Shamrock Rovers from Ringsend to Milltown
Our tenth game of the 1977-78 season was against our biggest rivals, Shamrock Rovers. Rovers were founded in 1901 in Ringsend, where Shelbourne were at the time the local club. Rovers played their first games at Ringsend Park, and in their early years were twice forced out of football for not having their own ground. They first disbanded in 1906, briefly changing their name to St Patricks, were re-formed in 1915, and again disbanded after one season. Rovers were born again for the third time in 1921, having found a new ground outside the city at Windy Arbour.
They signed local docker Bob Fullam from rivals Shels, and reached the first Free State cup final that season. They were beaten by St James Gate, and responded by beginning a long tradition of hooliganism. Rovers fans and players physically attacked the winning team, both on the pitch and invading their dressing room, until the brother of one of the winning team fired a revolver into the ceiling of the dressing room.
A year later Rovers joined the new Free State league in its second season. They soon dominated Irish football, winning the league in 1923, the double in 1925, the league again in 1927, and the cup again in 1929. By now they were playing at Glenmalure Park in Milltown, and local bookmaker Joe Cunningham was a director. His family would own Rovers for the next half century.
They had also become ‘the Hoops’, when Belfast Celtic gave them a set of green and white hooped jerseys to replace their traditional striped ones.
Rovers did the double in 1932, and virtually owned the Free State Cup: their 1933 cup win was their fifth in a row. They won the cup again in 1936, and the league in 1938 and 39. Their star player during that era was striker Paddy Moore, the first player ever to score four goals in a World Cup qualifying match. His skill and charisma matched that of George Best, as did his drinking; Moore tragically died from alcoholism aged just 41.
Football in Dublin began to change during the 1940s. Cork United won the league five times and the cup twice, and the local Dublin battleground shifted with the collapse of Bohs and the emergence of Shelbourne and Drumcondra. Rovers won no titles but four more cups in the 1940s.
Then everything changed in 1953, after Sam Prole took over Drumcondra. The big Dublin rivalry quickly became Rovers on the south side of the river Liffey versus Drums on the north side. From then to the end of the decade, the Rovers side of that rivalry was known as Coad’s Colts. The team included goalkeeper Eamon ‘Sheila’ Darcy, midfielder and club captain Paddy Coad, outside left Liam Tuohy and striker Paddy Ambrose. Between them, Rovers and Drums won seven league titles and six FAI Cups from 1954 to 1964. Rovers also became the first Irish side to play in the European cup, losing to Man United in 1958.
After Coad left, Sean Thomas led the new Rovers side that won the double in 1964, with outside right Frank O’Neill signing from Arsenal and Liam Tuohy returning from a spell at Newcastle. Thomas then left to manage Bohs when Rovers’ owners refused to allow him to pick the team himself. That was the last time Rovers won the league, but from 1964 to 1969 they embarked on a record-breaking six-in-a-row FAI Cup wins.
The cup, however, was not overflowing with cash. By the early 1970s, the only real contest between Rovers and Drums was which was closest to bankruptcy. Both clubs’ owners, the Cunningham and Prole families, both wanted to get out of football.
But another family wanted in. Louis Kilcoyne had recently quit his job as assistant manager of the Gresham Hotel to become a football promoter, bringing Pele’s club Santos to Dublin, and he now wanted an insider’s position on football committees. To do this, he and his property developer brothers agreed to buy Drumcondra from Sam Prole. But Prole changed his mind and sold Drums to Home Farm. The Kilcoynes then turned their attention to the Cunninghams, and in 1972 they became the new owners of Shamrock Rovers.
Five years later, having lured Johnny Giles home from England, Shamrock Rovers were at the start of the boldest attempt ever to reinvent Irish football. Or so they thought. (Insert demonic cackle laden with schadenfreude!)