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‘Five foot eight, underweight and f*****g great’: Remembering Man United’s penalty specialist from Cabra

In the 1970s Ireland midfielder Gerry Daly took 17 penalties for Man United and missed only one.

THE FAMOUS CHANT came pouring down from the stands at Old Trafford regularly, serenading a beloved Gerry Daly, who the Manchester United faithful took to their hearts early and embraced as one of their own. A firm fans’ favourite.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Manchester United v Southampton - Wembley Stadium Daly made 111 appearances at Old Trafford between 1973 and 1977. Source: EMPICS Sport

The Dubliner had joined from Bohemians in 1973 for a fee of £20,000 alongside Mick Martin, Ray O’Brien and Paddy Roche.

An attack-minded midfielder with an eye for goal, Daly would leave an affectionate legacy at United during his three-and-a-half season stay. For starters, he helped the club bounce back from an embarrassing relegation suffered just six years after winning the European Cup.

He was also instrumental as United reached back-to-back FA Cup finals, losing the 1976 decider to Southampton at Wembley and — somewhat cruelly — being forced out of the club and sold to Derby County a few months before his United team-mates upset Liverpool in 1977.

“He’s five foot eight, underweight and fucking great!,” boomed the terraces at Old Trafford affectionately every other weekend, as Daly helped United win the Second Division with an impressive 11 goals from midfield during his second year.

Born in Cabra, his football skills reared and honed in the renowned academy at Stella Maris, Daly was picked up by Bohemians manager Seán Thomas as an 18-year-old. He enjoyed a short League of Ireland career which paved the way for a move to United.

gerry-daly-republic-of-ireland Daly scored 13 goals in 48 appearances for Ireland between 1973 and 1986. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He made his debut in a President’s Cup game against Shamrock Rovers and notably found the net against FC Köln in the first-leg of a Uefa Cup tie one month later, notching 10 goals in 36 games for the Gypsies at Dalymount Park during a brief six-month spell.

On a scouting mission to Dublin in January 1973, United boss Tommy Docherty and Paddy Crerand were impressed by a host of Irish upstarts during a local northside derby between Shelbourne and Bohemians at Tolka Park.

Initially picking up Martin, they returned for Daly a few months later. “I remember Man United came across to watch us play against Shelbourne,” Daly recalled. ”The story was that they were after me. They signed Mick Martin instead and I was gutted, but then the newspapers said they were coming back for me.”

The pair were sprung into the first-team straight away (Daly debuting alongside Bobby Charlton and Denis Law in the Anglo Italian Cup). A United side stuck in a rut between the eras of Busby and Ferguson would finish second-bottom in the First Division and suffer  relegation just six years after winning the European Cup.

“Docherty resigned himself to relegation happening,” Daly told ESPN speaking about his formative years at the club, going down and bouncing straight back up with a Second Division title in 1975.

soccer-football-league-division-one-manchester-united-photocall Man United boss Tommy Docherty bought the midfielder from Bohemians for £20,000 in 1973. Source: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

“He wanted to start over again with young players, which was the right thing to do, as he would prove. Some of the players who had won the European Cup were not the future of Manchester United. We were.

“We weren’t playing the best teams in the world, but Second Division sides. We still had to go out and perform and we still had to win games. We did that. We took the league by storm and winning against inferior sides boosted the confidence of a young team at the right time.

I know that my own confidence was really lifted and a lot of that came from the crowd. I don’t know why, but I had an exceptional rapport with the United fans. They used to sing: ‘Five foot eight, underweight…’ I was actually five nine and ten stone one, which was perfectly healthy!”

Daly would also feature in both legs of a famous Uefa Cup victory over Ajax in 1976, but the attacking midfielder was, and still is, most fondly remembered for his exploits from the penalty spot during his time at Old Trafford.

With the spotlight on United’s penalty takers this week after Paul Pogba’s saved spot-kick against Wolves (the star midfielder taking over duties from Marcus Rashford, who had scored from the spot against Chelsea), it is candid to recall a time when a man from these shores made the art-form look so easy.

wolverhampton-wanderers-v-manchester-united-premier-league-molineux Pogba reacts after his penalty is saved by Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patrício. Source: Nick Potts

Daly took 17 penalties during his time at United and scored 16 — an astonishing conversion rate of 94% which trumps almost everyone else in the club’s history. His one and only miss was greeted with shock and horror. It arrived on a day just about everyone at the club would rather forget — a 4-0 defeat to West Brom at the Hawthorns in October 1976.

John Giles was player-manager at the time and actually got on the scoresheet along with fellow Ireland international Ray Treacy, as the Baggies secured a dominant, crushing four-goal win. It was manager Tommy Docherty’s heaviest defeat — he would be sacked at the end of the season.

Unlike faith in their manager, United fans had steadfast and unwavering confidence in Daly’s ability from 12 yards. He had a famous habit of sending the opposition goalkeeper the wrong way time and time again, actually managing to score eight successive penalties in one single season.

Two of those came during his finest moment in a United shirt. During their first home game of the 1974/75 campaign the Red Devils hammered Millwall 4-0 in front of a packed crowd of almost 45,000 at Old Trafford — Daly scored a hat-trick, two of which were spot-kicks.

He would leave the club just 18 months later. It was a bitter decision made against his will and brought about due to pressure from his manager, who had bought promising striker Jimmy Greenhoff from Stoke City and relegated Daly to the bench.

“It was bullying,” Daly said speaking about his exit from United.

“[Docherty] told me that, no matter how well I played in the reserves, I would never leave the reserves. He said that I would never play football for United’s first-team again.”

A respected international, too, Daly would make 48 appearances for Ireland and score 13 goals. A scoring average of a goal every four games from the middle of the park marks the Dubliner out as Ireland’s most prolific midfielder.

He stands 11th in the record books as Ireland’s highest-scorer, ahead of others like Damien Duff, Jimmy Dunne, Liam Brady and Ray Houghton. His final goal, naturally, came from the penalty spot against Uruguay at Lansdowne Road in 1986.

He broke the record of most penalties scored for Man United during that incredible spell in the mid-1970s, overtaking Charlie Mitten, but was himself outdone by the exploits of Eric Cantona in the 1990s, Ruud van Nistelrooy in the 2000s and Wayne Rooney in the 2010s.

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 16.34.43 The Cabra native scored 32 goals for Man United between 1973 and 1977.

Rooney’s record of 20 successful spot-kicks (from 28 attempts) holds firm to this day. Others like Louis Saha (four from four), Dimitar Berbatov, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs (all two from two) enjoy 100% conversion rates, while Denis Irwin scored seven from nine.

But Gerry Daly’s record of 16 spot-kicks scored from 17 attempts still stands as an outlier and surely cements his place as one of — if not the — greatest penalty taker in Manchester United’s long and decorated history.

With Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s men trying to decide whether Pogba or Rashford should take the mantle going forward, each player could learn a lot from the man from Cabra with ice in his veins from 12 yards out.

As fans standing inside Old Trafford over 40 years ago would reassure you about their Dublin midfielder… ‘five foot eight, underweight and fucking great’.

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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