When we were kings: glorious win undimmed by time
This star-studded England side meant to avoid the stigma of losing for the first time in 17 meetings, but the Irish outfit had other ideas
Tough back three
Eamonn Darcy had taken over the Irish goalkeeper’s shirt from Kevin Blount, and immediately in front of him was a formidable back three formation of John Keogh, Freddie Strahan and Willie Browne. Keogh would later go on to be capped by Ireland, an honour which was replicated by the other two.
Although the longevity of Ronnie Nolan’s remarkable playing career would extend to another seven years, his best years were already judged to be behind him. And the selectors promoted Shelbourne’s Paddy Roberts, a hotel waiter by trade but no slouch when it came to shackling his immediate opponent that evening, Jimmy Melia of Liverpool. Johnny Fullam was charged with the task of “sweeping” behind Strahan.
In addition to Whelan, the responsibility of hunting down goals against the mature English League defence devolved to Waterford’s Peter Fitzgerald and the Shamrock Rovers’ trio of Jackie Mooney, Eddie Bailham and Tony O’Connell.
With the exception of Ronnie Whelan, the team met up and trained together for the first time the evening before the game. Whelan was working the night shift that week and it was only after much cajoling that he talked his charge hand into giving him time off to play at Dalymount.
Paramount to the Irish team’s survival was the need to stay disciplined in the face of early England pressure and in that aspect their game plan was spot on.
The visitors opened at a pace that suggested they were not in the mood to trifle with opposition, described in the British press on the morning of the game as “willing but likely to be found wanting in skill”. Milne’s weighty tackle on Mooney was conclusive evidence of their intention to avoid the stigma of becoming the first English team to lose in 17 meetings with the League of Ireland.
The pace of the English attack was such that, out wide, Keogh and Browne had to call on all their guile and experience to cut down space and deal with the threat presented by Callaghan and O’Grady. In sharp contrast, the English goalkeeper, Waiters, was little more than an interested onlooker in the opening 15 minutes.
The suspicion was that something had to give. And it did, after 20 minutes. For the second time in the game, Byrne slipped his marker and when he was still in the process of taking the ball around Darcy, the goalkeeper brought down the West Ham player.
John “Pip” Meighan, the Dublin referee in charge of the game, had no hesitation in pointing to the spot as Byrne prepared to exact revenge. As the visitors got ready to celebrate, however, Darcy dived to his right to knock the ball against the butt of an upright and then hugged the rebound to his chest.
But before the Irish players could capitalise on the reprieve, England broke the stalemate. Hunt outflanked the defence down the right before delivering a cross for Byrne’s short-range header to be a mere formality.
Minutes later, Hunt’s header from a cross by Callaghan drew another good save from Darcy as the visitors went in search of a second goal. And when the goalkeeper parried another effort approaching half-time, Browne was forced to scamper to complete the clearance.
Boys in green
Not even the most avid Irish supporter could question the 1-0 scoreline as the teams reappeared for the second half, but despite the one-way traffic which characterised play in the first half, hope still lingered that, with luck, the men in green could yet haul themselves back into contention. To achieve it, they needed an early break and it almost materialised in the 56th minute when O’Connell quickly took Robert’s free kick under control before smacking the ball against an upright.