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These Go To Eleven

Since October, I’ve ran @Peile50YearsAgo, posting real-time Tweets from Irish football fifty years ago.

Friday marks the last day of the 1965-66 domestic season as Shamrock Rovers face Bohemians in the final of the Top Four Cup (although, spoiler alert: it will require two replays).

This has been a lot of fun to do; I rather enjoy the old-timey language, the big crowds, the dramatic rise of Waterford and the huge importance placed on the FAI Cup.

One thing I disliked, however, was the constant mention of a “record” Shamrock Rovers supposedly equalled by winning 11 league games in a row. Every week the media would write about it.

It was enough to make any statistician weep. There were times I found myself longing for a time traveling closet, like in a Stephen King novel, to go back and find W.P. Murphy of the Irish Independent (and those who copied him) to set the record straight once and for all.

Bohemians, in fact, had won their first 15 games of the 1923-24 season but this ’11’ myth has persisted for over 50 years and appeared in a newspaper again just this past week.

Limerick’s blistering start to this season’s First Division has re-opened the topic, as the Super Blues set a First Division record by winning each of their opening 8 games (now 9).

Curiously, the only Premier Division teams (Cork City and Sligo Rovers) to win their first 8 both failed to go on and win the title.

Here’s part of an article I wrote for LOI Monthly last year, which talked about those winning starts by Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers.

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‘Somebody must kidnap Sligo Rovers’, screamed the headline of the Irish Press. Despite finishing a lowly tenth in the Shield before the start of the league season, Sligo would hit the ground running in the 1936-37 Free State League Championship with a 100 per cent record at the half-way stage.

It was an Englishman, Harry Litherland, whose name was on everybody’s lips. Litherland scored 19 league goals in his first season for Sligo, a total not beaten until Eoin Doyle scored 20 in 2011. He scored a brace in a club record 9-0 win over Dolphin and the following week the former Everton centre-forward got another two goals in the 6-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers at Milltown.

Sligo’s run crashed with a terrific thud by losing 8-2 away to Waterford in January 1937. Although their form dropped slightly after that, the Westerners took their first title by 10 points, which remained the highest ever margin in a two points for a win system.

Sligo's title winning team in 1936-37

In 1965, Shamrock Rovers won the Shield for an impressive seventeenth time. Rovers were given a bye into the second round of the Fairs Cup and the Hoops went out of the competition rather gallantly on a 3-2 aggregate scoreline to Real Zaragoza.

Rovers made a storming start to the league season and on 16 January 1966, from ten matches played, they were five points clear with not the slightest blemish on their run. In a strange twist, the team trying to foil the Hoops of 11 wins in a row was Sligo who had accomplished the feat 29 years earlier.

The game attracted a magnificent attendance under the adverse weather conditions which prevailed on the south side of the city and Shamrock Rovers rather deservedly emerged narrow winners on a snow-covered pitch at Milltown.

Sligo goalkeeper Finbarr Flood watched almost in amazement as Johnny Fullam hit a 25 yard free kick straight into the corner of the net after 28 minutes. Six minutes later Shamrock Rovers were two up when Frank O’Neill, always a menacing figure on the right wing, sent over a chipped cross for Bobby Gilbert to head home his 9th league goal of the campaign.

Three minutes after the interval and with the snow falling heavily, Jimmy Burnside pulled a goal back for the Bit O’ Red with a great hooked shot over his shoulder to keep the home supporters worried until the final whistle.

The talking point of the game, however, was the penalty in the second half that never was. To the crowd it was a staggering sight to see Liam Tuohy head the ball for the corner of the net and Sligo left-back, Paul Dowling, unable to reach it with his head, dive, and with his hands extended, turn the ball around the post without being penalised.

Referee Billy O’Neill, the target for many an accurate snowball when he managed to get within range of spectators at either end of the ground, said after the game: ‘I saw Dowling dive with his hand out but I thought the ball beat him. There was a strong glare with the snow and the white ball, and now everybody tells me I was wrong’.

16 Jan 1966 Bobby Gilbert (not pictured) scores against Sligo as Liam Tuohy looks on

The line-ups on that Sunday afternoon were as follows. Shamrock Rovers: Smyth; Keogh, Courtney, Mulligan, Nolan, Fullam, O’Neill, Tyrell, Gilbert, Tuohy, O’Connell. Sligo Rovers: Flood, Murray, Dowling, Quinn, Pugh, Dunne, Millington, Turner, Burnside, Corcoran, McDonnell.

Rovers had completed the first half of the season without dropping a point and established what looked an unassailable lead but in just three weeks the table underwent a remarkable transformation.

Their winning streak was brought to a halt with a 3-2 defeat at home to Bohemians and on February 6th a record crowd of 24,000 packed Milltown to see Rovers play their nearest challengers Waterford, who won the game by a single goal.

That was to have a vital bearing on the destination of the title and an incredible run of 13 straight wins would catapult Waterford to the top of the table by March, a position Paddy Coad’s men would not relinquish. It was to be the beginning of a new order in League of Ireland football.

Best Winning Starts
15 – Bohemians in 1923-24
11 – Sligo Rovers in 1936-37
11 – Shamrock Rovers in 1965-66
9 – Bohemians in 1929-30
9 – Limerick in 2016 (First Division)
8 – Waterford in 1971-72
8 – Cork City in 1998-99
8 – Sligo Rovers in 2013

Derry v Limerick

Derry City face Limerick at the Brandywell on Friday night knowing that a win will guarantee the northerners fourth spot in the 2013 Premier Division. That will be enough to qualify for the Europa League at the expense of Shamrock Rovers for the second year running if Sligo can lift the FAI Cup on November 3rd.

Limerick probably need all three points if they are to leapfrog Munster rivals Cork City for a top half finish but the bad news for both Super Blues and Hoops supporters is that Limerick have never defeated Derry in a league game. Not once, in 25 attempts.

Derry reached the League of Ireland top flight in 1987 and Noel King’s contract was terminated in October of that year. Jim McLaughlin’s first game as caretaker manager saw South African striker Owen Da Gama grab a hat-trick in a 5-0 home win over Limerick.

Derry took five points out of nine against Billy Hamilton’s side in their 1988/89 title winning campaign and went on to crush them 7-0 at the Brandywell the following season. Three different players scored a penalty in that game – Mick Neville, Liam Coyle and Felix Healy who completed his hat-trick from the spot.

Derry maintained a 100% record over Limerick in 1990/91 winning twice in Rathbane. Limerick came back up as First Division champions under Sam Allardyce and in the 1992/93 season, now managed by Noel King, all four meetings with the Candystripes were drawn. Victory continued to elude Limerick in 1993/94 when they were relegated once again.

The teams met in a promotion/relegation playoff in 2003 and after a scoreless draw at Pike Rovers Sports Ground, a sensational 14-minute hat-trick from young striker Mark Farren – his first senior goals for the club – spurred Derry City through to the final where they went on to defeat Finn Harps.

Derry were demoted to the First Division ahead of the 2010 season for financial reasons. Both teams were considered title contenders but Limerick drew a blank in the three encounters as Derry dug their way out of what some have dubbed ‘the graveyard’ at the first time of asking.

Last season, Limerick won promotion to the Premier Division for the first time in 19 years. The Shannonsiders were within minutes of banishing the Derry hoodoo and securing their first ever win on the banks of the Foyle before late goals by Mark Griffin and Rory Patterson sent Derry to the top of the table.

That was in May, and in their other clash this season in July at Thomond Park a second half goal by David McDaid was all that separated their sides. The last time Limerick managed to defeat Derry in a competitive game was in the 2001/02 season when they became only the second First Division club to win the League Cup.

Limerick recovered from a first half strike from Derry teenager Kevin Deery to claim a memorable victory in the first leg at Jackman Park. Ciaran Foley restored parity on the stroke of half-time before defender Derek Whyte converted from the penalty spot with seven minutes remaining.

Prior to the second leg, Derry boss Kevin Mahon was under the impression that a 1-0 win would have earned his team the trophy under the away goals rule. However, referee David McKeon informed both teams before the game that this was not the case.

A Liam Coyle penalty left the final tied 2-2 on aggregate and the game went into extra time and then penalties, with Limerick emerging victorious after goalkeeper Jimmy Fyffe saved shots from both Eddie McCallion and Gareth Mullan.

Derry also defeated Limerick in the 1990/91 final at the Brandywell and the 2006 semi-final at Hogan Park. The clubs have never met in the FAI Cup but they do have a bit of history in All-Ireland competition when Derry were participating in the Irish League.

Limerick won 3-2 on aggregate in the 1947/48 Inter-City Cup first round and lost 5-1 in Cliftonville at the same stage the following season. In the 1970/71 Texaco Cup first round, Derry progressed 4-3 over two legs and eventually fell to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-finals.

Premier Division
11 Oct 1987 – Derry 5-0 Limerick [Da Gama 3, Cunningham, Healy]
27 Dec 1987 – Limerick 2-2 Derry [McGonigle 2; Hegarty, Quigg]
13 Mar 1988 – Derry 3-2 Limerick [Cunningham, Speak, Carlyle; Tuite, Behan]
11 Sep 1988 – Limerick 1-1 Derry [Walsh; Carlyle]
4 Dec 1988 – Derry 1-1 Limerick [Healy; Walsh]
12 Feb 1989 – Limerick 1-3 Derry [Hyde; Coll og, Coyle, Coady]
5 Nov 1989 – Derry 2-0 Limerick [Hegary, Krstic]
12 Nov 1989 – Limerick 1-2 Derry [Mullane; Curran, Keay]
28 Apr 1990 – Derry 7-0 Limerick [Neville pen, Healy 3 (1 pen), Coyle pen, Krstic, Speak]
11 Nov 1990 – Limerick 0-4 Derry [Gauld 2 pens, Curran, Vaudequin]
18 Nov 1990 – Derry 1-0 Limerick [Gauld pen]
21 Apr 1990 – Limerick 0-2 Derry [Carlyle, Gorman]
30 Aug 1992 – Limerick 0-0 Derry
15 Nov 1992 – Derry 1-1 Limerick [Trainor; De Mange]
31 Jan 1993 – Limerick 1-1 Derry [Mumby; O’Brien]
21 Mar 1993 – Derry 1-1 Limerick [Bacon; Ryan]
24 Oct 1993 – Derry 0-0 Limerick
31 Oct 1993 – Limerick 0-1 Derry [Gauld pen]
3 May 2013 – Derry 2-1 Limerick [Griffin, Patterson; Folan]
28 Jul 2013 – Limerick 0-1 Derry [McDaid]

First Division
12 Mar 2010 – Limerick 0-1 Derry [McDaid]
21 May 2010 – Derry 0-0 Limerick
20 Aug 2010 – Limerick 0-1 Derry [Farren]

Promotion/Relegation Playoff
3 Dec 2003 – Limerick 0-0 Derry
6 Dec 2003 – Derry 4-0 Limerick [Farren 3, McCallion]

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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!

LIMERICK FC 0
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.

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The programme from Limerick versus Shamrock Rovers on 28 August 1960

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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