Good ‘News’ for Mallards

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The 2014 Setanta Sports Cup kicks off this evening. Eight teams – four from the League of Ireland and four from the Irish League – will compete for the honour of becoming All-Ireland champions with Ballinamallard United making their debut in the competition. The Mallards welcome St. Patrick’s Athletic to Ferney Park for the first ever live televised game from Fermanagh.

The competition goes ahead without current Premiership champions Cliftonville and the inaugural winners of the Setanta Cup, Linfield, after both sides declined their invitation to participate in the cup, citing scheduling difficulties with the competition’s springtime start. They were replaced by Coleraine and Ballinamallard who finished fourth and fifth in the league respectively last year.

This is the first time in forty years that the Irish League holders have not entered an All-Ireland competition. The 1974-75 Texaco Cup took place from September to December 1974. The 1973-74 Irish League champions, Coleraine, did not participate because the four entries were in fact the highest placed teams who did not qualify for Europe that season – Cork Hibernians (third), Waterford (fifth), Linfield (fourth) and Crusaders (third).

On the night that the Texaco Cup began, Coleraine were instead playing a European Cup tie with Feyenoord in Rotterdam. 2006 League of Ireland champions Shelbourne didn’t play in the 2007 Setanta Cup following their demotion to the First Division. Meanwhile St. Pat’s, our reigning champions, are out to end their poor record in the Setanta Cup since losing in the 2010 final.

Pat’s have failed to progress past the first round since then and they have drawn a blank in four consecutive games, a joint record with Dungannon Swifts in 2008. The Saints have lost on their last five visits to Irish League grounds, to Linfield, Glentoran (twice) and Cliftonville (twice) without scoring a goal. Before a 1-1 draw with Linfield, their last victory away to an Irish League side was a 3-0 win over Portadown at Shamrock Park in 2007.

Pat’s have boosted their chances of ending the northern hoodoo with the return of Mark Quigley to the club. Quigley is only one goal behind Peter Thompson and Denis Behan (11) in the Setanta Cup goalscoring charts and he is the only man to score for four different clubs in the competition. All 10 of Quigley’s goals have been scored against Irish League sides, against Linfield (3), Dungannon Swifts, Glentoran (2), Cliftonville (2), Crusaders and Coleraine with six of them coming in Northern Ireland.

Pat’s are making their seventh appearance in the Setanta Cup which is a record for a League of Ireland club. New boys Ballinamallard are the 21st different team to compete in the Setanta Cup and they are the 35th different club to play in All-Ireland competitions. Founded in 1975, the Mallards were promoted in 2012 and exceeded all expectations in their first ever season in the top flight.

The table below is a summary of All-Ireland participants, showing the number of seasons they have appeared in each competition including 2014. KEY: IC = Inter-City Cup, NS = North-South Cup, BC = Blaxinit Cup, TX = Texaco Cup, TY = Tyler Cup, SC = Setanta Cup.

Club IC NS BC TX TY SC Total
Ards 1 3 1 1 6
Athlone Town 1 2 3
Ballinamallard Utd 1 1
Ballymena Utd 2 2 1 1 6
Belfast Celtic 7 7
Bohemians 8 1 1 3 3 16
Bray Wanderers 1 1
Cliftonville 8 3 5 16
Coleraine 4 2 2 3 11
Cork Celtic 1 1
Cork City 6 6
Cork Hibernians 4 1 5
Cork United 6 6
Crusaders 1 1 1 4 7
Derry City 8 3 1 6 18
Distillery 8 2 2 1 2 15
Drogheda Utd 2 3 4 9
Drumcondra 4 2 1 7
Dundalk 8 1 2 2 2 15
Dungannon Swifts 3 3
Finn Harps 1 3 4
Glenavon 2 1 2 5
Glentoran 8 2 2 3 9 24
Larne 1 1 2
Limerick/Utd 3 2 1 2 8
Linfield 6 2 3 1 3 8 23
Longford Town 1 1
Portadown 1 2 6 9
St. James’s Gate 3 3
St. Pat’s Athletic 2 2 7 11
Shamrock Rovers 8 2 2 3 3 4 22
Shelbourne 8 2 1 2 13
Sligo Rovers 1 1 5 7
Waterford 1 2 1 4
UCD 1 1
Seasons 8 2 7 4 3 9
Clubs 15 10 24 12 20 21

However, Ballinamallard have actually played a competitive cross-border match before. It was sixteen years ago, a 3-2 defeat away to Sligo Rovers in the first round of the now obsolete North West Cup.

The North West Cup involved teams from the League of Ireland and Irish League mostly located in the north-west of the island and it is thus not counted among the major All-Ireland tournaments. The only League of Ireland champions to play were Derry City in the 1997-98 season while Irish League champions Cliftonville entered the fourth and final edition in 1998-99.

Details of the competition were announced in November 1995; it would be contested by the four senior teams in the North-West of Ireland in an effort to galvanise football in the region. The North-West Football Association agreed a three year sponsorship deal with the Belfast-based newspaper the “Irish News” with £3000 prize money on offer for the inaugural winners.

The first game between Omagh Town and Finn Harps provided a low-key launch. Both managers were forced to field depleted lineups with two games in as many days for these clubs. Omagh’s Michael McHugh had the honour of scoring the first ever goal in the competition.

A crowd of just 200 at Finn Park witnessed Omagh win the second leg 3-1 after which Patsy McGowan was sacked as Harps manager for a third time. “I feel like I am Jesus Christ who has just invited Judas to the Last Supper”, he quipped. First Division player of the year Jonathan Speak immediately handed in a transfer request but he ended up staying with the club and played in their 1998-99 final victory.

In the other semi-final, Derry City were playing an Irish League team (Coleraine) at the Brandywell for the first time in over twenty years. This fueled speculation that a struggling Derry side would return to the Irish League, which is incredible given the fact that the Candystripes were crowned League of Ireland champions a year and a half later.

Omagh were humiliated 12-2 on aggregate by Coleraine in the final but the Tyrone side did lift the trophy in the 1997-98 season, beating Dundalk 4-2 at Oriel Park along the way when the first round ties were changed to a single game basis.

Sligo Rovers supporters who remember the Irish News Cup probably associate it with nothing but misery. Sligo beat an understrength Derry City 3-0 at home in the 1996-97 final with a hat-trick from Lee Thew. When Donagh Oates scored for the Bit O’Red early in the return leg the tie seemed to be a foregone conclusion but Derry scored five times in an amazing comeback.

After beating Omagh Town 5-2 at St. Julian’s Road in the 1998-99 quarter-finals, Omagh were controversially reinstated after they objected to Sligo Rovers fielding two players. Sligo were deeply aggrieved at the decision as they had acted on the advice of the FAI that the competition was not recognised by them. However, the rules stated that all players must be eligible to play in their respective leagues before playing in the competition.

In 1997-98, Sligo were scheduled to face Coleraine but the game never took place, the reason for which the 1998-99 Northern Ireland Soccer Yearbook says: “Coleraine given bye to semi-finals after Sligo Rovers withdrew unable to compete in the National League Cup as 10 players had yellow cards”.

Despite their disastrous introduction to the new competition, Finn Harps certainly have fond memories of the Irish News Cup. Harps, fielding mostly reserve sides, beat fierce rivals Derry City twice including a 2-0 win at the Brandywell in March 1999 when a young Kevin McHugh was on the scoresheet. This represents one of only two occasions in which the Harps have returned from the Lone Moor Road on the winning side – the other was in 1997.

Charlie McGreever’s men went on to defeat Ballymena United 2-0 in the final thanks to goals from Fergal Harkin and man of the match Patrick McGreneghan. Declan Boyle became the first Harps captain to lift a trophy since Jim Sheridan in 1974. Harps had just secured a top four finish in the top flight for the first time in two decades and the Donegal club were aiming to complete a cup double in the FAI Cup final against Bray Wanderers only to lose out after two replays.

The 1998-99 tournament had been expanded to 12 teams, with the four winners from the first round joining Derry City, Finn Harps, Coleraine and Ballymena United in the quarter-finals. Dundalk did not compete though, having participated in the previous two years.

I can’t guarantee all of the scores between NI teams below are correct because many of them especially in the earlier rounds were not in the newspapers. So I obtained some of them from Northern Ireland Soccer Yearbooks in the library, which, for the Irish News Cup pages at least, were terrible.

There were results inserted from completely different cups, several score errors and in one instance the final was omitted altogether. Still, only the four winners of the Irish News Cup are listed on Wikipedia so I believe this is the first time that every result has been published together.

Irish News Cup results

1995-96

Semi-final
Derry City 0-2 Coleraine; Coleraine 1-0 Derry City
Omagh Town 3-1 Finn Harps; Finn Harps 1-3 Omagh Town

Final 1st leg at St. Julian’s Road
31.01.96 – Omagh Town 1-4 Coleraine [Kavanagh; McCallan 3, Gorman]

Final 2nd leg at The Showgrounds
13.02.96 – Coleraine 8-1 Omagh Town [McAllister, Gorman, O’Dowd 2, Young, McCallon 2, Huston; McHugh]

1996-97

First Round
Limavady United 1-1 Dundalk; Dundalk 3-0 Limavady United
Omagh Town 0-3 Derry City; Derry City 0-2 Omagh Town
Sligo Rovers 1-0 Ballymena United; Ballymena United 2-4 Sligo Rovers
Finn Harps 2-0 Coleraine; Coleraine 2-2 Finn Harps

Semi-final
Sligo Rovers 2-1 Finn Harps; Finn Harps 0-3 Sligo Rovers
Dundalk 1-4 Derry City; Derry City 5-1 Dundalk

Final 1st leg at The Showgrounds
26.03.97 – Sligo Rovers 3-0 Derry City [Thew 3]

Final 2nd leg at The Brandywell
08.04.97 – Derry City 5-1 Sligo Rovers [Kelly, Hargan 2, McCabe, Hegarty; Oates]

1997-98

First Round
Ballymena United 2-0 Limavady United
Dundalk 2-4 Omagh Town (AET)
Finn Harps 2-0 Derry City
Bye: Coleraine

Semi-final
Coleraine 2-5 Ballymena United; Ballymena United 6-0 Coleraine
Omagh Town 3-0 Finn Harps; Finn Harps 1-2 Omagh Town

Final 1st leg at St. Julian’s Road
12.03.98 – Omagh Town 1-1 Ballymena United [McHugh; Loughery]

Final 2nd leg at the Ballymena Showgrounds
02.04.98 – Ballymena United 0-1 Omagh Town [Wilson]

1998-99

First Round
Omagh Town 1-1 Monaghan Town (Omagh 4-2 on pens)
Sligo Rovers 3-2 Ballinamallard United
Limavady United 2-1 Fanad United
Institute 1-0 Cliftonville

Quarter-final
Derry City 4-0 Limavady United
Finn Harps 1-1 Coleraine (Harps 3-2 on pens)
Institute 1-2 Ballymena United
Omagh Town 2-5 Sligo Rovers (AET)
Sligo disqualified for fielding ineligible players

Semi-final
Derry City 0-2 Finn Harps
Ballymena United 2-1 Omagh Town

Final at Ballybofey
29.04.99 – Finn Harps 2-0 Ballymena United [McGreneghan, Harkin]

Irish News Cup Winners
1995-96 – Coleraine
1996-97 – Derry City
1997-98 – Omagh Town
1998-99 – Finn Harps

Irish News Cup seasons
4 – Finn Harps, Omagh Town, Derry City, Coleraine.
3 – Limavady United, Ballymena United.
2 – Dundalk, Sligo Rovers.
1 – Monaghan Town, Ballinamallard United, Fanad United, Institute, Cliftonville.

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Finn Harps with the Irish News Cup trophy in 1999

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