hoops Scene in March 2013:

It was the end of an era for Shamrock Rovers. The ‘fifties team, Coad’s Colts, was breaking up and the Milltown club was entering a transitional period under new manager Albie Murphy. Limerick, meanwhile, were crowned League of Ireland champions putting them into European competition for the first time in their history.

The Limerick board wanted to develop an all-local team and so they brought in Ewan Fenton from Wrexham to implement their plan. Fenton, a 29-year-old Scotsman, had played for Blackpool in the famous Matthews FA Cup Final of 1953.

The directors also decided to transfer the match with Young Boys Bern to Thomond Park, providing, as it did, extra capacity and more safety for the large crowd expected. With an eye on that European Cup tie on Wednesday evening, Limerick were anxious to get the ‘feel’ of their new surroundings and applied to the LOI for permission to play their Shield game against Rovers at the same venue, on Sunday, 28 August 1960.

The North Munster branch of the I.R.F.U. asked too high a fee though and the game was switched back to Markets Field. It was rumoured that it would cost Limerick a minimum of £100 to play Rovers at Thomond – it cost only about £5 a week for the use of the Markets Field. However, the I.R.F.U. seemed to revise their fee meaning the Super Blues would, after all, get the opportunity of a run on the Thomond turf.

There was considerable interest in the game and a crowd of 5,500 turned up at the local rugby headquarters. The pitch was in perfect condition, while the newly-banked terraces gave spectators ample view of play. One concern was that there was no guard around the playing pitch and even on this occasion there was some encroachment by supporters.

This was a youthful Rovers side which included players such as Tony O’Connell, Tony Byrne and Pat Courtney, beginning his first of eleven seasons with the Hoops. Victor Cromie was donning the mantle of Liam Tuohy who had departed for Newcastle United.

O’Connell had scored a hat-trick against Transport to get Rovers’ season off to a good start and indeed it was the Tralee man who gave them a 12th minute lead in Limerick. Kevin Fitzpatrick failed to hold onto Hamilton’s shot from point blank range and O’Connell had no trouble in scoring. Wallace hit an upright for Limerick and the teams got an ovation for a thrilling first half.

Rovers got their second goal just two minutes after the interval and this time it came from a more experienced player in Tommy Hamilton. A return pass from Cromie reached Costelloe who placed Hamilton to put the ball gently out of Fitzpatrick’s reach.

Seconds from the end Hoops skipper Ronnie Nolan cleared off the line with Darcy beaten and victory saw the smooth moving Shamrock Rovers go top of the Shield table. Players and officials of both teams had the highest praise for the ground conditions and amenities at Thomond Park. “I would not mind playing on that pitch every week”, said Nolan.

The Swiss champions smashed five second half goals past Pat Skelly at a mud-spattered Thomond Park but Limerick put up a fighting display in the return leg in Bern before going down 4-2. The scorers were former Rovers player Leo O’Reilly and George Lynam with an acrobatic overhead kick.

They played four FAI Cup games at the rugby venue in the 1960s, a decade in which the Shannonsiders lost back-to-back finals to Rovers but in 1971 under the guidance of the popular Ewan Fenton, Limerick won their first ever Cup. They played Torino in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in Thomond with Rosario Rampanti scoring the only goal of the game for the Italians.

The obvious choice of Thomond Park was overlooked for Lansdowne Road when Limerick met Real Madrid in the European Cup in 1980 but it did stage a sell-out friendly with Tottenham Hotspur a year later when Glenn Hoddle scored four spectacular goals.

The redeveloped stadium has a capacity of 26,500 with in excess of 15,000 seats and Ireland had two international friendlies there in 2009, against Australia and South Africa. Limerick played Manchester City twice in friendlies in 1992 and 2012.

After 19 years top flight football has returned to Limerick. Thomond Park will host Limerick’s home fixtures this season with the glamour of Shamrock Rovers coming to town on Tuesday. Follow that, Springsteen!

SHAMROCK ROVERS 2 (O’Connell 12, Hamilton 47)

Limerick: Kevin Fitzpatrick; Willie Clinton, Fergus Crawford, Joe Casey, Gerry McCarthy, Ewan Fenton, Dick O’Connor, George Lynam, Leo O’Reilly, Donie Wallace, Mick Doyle.

Rovers: Eamonn Darcy; Tommy Farrell, Pat Courtney, Ronnie Nolan, Willie Roche, Eamonn Farrell, Tony Byrne, Tommy Hamilton, Tony O’Connell, Paddy Costelloe, Victor Cromie.


The programme from Limerick versus Shamrock Rovers on 28 August 1960


Joe Casey and Willy Schneider in action on 31 August 1960 when Limerick lost 5-0 to Young Boys Bern from ‘End of an Era: A History of Limerick Senior Soccer at The Markets Field 1937/1984’ by Aidan Corr and Bernard Spain


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