United Irishmen

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As both national teams on the island prepare to take part in the finals of a major tournament together for the first time, Cian Manning recalls how it came about in 1973 that an All-Ireland selection took on the might of Brazil.

Fifteen professional soccer players plying their trade in England, seven from Northern Ireland, eight from the Republic of Ireland with a then combined total of well over three hundred international caps. An experiment in an All-Ireland team which was not permitted to carry such a banner, the side would be called ‘The Shamrock Rovers All-Ireland XI’, a team for another cause; to compete in a friendly match with 1970 World Champions Brazil in aid of UNICEF and cancer research in Dublin.

1973 Ire XI-BraThe key figure in the whole affair was the brother-in-law of Leeds United’s John Giles, Louis Kilcoyne, a construction magnate who had bought Shamrock Rovers during 1972-73. His business acumen combined with his roles as Vice-President of the Olympic Council of Ireland and Life Vice-President of the FAI continually afforded him challenges to match his ambitions. His pursuit of Pele would eventually yield a game at Dalymount Park between a Bohemians-Drumcondra XI against the much vaunted Santos.

A trip to Brazil for a mini-World Cup would provide the contacts to make the All-Ireland game with the holders of the Jules Rimet trophy happen in 1973. Furthermore, the tournament itself provided the Republic of Ireland with its first international winsfor some time with victories over Iran and Ecuador.

It appears that the apparent politics of the ‘All-Ireland’ team experiment were not just limited to the ongoing Troubles. It’s suggested that the head of the Brazilian FA, Joao Havelange, for promising his national team to play in Dublin would receive the FAI vote in the following year’s FIFA Presidential election. However, events back on the island of Ireland would engulf such machinations. 1972 saw close to five-hundred deaths, Bloody Sunday and eventually direct rule from London in clearly the worst year of atrocities in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, such was the heightening of tensions that the British Embassy in Dublin was burnt down.

The FAI were more than in favour of the charity match, however the IFA were less receptive. One would imagine that this was firstly not to encourage a future ‘All-Ireland’ representation or amalgamation of both national football team bodies, with much ill feeling already with the regular occurrence of ‘dual-internationals’ and the apparent poaching of players. The latter of which is an issue that has continued to irk the IFA to the present with players such as Darron Gibson playing for the Republic under FIFA eligibility rules. Even the obstacle of IFA supremo and FIFA vice-President Harry Cavan could not put a halt to the event. However, a plus for Brazil in 1973 was that the fixture would be a part of their European tour as preparation for the 1974 World Cup in Germany.

The organising of the team was undertaken by Kilcoyne’s brother-in-law, John Giles who with Derek Dougan were both receptive to the idea. However, other considerations such as security had to be taken into account. For instance the Northern Ireland national team played its home games throughout Britain rather than at Belfast for such reasons. It would appear that the game being played at the Irish Rugby Football Union’s home of Lansdowne Road rather than the FAI’s Dalymount Park would make the game more attractive to all players North and South.

Giles had no problems enticing players from the Republic and with rugby’s tradition of an All-Ireland team the move across Dublin was fitting. The team would comprise players playing in England with no League of Ireland representation though the side would bear the moniker of a ‘Shamrock Rovers XI’.

The Rovers XI donning the colours of the Dublin team played at Lansdowne where no national flag was flown or anthem sung. Though the brass band did play a rendition of ‘A Nation Once Again’ much to the warnings that preceded the game, no problems arose. After the playing of Hino Nacional Brasilerio, the 34,000 spectators saw a master class from the Samba men who lead by four goals to one. Goals from Paulo Cesar from a penalty conceded by Tommy Carroll; the legendary Jairzinho made it two-one. A twenty-five yard effort from Brazil’s first scorer and Valdomiro netting made it four goals to one with just over fifteen minutes remaining. The drubbing compounded Ireland’s sole goal, an equaliser from Mick Martin after twenty minutes.

However a spirited fight-back added some respectability to the score-line as well as reflecting the endeavours of the Rovers XI wh0 had hit the woodwork twice in the first half. The super-sub for Liam Tuohy’s team was Bryan Hamilton who was involved in the setting up of goals for Derek Dougan and Terry Conroy. There would still be enough time for a moment of brilliance from Pat Jennings saving a spot kick from Cesar to leave the match at 4-3 to Brazil.

The game is not only notable for the incidence of an ‘All-Ireland’ team but also for the fact it was the first time that a Canarinho side had conceded three goals in eight years. An omen for the forthcoming World Cup which was not heeded, Brazil would exit the tournament in West Germany after losing the third place play-off to Poland.

In the aftermath of the match, Tuohy stated to the Irish Independent:
“This was a truly unbelievable performance and I am overcome with admiration for the efforts of a side that had such a short period of preparation. They gave a great performance…Now if we don’t get an official all-Ireland soccer side I should hope to see at least matches such as this continue”

Tuohy’s role as manager for the game came after initial concerns. After a successful playing career with Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland which included four league titles and no less than eight FAI Cup winner’s medals culminated with managerial spells with Rovers and Dundalk before becoming the Republic of Ireland manager in 1971. However his tenure was brief, resigning after just eleven games due to managing both the national team and Rovers as well as working for HB Ice Cream as an area sales manager.

Match organiser Louis Kilcoyne spoke with Noel Dunne of the Independent: “We did our bit at legislation and organisational level to try and improve the existing soccer situation, now I must pay tribute to the joint efforts of players and public. Surely they just have to be heard and vested interests in Irish soccer must adopt an objective approach and see the reality of the situation. For without any doubt there are the makings of a world class side in the 32 counties of Ireland.”
The knock-on effect of the game would include John Giles returning to Ireland and playing with Shamrock Rovers achieving cup success. For a time Pat Jennings would receive abuse at Northern Ireland matches for his participation in the game which subsided with qualification for successive World Cups in the 1980s. In wearing the Shamrock Rovers colours one can wonder what could have been if Jennings had stayed with Rovers having played with the under-18s side aged eleven; the opportunity not taken then by the future Spurs and Arsenal player in order to focus on Gaelic football.

On the other hand, Derek Dougan would claim that his role and participation in the fixture lead to his subsequent exile from international football for Northern Ireland, whereas others including Giles would assert that the Wolves striker was already in the twilight of his career.

The “why’s” and “what if’s” continue when one looks at the leaderboard of Irish goal-scorers in the top flight of English soccer. Eight players from this island have scored over one hundred goals, four from Northern Ireland (Dougan, George Best, Jimmy McIlroy and Billy Gillespie) and four from the Republic (Frank Stapleton, Robbie Keane and Niall Quinn while Jimmy Dunne represented both the IFA and FAI having been born in Dublin). Dunne also represented and managed Shamrock Rovers after spells in England with Sheffield United and Arsenal. While Derek Dougan leads the list with 175 goals, all the names spanning and overlapping different eras point to what could have been shared and enjoyed together.

As filmmaker Shane Tobin notes in the years that followed the game ‘both Northern Ireland and the Republic have gone on to achieve glory at World Cup finals, but the all-Ireland experiment has never been repeated’. Now with both national teams competing in an international knock-out tournament for the first time, the European Championships, we can get close to that feeling at Lansdowne Road in 1973.

Connections to that date exist. Martin O’Neill, the Republic of Ireland international manager who participated in the game, not only played 64 times for Northern Ireland but also captained them at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. While Michael O’Neill’s miracles with Northern Ireland have been aided in no small part by his experience with Shamrock Rovers whom he won two League of Ireland titles and had a memorable foray in the group stages of the Europa League in 2011.

Though both men’s achievements pale into insignificance when compared with the progress, of some semblance of peace, between the peoples on the island of Ireland over the past twenty years. The recent bombings in Paris have received much attention and eloquent eulogies. But the words of Lassana Diarra whose cousin was a victim in the attacks not only sums up the power of sport but is also applicable to what people like Kilcoyne, John Giles and Derek Dougan tried to achieve all those years ago, that sport knows ‘no colour, no religion’.

Shamrock Rovers XI:
Pat Jennings (Spurs/Northern Ireland); Tommy Craig (Newcastle United/Northern Ireland); Paddy Mulligan (Crystal Palace/Republic of Ireland), Alan Hunter (Ipswich Town/Northern Ireland); Tommy Carroll (Birmingham City/Republic of Ireland); Terry Conroy (Stoke City/Republic of Ireland); Mick Martin (Manchester United/Republic of Ireland); John Giles (Leeds United/Republic of Ireland); Martin O’Neill (Nottingham Forrest/Northern Ireland); Derek Dougan (Wolverhampton Wanderers/Northern Ireland); Don Givens (QPR/Republic of Ireland).


Video: retroloi

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