Wed Sep 21, 1977 – Ireland 2 League of Ireland 1
Thirty years ago today, we had a second big midweek game in a row, as a League of Ireland team, managed by Jim McLaughlin of Dundalk, played the Ireland international team at Dalymount. The crowd was about half of the 25,000 that had showed up for our game against Newcastle. The shed end echoed with competing chants: ‘Ireland, Ireland!’ and ‘League of Ireland, League of Ireland!’ I instinctively supported the domestic players. They were the ones I watched week in week out, not only the three Bohs players on the team, but even those who played for teams that I hated. They were ‘we’, in a much more real way than the Irish international team could ever be, traveling over ‘to’ Ireland from their usual location inside our television sets.
Anyway, our team had four recent Irish caps: goalkeeper Mick Smyth of Bohs, centre-halves Tommy McConville and Paddy Dunning of Dundalk, and striker Ray Treacy of Shamrock Rovers. Our full-backs were Limerick’s Pat Nolan and Bohs’ Fran O’Brien. Our midfield was Athlone winger Terry Daly, Drogheda’s Martin Donnelly, Waterford’s former England international Bobby Tambling, and Bohs winger Gerry Ryan. Ray Treacy (tonight one of ‘us’ despite playing for Shamrock Rovers) was joined up front by Sligo’s Paul McGee. Another former Irish international, Waterford goalkeeper Peter Thomas, shared the bench with Drogheda’s Brendan Tully, Sligo’s Tony Fagan, Leo ‘Pop’ Flanagan of Saint Pats and Sydney Wallace of Waterford.
We faced an illustrious opposition, more often seen at Highbury or Old Trafford than Dalymount. It was almost all of the Ireland team that had recently been mugged by Bulgaria and a biased referee – on my sixteenth birthday, no less – in a qualifying group match for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Mick Kearns of Walsall was in goal. With West Brom’s Mick Martin suspended after being sent off in Bulgaria, young Davy Langan of Derby joined Arsenal’s Dave O’Leary, West Brom’s Paddy Mulligan and Tottenham’s Jimmy Holmes in defence. The Ireland team had a formidable midfield trio of former Bohs star Gerry Daly of Derby, Johnny Giles of Shamrock Rovers, and Liam Brady of Arsenal. And, with Liverpool’s Steve Heighway unavailable, Stoke’s Terry Conroy joined QPR’s Don Givens and Arsenal’s Frank Stapleton up front.
The difference in class immediately showed as Stapleton headed on an early Giles corner to the back post where Givens nodded it home. 0-1. Midway through the half, Terry Conroy’s speculative lob into our box confused Mick Smyth and Paddy Dunning, with the ball glancing into our net off Dunning’s head. 0-2. A massacre seemed on the cards when Smyth somehow blocked a shot from Giles and a rebound from Givens, before Dunning finally cleared the ball. But, as the game progressed, the crowd turned firmly in favour of the domestic players. The chant from the shed spread all around the ground. ‘League of Ireland! League of Ireland! League of Ireland!’ I had never felt prouder.
Our local heroes began to settle after Terry Daly forced Mick Kearns to save a long shot. We eked out a few more chances before the moment we had all been waiting for. On the hour mark Bobby Tambling chipped a free kick that was headed on by Ray Treacy into the path of the inrushing Paul McGee. The Sligo striker held his nerve and slotted the ball past Kearns. 1-2! The goal was met with one of the loudest cheers I have heard in Dalymount. And then the chants spread around Dalymount again. ‘League of Ireland! League of Ireland! League of Ireland!’ We paused to applaud as Giles made way for substitute Ashley Grimes, who had recently left Bohs for Manchester United. And the pressure for an equaliser intensified as Brendan Tully and Sydney Wallace replaced Paddy Dunning and Terry Daly.
Then, in the final minute, Jimmy Holmes clearly shoved Paul McGee in the penalty area. The crowd erupted. Penalty! And, despite the blemish of playing for Shamrock Rovers, even I knew that Ray Treacy was well able to put penalties away. But, to our horror, the ref waved play on. For fuck’s sake! It was Ireland against Bulgaria all over again, but this time ‘we’ were playing against Ireland, and we were still being cheated. So we lost, but narrowly, in what was a dreaded ‘moral victory’, which is a victory in which the other team scores more goals than you. But at least we had players like Gerry Ryan and Paul McGee to watch week after week. Or so we optimistically thought. It was not to be long before both of them had followed Ashley Grimes over to England.