As we count down to the 2012 FAI Cup Final, DCFC Online take a look back at one of the Candystripes’ previous Cup Final appearances, the 1988 FAI Cup Final against Dundalk.
Nearly twenty-five years on, it will be remembered by a generation of Derry fans for “that penalty”. It would prove the decisive goal on the day, and sent the 10,000+ City fans back home disappointed as Dundalk clinched the double.
To a younger generation of City fans, the late 80s are probably difficult to comprehend. Derry City were the biggest thing in Irish football, as the City surged to find a social outlet away from the relentless misery of the Troubles. On a weekly basis since 1985 thousands travelled the country to places such as Newcastle West and Waterford as the Candystripes were back in senior football. Indeed the Irish Independent dedicated an entire weekened section to the “Derry City phenomenon” on the weekend of the final.
It wasn’t just a football story, it was a social phenomenon, and City were regularly the focus of stories in the UK media and even further afield. Backed by the massive crowds and able to afford the best players, City were soon on the ascent and clinched the 1987 First Division and Shield titles. The first season in the top flight was traumatic off the pitch, with Noel King removed after having won promotion and replaced by Jim McLaughlin, who had been in charge of the dominant Shamrock Rovers side.
One of the touchstones of City success was the foreign galmour of Owen Da Gama, the South African striker. Da Gama was nothing less than an icon round the Brandywell and even had his own official fan club. However, Da Gama was on the move again, with the FAI Cup Final situated as his swansong. There was huge interest in the final, and there was controversy when the game was fixed for Dalymount. Given the demand for tickets it was strongly argued that the FAI should approach the IRFU to allow the game to be played at Lansdowne Road, which had a significantly larger number of seats.
City’s road to the final saw them crush St Joseph’s Boys, Bohemians and Home Farm before the semi-final stage. City drew 0-0 with Bohs in the Brandywell, before heading to Dalymount for a replay. Watched by a crowd of 7,000 City ran out 4-1 winners with Speak getting a hatrick. This went some way to banishing the memories of the stormy 1987 game at Dalymount which saw Derry reduced to 9 men and Alan Sunderland having his goal disallowed. These were the days of two legged semi-finals, and the pulling power of the Candystripes can be crystallised by the fact that Longford publicy acknowledged that drawing City in the semi-final would clear their debts, such would the attendance be! City won the game 6-2 on aggregate, including a 4-2 win at the Brandywell. That game was memorable as the Longford manager Pat Hackett had to replace their keeper Quigley who took a knock as City’s fourth goal went in. Despite this, the manager didn’t have a save to make as City switched off and coasted to their first FAI Cup final.
City were appearing in their first Cup final since the IFA Cup Final in 1971, when Martin O’Neill had been in the Distillery side which clinched the Cup that day. City were bidding to be the first side to take the FAI Cup north of the border. The Belfast side Alton United had won in the 1920s but had been prevented from taking the trophy back, due to the “Troubles” of the time. Would it be fate that a side forced into the League of Ireland due to a whole different set of troubles, be the first team to take the trophy to Northern Ireland.
Despite the emotional wave behind the City side, Turlough O’Connor’s side had already clinched the League title and had their eyes on the double. A great team in their own right, Dundalk boasted player of the quality of Dessie Gorman, Terry Eviston, Harry McCue and gifted Barry Kehoe. The Lilywhites weren’t going to just turn up and lie down on the day. The sides had meet three times already that season, with Dundalk winning twice to City’s once. Dundalk had won 2-0 in Oriel in November, City won 3-0 in the Brandywell but on Easter Monday Dundalk had come from 2-0 down to win 3-2.
McLaughlin had already announced before the game that Paul “Storkie” Carlyle, brother of former Dundalk star Hilary, would play on the right hand side of midfield. Calvin Plummer, a recent arrival from Nottingham won the other wing position and so City’s side for the final was set. City had warmed up the week before with a easy victory over Sligo Rovers with Johnny Speak grabbing a record breaking six goals in the game. Speak had clinched the League top scorer award, and had already bagged five in the Cup, including a hat trick away to Bohemians in the earlier rounds.
The team to take on the Lilywhites would be: Roberts, Vaudequin, Curran, Gauld, McGuinness, Carlyle, Bayly, Healy, Plummer, Speak, Da Gama.
To describe the scenes in Dalymount that day is an impossible task to those who weren’t there to experience it in the flesh. The road to Dublin was jammed in a scene reminiscent of this September when our near neighbours headed to Croke Park for the All Ireland. Every car, van, bus, lorry and truck seemed to be on the road for the Cup final. The crowds around the ground were a mass of red and white, with only the odd Dundalk to be found. The attendance for the day was given as 21,000 but those in attendance I am sure would swear it was more! Again, to put this in some sort of context, City sold more tickets to the final that the average gate in Division 1 in England that season (now the Premier League, for our younger readers). And, given the demand in the City, could have sold many more.
The wind on the day, plus a bobbly surface sought to defeat attempts to play decent football and as with many cup finals, the actual game didn’t live up to the build up. Dundalk started the better with Gorman and Eviston both having early chances. However City did settle and Plummer did well to clear away a header by Plummer. Then came the incident that was to decide the game. The ball fell to Larry Wyse on the edge on the box and went past Bayly who seemed to make minimal contact. The Dundalk player continued wide only for referee Spillane to blow his whistle for a penalty.
Cleary stepped up and dispatched the penalty to make it 1-0. 24 hours earlier Jim Cleary had scored for Glentoran to win the IFA Cup against Glenavon in Windsor Park.
City tried manfully to get back into the game and had their best spell when John Cunningham replaced Bayly in the second half. City had their own shout for a penalty when Speak claimed that his effort was handled by Malone. Gauld hit the crossbar with a head after 67 minutes, and Murray had to block a late effort by Speak as Dundalk held on to win the Cup and clinch the double. It was a disappointing finish to the season but McLaughlin acknowledged that they had lost to the best team in Irish football.
Though there was massive disappointment from the City fans who had travelled, the national media paid tribute to the Red and White Army who travelled in such numbers and such colour. A number of journalists paid particular tribute to the City support who remained on to applaud Dundalk on their lap of honour, referring to it as “sportmanship of a different era”. The consolation was a spot in Europe as Cup losers, as City would represent the League in the European Cup Winners Cup. Dundalk left with the trophy as the FAI left happy with the first FAI Cup Final to have broken £100,000 in gate receipts.
The FAI Cup Final may have eluded City, but the loyal support wouldn’t have long to wait.