Rivals set for new chapter in old capital affair


DERBY DAYS: When Drumcondra FC left the scene in 1972, the path was cleared for Bohemians versus Shamrock Rovers to take centre stage

For decades, every meeting of Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers has raised the temperature on the pitch and in the stands to unique levels in Irish domestic football. And while many have pointed to the classic encounters in the 1970s for the origins of the rivalry, the roots of the relationship can be found even earlier.

On April 23rd, 1945, a record crowd watched the northside versus southside battle in the FAI Cup final. The following day The Irish Times reported: “Before a crowd of 37,348 (gate receipts, £2,240), Shamrock Rovers won the FAI Cup for the 10th time at Dalymount Park yesterday, with success coming through a single goal, scored ten minutes after the interval . . . 10 minutes after the restart Glennon brought the ball far up the field and lost possession. Before he could get back to aid the defence the ball had travelled through Farrell and Rogers to Delaney, who put it square across and Gregg, lying unmarked, scored with a shot which hit the inside of the upright, giving Collins no chance.”

In fact, the duelling between the clubs began when Shamrock Rovers defeated Bohemian FC 3-0 in the “Free State” final, in April, 1929 – this paper commenting “Rovers’ backs preserved a very even method, which upset the amateurs.”

Bohemian FC would maintain their amateur status for another 40 years – and the switch would signal a big improvement for the club’s fortunes, with Bohs claiming two league titles, two FAI Cups and two league cups in the 1970s.

The previous decade was the heyday of Drumcondra FC, who won the domestic league in 1961 and again in 1965, when holding reigning champions Shamrock Rovers to second place, with Bohemian FC finishing third (the following season Rovers and Bohs would finish second and third again respectively – though this time with Waterford FC taking the honours). Rovers would get very used to finishing second during the following seasons, though they were masters in the FAI Cup – winning the cup seven times in the 1960s.

Any talk of a big Dublin derby at the time inevitably included Drumcondra FC. However, when the northside club left the scene at the start of the 1970s, the path was cleared for Bohemians versus Shamrock Rovers to take centre stage.

In the quarter-century between Drumcondra FC’s last top-flight title, in 1965, and the dawn of the 1990s, the only Dublin clubs to claim the League of Ireland crown were Bohemian FC (in 1975 and 1978) and Shamrock Rovers (four in a row from 1984). In that time, the top-flight trophy travelled the country, going to Waterford (six times), Dundalk (five times), Athlone Town (twice), as well as Cork Hibernians, Cork Celtic, Sligo Rovers, Limerick FC and Derry City. It was left to Bohs and Rovers to fly the flag for Dublin – though never in unison.

When Rovers won the four in a row in the 1980s, Bohs finished second twice, fourth and then third, with every meeting between the two being life or death. And when Bohemians won the league in 1977-’78, Rovers finished just four points behind their fierce rivals.

Johnny Giles was then player-manager of Rovers, and would lead the club to the 1978 FAI Cup. Rovers had a high-profile, polished feel, with Giles lining up alongside Eamon Dunphy in midfield, Eoin Hand in charge at the back and Ray Treacy commanding forward operations.

In contrast, Bohs didn’t have the names, but in the city’s derby ties that didn’t seem to matter much – and with Turlough O’Connor and Eddie Byrne in attack the home supporters knew goals were possible.

And arrive they did, two in the first half – O’Connor scoring twice – the second a superb free-kick to the top corner of the net. Shortly after the break, the shed erupted when Byrne claimed Bohs’ third.

During the era the tensions between the supporters boiled over on more than one occasion, and in recent years there have been several regrettable scenes linked to the rivalry between the sides.

In March, 2000, the Dublin derby had to be halted for more than 20 minutes when fighting broke out between supporters at Dalymount Park. And in September 2003, both sets of supporters clashed again after a derby meeting at Richmond Park, which resulted in Shamrock Rovers – who never like to rest their hat anywhere for too long anyway – being told they were no longer welcome to play their home games in Inchicore.

And during the 2-2 derby meeting in April, 2004, a pig’s head was thrown on to the pitch at Dalymount – apparently in response to Bohemians’ signing of former Shamrock Rovers players Tony Grant and James Keddy.

While an unsavoury element can be difficult to shake off, it surely didn’t help that Rovers have spent so much time homeless. It also certainly damaged the club’s fortunes on the field.

This season, however, there is a new confidence that accompanies a new home. And when Rovers travel to Dalymount on Friday they will arrive as confident visitors, but with the local knowledge of a home side. And they will need that edge against the reigning league and cup champions.

Friday’s fixture has the feel of a new era in domestic soccer. But with all the tradition of an old affair.