On 19th March 1939, the famous Mardyke Arena in Cork hosted an international soccer match between Ireland and Hungary. The home side earned a draw through goals by Paddy Bradshaw of St. James’s Gate and a late equaliser from the great Johnny Carey, who plied his trade with Manchester United in England.
Since the spilt in Irish soccer in 1921, when the Football Association of Ireland was founded as a break away from the Belfast-based Irish Football Asosciation, international games had been played at Dalymount Park, home of Bohemian FC. The first match following partition on the island involved the Irish Free State and the USA in June 1924, with the visitors losing by three goals to one. Three years later Lansdowne Road, then synonymous with Irish rugby, saw an Italian selection defeat the Free State 2-1, and in the 1970s the Dublin 4 venue was selected as the home of the Republic of Ireland international soccer team. Thus the switch to the Mardyke in Cork represents the first time a senior home international game with a side representing the FAI was played outside of Dublin.
The decision to stage the fixture on Leeside was made known in January, 1939. In preparation for the game, part of the ground adjacent to the pitch was banked for the comfort of spectators. The kick-off time was set for 3.30pm and the match would be broadcast on Radio Eireann. In anticipation of the encounter, the ‘Week-end Sports Guide’ for the Cork Examiner newspaper described it as ‘the premier sporting event in the South’ and as an ‘occasion [that] is a great one for the followers of this code of football since it is the first time that an International match was brought to Cork’.
There would be disappointment for home supporters on the day as local player Tim O’Keeffe was unable to make the game after missing his connection in Belfast from Glasgow to Cork. Yet compared to today’s Republic of Ireland international team, there was strong representation from the League of Ireland. The four players being Kevin O’Flanagan and Jimmy Dunne both of Shamrock Rovers; the latter having returned to Ireland after successive spells with Arsenal and Sheffield United, and his international record stills reads impressively, fifteen goals in thirteen games for the FAI. While Paddy Bradshaw and Owen Madden completed the League of Ireland pack in the match day line up, playing for St. James Gates and Cork City respectively.
The entity ‘Cork City’ predated today’s club which was established in 1984 by forty-six years. It only existed for one season, finishing second bottom of the league and combined with dwindling gate receipts led to the creation of Cork United who were a far more successful venture going on to win five league titles and two FAI Cups. The financial state of the club was further compounded rather than alleviated by the international fixture being staged at the Mardyke as it cost Cork City a home fixture, a very early example of little consideration shown by the FAI towards League of Ireland clubs.
In what was deemed a ‘disappointing’ game in which ‘few reputations were further enhanced,’ the visitors received the rather backhanded compliment; ‘The Hungarians impressed as individual stylists. They overworked the ball and did not combine well, but in general they were a lively lot and led Ireland a merry dance.’ Some of the Hungarian players of note were Biro at centre-back and the pair of Zsengeller and Adan in the forward line.
The first goal of the game came from Bradshaw, a header from a corner kick after fourteen minutes to give Ireland the lead. An equaliser arrived on the thirty-fifth minute scored by Gyula Zsengeller who was sent through on goal before finishing past Mackenzie who had little chance of saving the shot low to the corner of the net.
Only four minutes in to the second half, Hungary took the lead with a goal from Ferenc Koilath, described in the Examiner as follows:
“The movement began in the halt line when Lazar, who was now playing left half, drew out Gorman before lobbing in a pass. Koilath rounded off the movement by shooting from close in.
However, there was a strong Irish response with a penalty claim dismissed by the referee. After a number of missed chances and an impressive defensive display from Gorman, late drama and jubilation for Irish supporters was provided by Johnny Carey scoring the equalising goal just before the final whistle. The estimated 25,000 crowd could at least go home pleased with a battling display.”
Various other reports noted the attandance anywhere between from 12,000 to 25,000. Sadly, international soccer and the careers of players involved were impeded by the outbreak of the Second World War. One such player was Johnny Carey, the scorer of the game’s final goal, he served in the British Army and was stationed in Italy and the Middle East. After the war he achieved much success with Manchester United including a league title in 1952 after captaining the team to FA Cup victory in 1948. He was the last United captain to lift the trophy at the Wembley showpiece until Cork’s Noel Cantwell in 1963.
In a preview of a Cork United-Waterford game in 1946 it was suggested that the League of Ireland tie would rival that of the record set by the international match in 1939, which saw gate receipts of £1,100. Yet the FAI in a meeting in Dublin intimidated that they were disappointed by the fixture failing to fulfil expectation.
Almost five decades later, as part of the celebrations for Cork’s 800th anniversary the association staged a friendly match against Spain on 26th May 1985 at Flower Lodge, shortly after sold to the GAA. A crowd of 15,000 witnessed the teams play out a 0-0 draw in the last senior international game to take place in the southern capital.
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