memory lane

25 years on: Shamrock Rovers' last match in Milltown revisited

Before being made homeless for two decades, the Hoops met Sligo Rovers in an FAI Cup semi-final at Glenmalure Park.

TODAY MARKS A quarter-century since Irish football’s most successful club were evicted from their home.

Shamrock Rovers had been lining out at Glenmalure Park for 61 years when the Kilcoyne family, who owned the club and had purchased the grounds from the Jesuits, opted to sell up to developers in one of the most controversial moves the League of Ireland has ever witnessed.

The Kilcoynes, brothers Barton, Paddy and the recently-deceased Louis, had taken over from the Cunninghams in 1972 and were commended by fans for investing heavily after what had been a tough period. Their ambitious project involved relaying the pitch, enticing John Giles back from West Brom, who would instil a professional ethos in his role as player-manager, and building a 50,000-seater stadium in the future.

Giles won an FAI Cup in his first season and by the time he departed for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1983, the crowd numbers coming through the turnstiles had begun to pick up. Respected Dundalk boss Jim McLaughlin replaced Giles and an all-star team featuring the likes of Mick Neville, the Byrnes, Pat, Jodi and Mick, Liam O’Brien, Noel Larkin and Dermot Keely captured four league titles on the trot between ’83 and ’87.

Rovers’ captain Pat Byrne (centre) and team-mates celebrate. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Now, Hoops fans were being sentenced to life without a place to call home for what would turn out to be 22 years. News that Glenmalure would be demolished and redeveloped into housing broke shortly before the FAI Cup semi-final second leg meeting with Sligo Rovers after the sides had drawn 0-0 at the Showgrounds. And as the footage below indicates, they were none too happy about it.

In the game itself, the Bit O’Red took the lead thanks to striker Tony O’Kelly, who headed home Tony Fagan’s free-kick after just four minutes. It didn’t take long for Rovers to respond, however, and they did so through Mick Byrne. A long ball was nodded on by Noel Larkin and Byrne arrived late to fire past Fred Davis from close range.

Heart-broken Hoops supporters staged a sit-in protest on the pitch during the half-time interval until player-manager Keely, who had taken over from Derry City-bound McLaughlin the previous year, talked them back to the stands. An uneventful second half brought a sad day for Irish sport to an end, as the gates slammed shut at Glenmalure Park for the last time.

As the pair were all-square at the final whistle, a replay back in Sligo was needed and Rovers eventually won out 1-0 before seeing off Dundalk in the final to clinch an unprecendented third consecutive league/cup double.

The teams on April 12, 1987 were as follows:

Shamrock Rovers: J Byrne, Kenny, Eccles, Keely, Brady, Murphy, P Byrne, Dignam, Neville, Larkin, M Byrne. Subs: Monaghan
Sligo Rovers: Davis, O’Connell, Spring, Chubb, Scanlon, Fagan, Burke, Bayly, Savage, McLoughlin, O’Kelly. Subs: Nugent

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