Thanks for the Memories!

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Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Tue Apr 07, 2020 6:49 pm

One of the best days......

Long before the Stephen Kenny / Vinny Perth era and with Jim McLaughlin and Turlough O'Connor led success a fading memory

Dundalk’s 2002 FAI Cup win was 18 years ago and the joy of it all is still fresh in the minds of those fortunate enough to witness it

James Rogers takes us back there through the reflections of Stephen McGuinness ... i-cup-win/
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Tue Apr 07, 2020 10:45 pm

Philip Quinn's match report for the Indo ... k=117A8740
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Tue Apr 07, 2020 10:53 pm

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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by seand » Wed Apr 08, 2020 4:01 pm

What a match and what a day that was. Always tainted in my memory though by the fact that a team that should never have been in trouble were relegated the week before.

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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Wexford White » Wed Apr 08, 2020 11:19 pm

Lots of hoofing and hoping there, wasn't there?
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Fri Apr 10, 2020 10:12 pm

Teak-tough warrior James Coll was Dundalk FC's granite-block at the back

Norman Hunter bites legs, Vinnie Jones bites noses and a snarl from James Coll is usually enough to send goose pimples shooting up and down the necks of National League centre-forwards. Carved from granite, the Scot is the sort of guy who would not flinch if ordered to spearhead the charge at Bannockburn. He is the National League equivalent of a Sherman tank.

The Irish Independent’s Philip Quinn, 1995.

Democrat: “Is that accurate, James?”

Coll: “It could be close to it, yeah. Then there was the Felix Healy thing… Ah, no, that was at Bohemians. Never mind.”

Democrat: “No, go on.”

Coll: “Do you not know about that.”

Democrat: “No.” (Perhaps all the better for not!)

Coll: “The year I signed with Turlough at Bohs (1995) we were playing up in Derry, first against second. It was nil-all at half-time and I’d made two or three tackles, ‘man and ball’ if you understand what I’m saying. Not over the top or anything, just man and ball. Felix Healy comes over, ‘you Scottish…’

“I said to him: ‘Listen, you were a shitbag as a player; you’re a shitbag as a manager. pillowcase off’.

“He walked over to me, looked at me and punched me - this is the manager of Derry City. He went to do it again and I grabbed his throat and squeezed it. The referee came over and I asked if he saw what happened. He said to get behind him - I thought for my own protection - because Healy was going mad. He took out the red card and showed it to Felix Healy. Healy came again and I grabbed his throat so that he couldn’t hit me. The referee turned around and gave me a red card.

“‘What’s that for?’”

“‘Retaliation,’ he said.”

“I made a run for Healy at that stage, ‘I’ll show you what retaliation is…’ Two or three guys got me to the ground...

“I had to go to the Four Courts in Dublin to clear my name. To this day, I know I should have sued Derry City, but I was told by Bohemians and the FAI not to because Derry could have been thrown out of the league and maybe out of football. I didn’t want to go that far.

“The FAI, after they got the referee’s report, they banned me for three weeks. Felix Healy got nothing… Never a dull moment, I’m afraid.”

Quite so.

James Coll remains a revered figure among portions of the Dundalk FC fanbase. While lacking the profile of, say, Dermot Keely or Tommy McConville, the fondly-remembered Scot skippered The Lilywhites to the 1995 league title, having also been a spinal member of the championship-winning side of four seasons earlier.

Plucked from obscurity by Turlough O’Connor in 1984, he was an instant hit at Athlone Town, lining-up alongside Tom Connolly, Pádraig O’Connor and the likes. Reared in Glasgow, before moving to Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal, where his father came from, at the age of 16 Coll was unsure of where his career would go.

A successful stint with Gweedore Celtic preceded a work placement in Dublin, where he featured and was spotted playing for a local side in Tallaght. On to Athlone, where he began to forge a promising reputation. So much so that Belgian giants Anderlecht lodged their interest, speaking to O’Connor, only for the clubs to fail when it came to financial negotiations.

He was only told subsequently of the talks and has never got around to inquiring whether it was money alone that prevented the transfer process from furthering.

“I remember going home to my wife and asking if she spoke French. ‘We’re going to Belgium’,” Coll recalls, chuckling.

And then there was later interest from Mansfield, which didn’t materialise. Hostility at a trial match not exactly making the newcomer feel entirely welcome.

“The manager was to meet me, but there was a match so I arrived at the airport and this guy collects me; a big, big guy. I was about six feet one and this guy was six-five; a big bulky thing. I shook his hand and he nearly crushed mine…

“‘I’m the representative of Mansfield,’ he says.

“‘Aye, James here.’

“‘What’s your position, James?’

“‘I’m a centre-half.’

“He looked me in the eye and walked up. He says: ‘I’m the centre-half and I’m the captain.’

“I’m streetwise and I knew right away, ‘I’m getting nowhere here’. He didn’t welcome me, he actually threatened me.

“When I played a game I said ‘this isn’t for me’, because I knew. He tried to do me in the match, the first-team against the second-team. I knew I’d end up digging him and that’d destroy me.”

O’Connor, for whom he still has much admiration, left for Dundalk in 1985 and had wanted to take the swashbuckling Glaswegian with him. Town’s asking fee was said to have been what scuppered the deal and Coll was sore about it. John Cleary would sign for The Lilywhites, likely in place of O’Connor’s Athlone prodigy, and every time he went to Oriel Park until moving there permanently, he felt emotional.

“When Turlough didn’t take me to Dundalk, that hurt,” Coll says.

“He drove up to my house to try and sign me - I was out, and he never came back. I think he went for John Cleary from St. Pat’s. I don’t know why he didn’t come back, but every time after that when I played in Dundalk - and they started winning - I used to visualise, ‘that could have been me’.

“Had he came for me that year, I’d have been at Dundalk five years previously and six years after… 11 years.”

Terms at St. Patrick’s Athletic and Limerick - where Billy Hamilton was building an impressive team - followed, before being reunited with O’Connor as Jim Gannon’s replacement.

“It was a no-brainer, getting back working with Turlough, because he was the best manager I ever had, going right back to my school days when I had really good managers.

“The way he conducted himself, with so much class, and when you were in a training ground, he would put his boots on, nutmeg me and laugh. But when something came up about a matchday, when you knew Turlough was talking about a matchday, you listened.

“Turlough knew what I could do; I was a leader, a winner, I pushed people up so we could squeeze.”

Determined to make his mark in an experienced dressing room, containing many 1988 double winners, it was a case of Coll getting “the first clatter in” at training. He managed that. Boy, did he manage that.

Celtic warrior Billy McNeill was his hero and who he strived to be as a youngster watching games at Parkhead.

“I used to look at the guy winning the ball in the air,” he adds. “I always wanted to be a defender and when other people were going for Jimmy Johnstone and the Lennoxes, the goalscorers, I used to go to Celtic Park to watch Billy McNeill, how he’d organise it and win the ball.”

And that was the blueprint for Coll at Dundalk. Attack the ball and win it, thus preventing any chance of conceding. Ultimately, defensive solidity was the base upon which O’Connor built his second victorious side, recruiting solid Dubliner Ronnie Murphy from Bohemians.

He would be the Franco Baresi of the partnership in the sense of mopping up whatever little got by Coll. The sweeper behind the wall. Not that anyone bar O’Connor saw the duo becoming such a success.

“That was Turlough O’Connor, the vision of the man. When I saw Ronnie Murphy coming in I was saying to myself - and Ronnie and I became best mates - ‘how the pillowcase is he going to fit in?’ He was big and he could tackle, but the guy, I thought his legs were gone.

“But he would just tidy up. Though he’d never stay on the ball. I remember if we were winning 3-0, I used to get the ball and pass it around the back. Ronnie would say to me, ‘don’t pass it to me’, so when we’d be well up I used to hit the ball to him hard so the forward would go for him. ‘You, ya Scottish prick… don’t be doing that to me…’ I’d do it to put him under pressure.”

The Lilywhites went 16 games unbeaten from December 1990 to the division’s conclusion in spring of the following year, the campaign culminating in an incredible victory on the last day of the season against Cork City, just as it would 23 years later.

Tom McNulty got the match- and title-winning strike at Turner’s Cross, though, in Coll’s mind, victory was but a formality.

Dundalk were winners, both historically and in the dressing room, and that was significant.

“Going down to Cork knowing they’d won everything, the All-Irelands in GAA and camogie… We were down on their patch and for us to beat them was unreal.

“But we had total belief. I looked at Ronnie Murphy, Tom McNulty, Terry Eviston and the players around me… we’d so much experience and I didn’t just feel we’d beat them, I said they’re not going to score, end of story.

“When you’ve somebody like Tom McNulty in your team you just know you’re going to do it.

“It was a bit surreal as we walked out, we saw the Dundalk supporters up in the corner and we went over. I listened to a programme the other day with Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold talking about how the crowd spurs you on. When we went to the crowd it hit us that they were after travelling from Dundalk, and we actually said this in the dressing room, ‘we cannot let them go home without the title’.

“They gave us a buzz because they were singing, but the Cork mob didn’t have the songs to get them going. Dundalk had years of winning and songs to get them going; Cork would shout and roar, but it would die down.”

They advanced to the European Cup qualifiers later in the year, losing to Honved over two legs, despite securing a draw in Hungary. Coll reckons Dundalk failed to adapt for the second leg, whereas the visitors had decisively altered their approach.

He would win Dundalk’s player of the year award in 1992, but the end was nigh for O’Connor after defeat by Shelbourne in the 1993 FAI Cup final. His departure was sad, especially how supporters had begun to turn against a man who had led the club through another golden era.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Coll, then captain, says. “Turlough is a very close man and he wouldn’t tell you the half of it, but you knew deep down that it was going on.

“Dermot (Keely) came in, full of craic, but he was all about grit and guts. There was no tactical side to it, whereas Turlough used to drag me back and explain the tactical instructions.”

Coll openly admits he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Keely, despite the pair combining to win the league championship in 1995. A dominant figure of the dressing room, in the Keely mould, he reckons the steely Dublin native was dubious of his influence.

“I was captain at that stage,” says Coll. “He realised the way he was and I was, I was a strong figure the way he was in his playing days, so he probably knew he couldn’t take it off me.

“We were a group of players that were put together and we worked really hard - other teams in the league had better players - but when myself and Dermot clashed, towards the end of the season, I was never offered a contract and it really hurt me.

“That’s when Turlough O’Connor came in - possibly the best manager I ever worked under - and took me to Bohemians. I had to go because I knew I was getting nothing at Dundalk, where I’d given six years, a club where I thought I’d end my career.”

Perhaps their personality clash is best told via Coll’s challenge over Keely’s team selection amid the run-in in ’95.

“McNulty said it to me after, ‘I can’t believe, James, the number of people who’ve come up to me asking why I was gone’. Being honest, I couldn’t believe it myself. But, again, it’s a power thing.

“Dermot thought I had the dressing room. People were coming to me rather than Dermot. He was good and motivated, don’t get me wrong, Dermot was good, but it was the little tactical things… He dropped Eddie van Boxtel, to me the best goalkeeper in the league, and brought in Jody Byrne.

“We were winning games and going up to Shamrock Rovers trying to catch up. A ball got passed back and Jody let it go under his legs and into the goal. Before that game he’d made a couple of mistakes as well and I went to Dermot afterwards and said we’re not going to play again until you put Eddie back in. McNulty came to me and said we had to do something.

“I think that’s when Dermot took the biggest gripe against me. It was like me telling him this is what you’ve got to do. But he put van Boxtel in and we went on to win the league; it was the best call.”

A sour taste lingered and the manner of his departure still sits uncomfortably.

“It’s the most passionate I was at any football club. The sad point is I don’t think I ever should have left the club. I could see myself at the time going for my badges and taking over the club. I was well respected through the players; if any player needed anything they came to me and we discussed it and got it sorted.

“Someone in the background was talking about me getting a testimonial over the following years. Obviously I wanted to get Celtic over and I was getting in touch with contacts in Glasgow, but then there is that time period where it lay, the contract situation.

“Turlough would have got the players signed, but Dermot knew if he left it for a while somebody would come in for me and then he’d try after… ‘I wanted you to stay...’

“But he should have got me the day after we won the league. There’s players that are stronger and weaker, but if you’ve got a player and you know what he can do, you’ve got to have him in your team. It’s like going into a war, you can’t take your top general out, because you’ll be slaughtered.”

Nonetheless, he still holds great affection for the club and keeps track of their results, recalling the good days and title wins.

Quinn’s assessment was spot on, and Felix Healy would likely agree. ... -back.html
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Martin Lawlor80 » Sat Apr 11, 2020 7:28 pm

James Coll: still my favourite player ever, although I suppose I have to put Richie T alongside him now and probably Ganno in the future!!

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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Thu Apr 23, 2020 11:08 am

I really enjoyed this look back at the Dermot Keely management era and the "unlikely" league win in 1995 ... ng-season/
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Thu Apr 23, 2020 10:33 pm

Brian Byrne............... what a player! ... -up-oriel/
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Fri Apr 24, 2020 9:45 pm

El Paso logic: Dundalk FC was Martin Lawlor's club and he gave 17 years of incredible service

Loyalty is perhaps the greatest compliment Martin Lawlor can be paid. He left Dundalk FC thrice at its most successful, returning twice, prior to bringing his 17-season association to a halt after the 1995 title victory.

A Lilywhites legend, his feats have stood the test of time and the Dubliner remains a holder of several records. His 400 league appearances are yet to be surpassed, while up until a quintet of the recent-year champions hit the five league winners’ medal haul, he was out on his own in a silverware sense too.

In addition, Lawlor was a top-flight runner-up four times and won the FAI Cup on a joint-best three occasions. Factor in his 30 League of Ireland caps and few displays for the U21 international side and you have a player whose credentials place him among the domestic division’s all-time greats.

The crowning glory, one would imagine, is the 1991 title triumph in Cork. His fourth such victory, he was also the captain. But it isn’t. He’s unwilling to single any particular win out. Even if he did feel it was an ideal time in which to bow out.

“I never regretted leaving because if you analyse most situations, most people will jump off a sinking ship,” Lawlor tells The Democrat.

“I felt at the time that I’d served the football community of Dundalk to the very best of my ability - having been given the honour to be able to. If ever there was a time as an individual to examine new football pastures, that was the time to do it, not in the ’80s when the club struggled fairly significantly.”

He went to Shamrock Rovers and helped to form a miserly defence, but with goalscoring an issue, manager Noel King was replaced by Ray Treacy, who immediately set about culling the panel. Fourteen established professionals were let go over a two-month period, leaving Lawlor with a free passage home, as it were. Turlough O’Connor and Dundalk welcomed him back with open arms.

“You never played for Dundalk for the weekly wage, because it would cost you money travelling up and down. It was just for passion.”

Something abundantly providable.

Why stay so long? Seventeen years, during which the bad times were almost fatal, is an incredible duration. But…

“It was my club and I was honoured to pull on that particular jersey every week,” he says, energised. “You went down the town, into the local shops and the bars, even though I didn’t drink, or into the chip shop. You just mingled with the community of people and the cup of tea was always the focal point for me because people knew that I didn’t drink.

“Various supporters over the years continued to evolve into golden people who had the club at heart and stuck by the club during all those lean times.

“Mary McElligott (Mariah) was an absolute golden nugget of a supporter for a long number of years that I was up there. In her hail and hearty days of ‘c’mon Dundalk’ - that battlecry in the stand, for the want of a better description, it was like the Pope or God coming along and saying ‘c’mon Dundalk’. It meant so much to the players.

“But, for me, from the very early part of my time at the club, for this woman to come and say ‘you’re like my son’ and ‘you’ve to promise me that you’re going to carry my coffin at my funeral’. People like her and people who were at the club, like Mickey Fox, you would just sweat blood for people like that.

“The people who ran the club, the Quinns, Enda McGuill. At times when you knew the club was on its knees and people were on their knees, there were difficult times in the late ’70s and ’80s, the supporters, Vincie Cranny - another absolute staunch supporter - they were people who every time you pulled on the jersey, you put your hand on the crest and said, ‘who am I representing today?’

“You went out on the park and you’d no problem getting the adrenaline into your veins. You look at the shed and all those expectant faces, the expectation from the young kids to the fathers who brought their kids. It just made you feel so privileged that people from this community wanted you there, respected you and gave you the opportunity to represent just a phenomenal football community of people.

“Certainly, that’s what helped keep me at the club for 17 or 18 years.”

He adds: “I did have discussions with other clubs at different times, but I used to say I’d give it another ‘pinch’ and always felt that we could do it. My attitude was, ‘if we just did this’ or ‘if we could get one more player’. You always knew finances were tight and the club went through ups and down, which always contributed to just missing out. With four runners-up medals under my belt, we were always there or thereabout.

“But that loyalty to the people I mention, it had already started to become a central reason for me. Mickey Fox, he was absolutely revered and to be welcomed into the famous bootroom under the stairs for a drop of pink tea and a marietta, not everyone was made that welcome, but I certainly was.

“Mickey would have been telling you tales of Mick Millington, ‘Tootsie’ McKeown and Jimmy Hasty. He’d have you spellbound over the cup of pink tea. As a young player, it was a real privilege to go into Mickey and ask all these questions, ‘what was the pitch like when it was the other way?’...

“You got wonderful, character-building stories and Mickey would infuse that historic passion in you for the club. They were the values that I looked for and they resonated with me in Dundalk.”

Passion personified.

A flying winger through his Sheriff United and Stella Maris underage days, former Dundalk President Jim Reilly, a friend of Lawlor, attempted to coax him to the club as a 17-year-old. He declined, but The Lilywhites got their man a year later.

Lawlor had left school after his group cert - age 13 - and began working his way up the career ladder, from an officeboy to a sales rep. He was the type of strong character that Jim McLaughlin built his sides on.

And so the latter gave his prodigy (19) a first-team chance in October 1977, only for him to ‘leave’ under a cloud the following summer after a fallout with McLaughlin. He wasn’t picked for an FAI Cup match and felt he knew better. He smiles at his audacity now.

A summer spent playing for Colorado in America could have resulted in an extended stint, but he opted for familiarity and when McLaughlin regained the “quite fast, if a tad dangly” left-footer, he placed him in a back four containing the great Tommy McConville, “a modest young man called Dermot Keely” and Paddy Dunning for a pre-season game. And, as they say, that was that. The partnership set like cement. He was the left-back.

“Jim and Turlough, equally, were two amazing men and they had a great ability to look at people and gauge them,” Lawlor adds. “They would have done their homework as to what type of guys they were and when they decided to go for a player, they were players who didn’t have to be spoken to much about the game; they were respected in their own right and they slotted in to do a particular job.

“They could pick players who would suit the team, but also very importantly, lads who were good off the park; lads who respected the club and particularly lads who respected the supporters, and knew the important role that the supporters played every week.

“We’d no ‘flash in the pan players’. Dundalk always had teams built on solid foundations of people coming to the club and staying. The hardcore group stayed at the club for five or six years and sometimes longer. That’s always been the founding scenario of great Dundalk teams.”

O’Connor, he reckons, doesn’t get the credit he ought to for his reign. Certainly not in the context of McLaughlin or Stephen Kenny. Though he feels ardent Dundalk followers appreciate his achievements equally as much.

A story.

“I remember a pre-match talk going into a Cup final, where there were two sheets of paper produced. I’ll not tell you who the manager was.

“Of course, you’re apprehensive about the day, but all the tactical stuff, about how we’re going to play or do this or that, we never had team talks like that, so two pages of instructions, I could see around the room, myself included, lads were like, ‘what is this?’

“He starts off - and you could see the stuff written - by lifting the pages and tearing them up into the smallest shreds. The team talk consisted of, ‘go out, enjoy it and have a great day. I’ll see yis after’. We went out and won the Cup final.”


Dundalk started off the 1991 campaign disastrously, losing 5-0 at home to Shelbourne despite dominating the first half. They’d finish it by winning in Cork to seal the title. It’s a year best told through the actions of one fickle supporter.

“I’m out at the boot of the car, forlorn, tail between my legs,” Lawlor says, looking back. “Beaten 5-0, it wasn’t Dundalk in Martin Lawlor’s head. A lad came up to me: ‘Ah, Lawlor, would ya ever go and f**k off back to Dublin…’

“I was verbally attacked; absolutely battered. I said I was sorry, but it kept coming, brilliant ‘shed’ stuff... He held his season ticket up under my nose and ripped it up under my eyes. He f**ks it at me and it hits my head. ‘That’s what I think of yis. I’ll never set foot in Oriel again’.

“I’m standing in disbelief, but I remember the last thing I said to him, ‘Would you have a little bit of faith?’.

“I got into the car, drove down the lane and never saw nor heard of the famous season ticket man again…

“But we’re on the train coming back from Cork after winning the league. I’m in my jocks - the jersey, togs and socks are after being pulled off me by the supporters. The train is just an asylum of joy from winning in Cork.

“We’re probably about 20 minutes on the train and I get a tap on the shoulder. ‘Well Maaartin. Howya’.

“‘How are ya. I hope you’re happy now,’ says I.

“‘Ah, Jaysus. I’m over the f-in moon,’ he says. ‘Do you recognise me?’

“‘I’m really sorry. You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t,’ says I.

“He says: ‘Tell me this, do you recognise that?’

“He holds this withered piece of material - it’s yellow and brown. There’s bits and pieces coming out of it. ‘It’s a season ticket,’ he says.

“‘A season ticket?’

“He says: ‘Do you remember a fella came up behind you after the first game of the season against Shels? That was me, Maaaartin,’ he says, ‘I f**ckin love ya’.

“He threw his arms around me. I don’t think he let me go for about 10 minutes.”

Lawlor laughs at the incident almost 30 years on. The lines between faith and fate can be marginal.

Democrat: “Who was the best player you played with?”

Lawlor: “An impossible question to answer…”

But ask any Dundalk fan to select their all-time XI and Lawlor is an ever-present.

One of the best.

A living legend. ... 1c.twitter
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Sat Apr 25, 2020 12:14 pm

Gavin McLaughlin's excellent video interview with Dermot Keely looking backing on the 1995 title win.

Keely is as mad as a brush ...
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Sat Apr 25, 2020 12:21 pm

James Rogers gives his perspective on the 25th anniversary
Dundalk defied all the odds to land league title number nine 25 years ago today ... ago-today/
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by ArFella » Sun Apr 26, 2020 2:25 pm

Have to say I've thoroughly enjoyed the content the Club (& James Rogers) has been putting out during this lockdown. As a Dundalk fan only born in '93 it's great to get such in depth coverage of these incredible past glories that I'd previously only know from brief mentions in discussions with older fans. GRMA to Gavin, James & everyone else involved in creating these pieces :)
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Fri May 01, 2020 7:56 am

In a Demo Fanzone article this week, long-time fan Peter Gosling recalls a house with a Dundalk flag this side of Balbriggan on Cup final day. This is also a distinct memory for me. Does anyone else recall this, where it was, or who the loyal exiled Lilywhite was? ... ories.html

My recollection was that this was in the Lambeecher estate opposite the current Garda station on the north side of Balbriggan
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Re: Thanks for the Memories!

Post by Ezeikial » Sun May 03, 2020 10:56 pm

All-Ireland winner Peter Withnell was 'the lease of life' in Dundalk FC's 1995 league win

Few can match the feats of Peter Withnell, a League of Ireland title winner with Dundalk FC and two-time All-Ireland medalist in the colours of Down.

The Mourne man was a champion with The Lilywhites 25 years ago, having acted as the vital ingredient in getting Dermot Keely’s unfancied side past the victory post in dramatic style.

Less than six months after the boys in red and black bettered Dublin to land Sam Maguire for the second time in four seasons, Withnell was spotted by Dundalk director Nicky Coffee playing up front for mid-Down amateur outfit Kimore Rec.

Struggling for goals and needing a boost ahead of the final eight games of the campaign, he was requested for a midweek friendly against a touring crew from Sweden. Keely was pleased with what he saw, but still hesitant on offering terms until Withnell, being the ‘what you see is what you get’ character he is, interjected.

“He asked me to play in a reserve game, but, me being me, I said, ‘listen, if I’m not coming up to play a first-team match I’ll not be coming up at all’,” Withnell recalls. “I felt I was good enough to play, so he turned around and invited me back. The rest is history.

“I knew I could handle myself in that league; nothing ever phased me and I always believed in my ability.”

The star of Down’s 1991 All-Ireland triumph wasn’t shy in the confidence department, albeit he was a quiet type in many ways. There goes a story that Withnell walked into his county’s dressing room for a training session in Newry years before, seemingly disinterested at the others’ confusion over who he was.

A Drumaness clubman who was used to furrowing in the lower tiers of Down club football, he was suddenly in with Ross Carr, Mickey Linden, Paddy O’Rourke and the like, players he wouldn’t ordinarily have come across.

Hence, walking into an enclosure of ‘Oriel boyos’ wasn’t as daunting as one imagines for Withnell, who had soccer pedigree having spent time with Reading in his youth.

“It was quite easy to come in and adapt,” he adds, “especially coming from winning All-Irelands and being in circles with big characters around you. There was really no difference.

“They were all characters at Dundalk, characters in their own way. Especially Tom McNulty. Tom was boisterous; always a wee bit loud being the Scotsman that he was.

“It was like a timebomb waiting to explode with the likes of Dermot, Tom and James Coll, who were all sort of loud in their own way.

“I think everybody just had a different input and way of carrying themselves. You’d Joe Hanrahan, James Coll, John Coady, Mick Byrne, Martin Lawlor - they were all different characters and it became a good recipe for success.

“It just became a really good club to play for and one that I’m very fond of. It’s steeped in history for football, Dundalk, and that was never going to go away.

“The fact that you’d a GAA player who was only after winning two All-Irelands to come and play was just another notch to the board. It was a great club and I’ve still fond memories of them.”

Withnell was hurled in at the deep-end in March 1995, Jody Byrne’s injury resulting in the new signing’s debut coming against Shamrock Rovers. And from there to the end of the season he would be an ever-present, scoring vital goals in the victories over Derry City and Sligo Rovers.

Going into the last day, though, The Lilywhites sat third, behind Derry City and Shelbourne. Shels dropped points at home while Derry failed to win at relegated Athlone, outcomes which gave Dundalk, who had overcome Galway United at Oriel Park, the spoils which Withnell felt they didn’t believe were possible.

“I don’t think Dundalk thought they could win the league,” says Withnell. “I’d say they had put it out of their mind, sitting third, before I arrived. They needed a new lease of life and I became that at just the right time.

“I know we won it on the last day and results went our way, but I think what clinched it for us was the second last game in Sligo, where I scored and we won 1-0.”

The financial lure of The Lilywhites saw them take preference, to a degree, over Down, yet Withnell remained committed to his county and is adamant that he should have featured more prominently in the 1994 triumph. A mixture of Gilmore’s groin and manager Pete McGrath’s ultimatatory tendencies prevented the powerful forward from unleashing himself on that summer.

“There was a bit of a recession in the North and as the saying goes, ‘half a loaf is better than no bread’. Even though you were playing GAA to a very high standard, the national sport, it wasn’t putting anything in my pocket.

“I was in a county that was steeped in the troubles and there was no flexibility for jobs or openings where people might want to give you a job because of your GAA in Down. If you had to have been born in the South of Ireland and playing for Cork or Kerry or Dublin, you’d have had a job lined up for you and be well looked after to this day.

“With Dundalk offering me a good contract and having always played soccer in my life, since I was young, the offer was too good to turn down. I know Pete didn’t like it, but I felt I could play both sports.

“He felt the GAA should be number one - and rightly so from his point of view. He was a teacher coaching GAA in St. Colman’s College and Down and he didn’t understand where I was coming from.

“But I couldn’t see how if you were fit to play college football on a Saturday and come and play a county match on a Sunday, why I couldn’t play on a Thursday or a Friday night for Dundalk and play for my county on a Sunday. That wasn’t seen as right, so who was right and who was wrong?

“I felt I could play both sports and when somebody offers you a contract, even though you’re still part of the Down set-up and an important part of the set-up, I was always going to play soccer because the GAA weren’t putting anything in my pocket.

“I know that might sound selfish, but it was how it was. I got a kitbag, a pair of tracksuits and boots, that’s what you got with Down.”

Withnell hit double figures for Dundalk the following season, but with the team far weaker and several high-profile players, including the skipper, Coll, having left, the cocktail was diluted.

Financial issues began to plague the club and while Withnell praises then chairman Enda McGuill for always having his wages available when promised, managers began to come and go as teammates left without replacements.

The Champions League qualifier with Sweden’s Malmo was the high point of the striker’s first full campaign as The Lilywhites bowed out 3-0 on aggregate despite giving a credible account. Though the fact that the home leg had to be played in Drogheda, with Oriel Park not up to the required standard, underlined the precarious off-field situation.

“I felt the players shouldn’t have moved on. James Coll moved on to Bohemians after being the club captain of a league-winning team; he should have been kept. There were money issues and Dermot moved on.

“There were things going on in the background that shouldn’t have been going on. Dundalk should have been bringing players in to strengthen; they knew the type of player that was needed having won leagues before. It was a club with serious history after all. It wasn’t as if winning the league was something new.

“Maybe the wrong people were in charge of certain things and surely the players that left shouldn’t have. They should have been adding to the club rather than taking away what they did.

“It was a case of one step forward and three steps back. The league champions went into the season with a depleted team; it wasn’t the ideal set-up, winning the league and then the following year you were struggling mid-table. Other clubs were adding and Dundalk were losing. That’s not how to build on success.”

Withnell’s stock was rising all the time, though. At various stages, Millwall and Motherwell showed a keen interest, only to be knocked back by the club, and Cliftonville, in their victorious Irish League season of 1997, also had a bid rejected. Dundalk’s caretaker boss, Tommy Connolly, branded their offer “a joke”.

Ronnie McFaul at Portadown and Derry City had links to the forward at differing intervals until finally cash-strapped and demotion-threatened Dundalk, now under legendary boss Jim McLaughlin for a second time, granted the attacker a move to Cliftonville in 1999.

“The set-up became unrecognisable,” he adds. “We’d a bunch of good kids - Dundalk through and through - but the team wasn’t strong enough and then getting rid of your so-called best players, it wasn’t going to help the club’s case. Then you’re falling into Division One and trying to build a team from there.

“I’d a lot of admiration for Dundalk and I didn’t want to leave - the reason I left was because things were going badly and they wanted to sell their best players to generate money. The year we got relegated, I got sold and Brian Byrne was sold.”

Nonetheless, he remains proud of his five seasons and 28 goals in 99 appearances. There have been visits back to Oriel for matches in recent years, with some supporters recognising him and approaching for a chat. It’s a pleasurable feeling and evidence of the esteem he’s held in.

Peter Withnell: A hero of 1995. ... DI.twitter
Ezeikial posts personal opinions and observations from this supporters perspective.

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