Giles and Dunphy do their talking on the pitch

 

FROM THE ARCHIVE:In 1977, Sligo Rovers defeated Shamrock Rovers 3-1 to clinch their first league title in 40 years. The following season, the sides met in the FAI Cup final – with the Dublin side fielding a star-studded team which included Johnny Giles, Ray Treacy and Eamon Dunphy. Peter Byrne was at Dalymount Park for the game and this was his match report, published in The Irish Timeson Monday, May 1st, 1978.

CONTROVERSY, raw, and at times ribald, hung like a pall over Dalymount Park yesterday after Shamrock Rovers, in the manner of so many of their earlier successes in the competition, had cheated their critics and celebrated their coming of age with their 21st success in the FAI Cup.

Sligo Rovers, at the end of a season which promised so much, were left with nothing more than memories and the singular eeriness of the losers’ dressingroom when a penalty, converted with aplomb by Ray Treacy in the 48th minute of the first half, separated the teams in a taut, tense game.

History teaches that all of the more memorable cup finals contained the essential element of controversy. And in this aspect, at least, yesterday’s game seemed destined to stand the test of time.

John Carpenter’s preparedness to make unpopular refereeing decisions has, perhaps, involved him in more debate than any of his contemporaries. His award of the critical penalty merely served to embellish that reputation.

The players were already anticipating the respite of the interval when Tony Fagan, in a moment of rare carelessness, gave the ball away to Johnny Giles. And Giles, perceptive as ever in such situations, immediately pushed the quick, through pass to Steve Lynex just inside the penalty area.

There will be a dozen different versions of the incidents that followed, but, as I saw it, Lynex was pushed as Paul Fielding and Chris Rutherford converged to make the tackle.

The referee first ran in the direction of the scene of the foul and then, in a change of stride that will haunt Sligo men for years, he veered towards the penalty spot with a total certainty which brooked no argument.

In the context that Lynex was pushed, I believe he ruled correctly. More contentious, by far, was his decision to play four minutes injury-time in a half in which the stoppages were minimal.

In those eventual seconds, the game was won and lost for, while Sligo enjoyed the odd, fleeting moment of affluence in the second half, Shamrock Rovers held their line intact in varying degrees of efficiency and expediency.

Thus, the trophy, suitably decorated in green and white, went back to a familiar resting place last night and Shamrock Rovers, in a fashion, had fulfilled their destiny.

Those who had thought in terms of a huge crowd to provide the requisite atmosphere on the terraces, reckoned without the whims of nature.

This was an afternoon taken from deepest winter – with wind and sleet sweeping the grounds for hours before the kick-off. It cut the attendance to less than 15,000 and yet, for much of the first half the level of entertainment was quite superb.

Sligo, giving substance to their pledge to strike early, were often the more inventive team in the opening minutes, forcing two corners and generally testing the quality of the outer ring of the Dubliners’ defence.

Johnny Fullam, never more assured in a role he has performed a thousand times, held Shamrock Rovers together in that critical patch, but then, in the 20th minute, came the first of four clear-cut chances which Sligo created . . . and lost.

Donald Tobin, thriving in the importance of the occasion, hit a perfect 40-yard pass which gave Garry Hulmes a clear run at goal.

But Hulmes, chased by Noel Synnott, inexplicably veered to the right and, with the angle thus reduced, never threatened to beat Alan O’Neill with the shot from 10 yards.

Later, Tobin projected another splendid pass through the middle, but on this occasion Fullam’s outstretched foot averted the danger as Hulmes and John Delamere lurked a couple of yards away.

Gradually, however, the impetus left Sligo’s assault and Eamon Dunphy, producing the skills which brought back memories of palmier days, took over to provide the springboard for Shamrock Rovers’ counter-assault.

Tony Fagan did well to climb above Treacy and Lynex to head away O’Leary’s cross and Chris Rutherford was ideally placed to block the shot when the rebound fell at the feet of Giles. Tobin was again at the heart of the action in the 38th minute when his shot from 30 yards was held only at the second attempt by O’Neill.

Half-time gave the teams and their supporters the opportunity to assess the flow of battle in those opening 45 minutes and clearly Sligo reckoned their best chance of survival lay in pushing players forward. Just as they had done in the first half, they drove the opposition into retreat immediately after the restart, but the goal which might have sent the trophy to Connacht for the first time was denied them by a spectacular save from O’Neill in the 47th minute. O’Neill was a couple of yards off his line as Tobin’s cunning lob dipped just beneath the crossbar, but he arched backwards to knock it over the crossbar.

It was, unquestionably, the highlight of a splendid afternoon for the goalkeeper, but he was, perhaps, lucky to find Synnott standing behind him and ready to make the goal line clearance after he had misjudged the pace and angle of Fielding’s cross from the backline in the 70th minute.

Shamrock’s concession to enterprise was predictably smaller as they staked everything on retaining their advantage in the second half, but they might have had a second goal in the 74th minute when Mark Meagan’s shot was rather fortuitously blocked by Fielding’s boot.

Giles was gracious in his admiration for Sligo. “They fought well and skilfully and while they rarely looked like scoring from play, they always warranted respect.

“I thought our team played exceptionally well in the first half, but eventually the tension got to some of the younger players in the side.”

Giles himself had contributed nobly to success and some of his distribution on a day when ball control was hazardous in the extreme was as good as anything he has produced in recent years.

Dunphy’s first-half performance outweighed his eclipse subsequently and Meagan, in his own unspectacular way, contributed to the success of the middle line.

Fullam’s achievement in winning his eighth cup-winners’ medal was distinguished by characteristic skill and vision and it was his influence which dominated a defence in which Pierce O’Leary, Mick Gannon and Synnott all showed to excellent effect.

Treacy. coated in mud, was unsparing as ever in his efforts to bludgeon a path down the middle, but, like Lynex and Larry Murray, he was invariably blotted out by sheer weight of numbers.

Sligo fought bravely to achieve an objective which has eluded them so tantalisingly over the years and in this, their fourth losing appearance in a final, none was braver than Fagan.

Rutherford, who moved into the attack in a last desperate effort to retrieve the situation, combined effectively as ever with Tony Stenson in the middle of the defence and in midfield Tobin has played few better games since joining the club.

Eventually, however, it all added up to nothing more than heartbreak, but as Billy Sinclair reminded his senior lieutenants after the game, this was merely a phase in the evolution of a team which seems destined to bring further honour to Sligo.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: O’Neill, Gannon, O’Leary, Synnott, Fullam; Dunphy, Giles, Meagan, Murray, Treacy, Lynex. Sub: O’Sullivan for Gannon (63 mins).

SLIGO ROVERS: Patterson; Fielding, Rutherford, Stenson, Fox, Gilligan, Fagan, Tobin, Cavanagh, Hulmes, Delamere. Subs: McLoughlin for Cavanagh (65 mins); McColl for Delamere (77 mins).

Referee: J Carpenter(Dublin).