Billy Stickland/INPHO From left, Harry Kenny and Paul Doolin are among the Shamrock Rovers players at the end of the 1985/86 season.

'It was like playing against a fella who had a calculator to work it all out. We were trying to do it in our heads'

As Shamrock Rovers prepare to travel to Budapest this week, members of the last Hoops side to play there recall getting taught a lesson by Honved in 1985.

SURELY IRELAND WAS a much different place in 1985?

A look at some of the newspaper headlines across one week in the middle of that September would suggest otherwise, as profits for some soared and social justice for others took precedence.

Bord Gáis recorded a record surplus of £81 million for the previous 12 months, while workers at Dunne’s Stores were one year into their anti-apartheid strike in a bid to get the company to cease handling South African goods.

A report commissioned to examine the finances at RTÉ laid bare the stark problems facing the national broadcaster – “320 to face sack in big shake up,” roared the front page of the Irish Independent.

A deadline of three months was given to arrange a plan that could prevent the cash deficit of £11m deepening.

Across the Irish Sea, six Russian spies were expelled, but only after 25 British agents had been sent packing.

Margaret Thatcher was entrenched at Downing Street and the Tory government of the day was considering putting a cap on the amount of Irish immigrants entering the country because of what some MPs described as “spongers” living off social welfare having previously worked on the railways.

And this was also the week leading up to the All Ireland SFC final between Kerry and Dublin at Croke Park. Controversy erupted over what the Irish Independent described on one of their front pages as “The £10,000 Kerry whitewash.”

jim-mclaughlin-celebrates-with-paul-doolan Billy Stickland / INPHO Jim McLaughlin (left) with Paul Doolin. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The story explained how “the All-Ireland football team are to be featured in a Sunday newspaper photograph advertising washing machines.”

Manager Mick O’Dwyer was being taken to task as a company were giving £5,000 to the county board and topping up the team’s holiday fund by a further five grand.

“The advertisement could spark off yet another sponsorship controversy for Kerry GAA,” the story continued. “In the past their connection with sports goods firm Adidas has been a source of criticism within the Association. Kerry county board chairman Frank King refused to comment.”

Shamrock Rovers’ latest European Cup adventure to Hungary didn’t quite have the profile to warrant coverage on the front pages, yet it involved the help of a World War II hero who had fought the Nazis before settling in Ireland with his family.

Like now, the Hoops were the dominant domestic force. And the class of 2022 will be in Budapest again this week.

It’s the first time since that first-round defeat at the hands of Honvéd, the team of the Hungarian army who filled most of the 20,000 capacity József Bozsik Stadion with military personnel.

Stephen Bradley’s side face Ferencvárosi TC on Thursday in the first of two legs to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League. A place in the Europa Conference League awaits the loser.

stephen-bradley-celebrates-after-the-game Kostadin Andonov / INPHO Stephen Bradley is in charge of the current crop. Kostadin Andonov / INPHO / INPHO

Back in September 1985, though, it was win or bust for Rovers, who had lifted back-to-back League of Ireland titles under manager Jim McLaughlin but been dumped out of Europe by Linfield.

Preparation for the tie with Honved began earlier that summer, with a pre-season trip to Portugal to play Sporting Lisbon and Benfica. From there it was over to Spain, where Racing de Santander and Atletico Madrid were the opponents.

The clash with the latter turned out to be a fiery one, which resulted in defender Dermot Keely having two of his ribs broken.

“Ah, I remember that,” right back Harry Kenny laughs. “Sure it was a fella smaller than myself. A fella five foot fucking nothing sorted him out. He stuck one on him.”

Now, 37 years later, Keely accepts he has no one but himself to blame for the incident. “I had basically been taking the piss because I caught the fella offside so many times and was getting bored,” he explains.

“I caught him offside again and as I was running to the ball I waved at him, kind of like ‘bye, bye’. He turned around and elbowed me. I was showboating and it was lesson learned.

dermot-keely INPHO Former Rovers defender Dermot Keely. INPHO

“I was taken down a peg or two for lording it and I wasn’t so cocky afterwards. He had a big smile on his face when I went off. If I was going to play him again I’d have tried to find out who he was but there was no point.

“Ye know, when you’re dominating your own league maybe you begin to believe your own publicity.”

A far more sobering experience awaited Keely and his Rovers teammates against a Honved side that boasted a fair chunk of the Hungary side that would reach the 1986 World Cup.

The pick of the bunch was Lajos Detari, the 22-year-old No.10 who pulled the strings as the hosts cruised to a 2-0 home win, before completing their progression with a 3-1 victory at Milltown.

“I ended up getting his jersey after the game,” midfielder Paul Doolin, who joined Rovers from Bohemians not long beforehand, adds.

The big difference now to back then is with the full-time football. Even for that Rovers side then who were winning everything at home, it was wasn’t full time. We couldn’t really compete.”

Keely, you imagine, might still have nightmares about Detari the way he describes the experience of trying to deal with him. “I was already struggling because of my ribs and was wrapped up like a mummy going out there, I shouldn’t have played, but it would not have made a difference against him.

“It was the first time I really felt out of my depth on a football pitch,” the centre back, then 31, adds. “They beat us slowing up, I don’t think I remember a time we were so comfortably beaten. Football wise, intellectually on the pitch, they were streets ahead.

“It was like being in school and a fella having a calculator to work it out and us trying to do it in our heads. The way he dropped deep, moved around the pitch, I just though ‘fuck me, this is something different’. It was a different level completely.”

imago-19880528 Imago / PA Images Lajos Detari on the ball. Imago / PA Images / PA Images

McLaughlin had clearly got wind of Detari’s influence and attempted to negate it by issuing one player with a strict instruction. “He did an unusual thing,” Kenny begins.

“Usually he would have always stuck to his best team and not changed, I was always right back, but he came to me before the game and said ‘I believe they have a really good player, so if we try man mark him we will have a good chance of getting something’. So I just asked if he played on the left?

“McLaughlin said ‘no, he’s in the middle’, so I said, ‘in the middle? Fair enough. I gave it a go at least.”

Rovers flew to Budapest with a stop over in Zurich. On the official team flight was chairman Louis Kilcoyne and a friend by the name of Joe Veselsky, who ran a jewellery business in Dublin.

“A gentleman, just a really nice man,” Kenny says.

Veselsky was born in Trnava in 1918, just before the formation of Czechoslovakia following the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Collage Maker-15-Aug-2022-07.44-PM Paul Doolin Paul Doolin still has Detari's jersey from that night. Paul Doolin

He went on to captain Czechoslovakia in table tennis and in 1938 joined the country’s resistance when the Nazis invaded. He and his family eventually moved to Ireland following the end of the war, but he joined Rovers for that trip to lend a hand as translator, among other duties.

Also on the plane was a nine-year-old Rovers fan by the name of Con Murphy, who is now a respected broadcaster and whose grá for the Hoops hasn’t diminished.

“I remember being at the game and sitting in the royal box, or whatever the communist equivalent was. The ground was packed with soldiers, they pretty much filled it.

“At some point there was this old, fat man sitting in one of the rows in front. He was getting attention from everyone. I was introduced to him, we shook hands and then Dad told me it was Ferenc Puskás. I was only a kid at the time, I didn’t have a clue who he was but now it’s nice to say that I shook hands with him.”

The same goes for Keely, who knew exactly of Puskás’ legend thanks to his own father. “I grew up with him always talking about him, how he was something out of this world.

roy-keane-with-con-murphy Donall Farmer / INPHO Broadcaster Con Murphy with Roy Keane. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s something from my childhood that made me think of my father when I saw Puskas’ face. I just thank God that he was too old and couldn’t play then too.”

This is a different Rovers and feels like a different time, even if they will again be underdogs against Hungarian giants that have pedigree in Europe.

“They’re doing brilliantly under Stephen [Bradley],” Kenny enthuses. “They’re a machine now, very well run with good people in the background. They have everything.”

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