Glory days for Cork Celtic when Leeside soccer ruled the League of Ireland

Glory days for Cork Celtic when Leeside soccer ruled the League of Ireland

Alfie Hale gives Celtic the lead against St Pat's as they won the league title on April 7, 1974.

HOT on the heels of Cork Hibernian’s breakthrough championship success of 1970/71, rivals Cork Celtic exacted sweet revenge by winning the Holy Grail themselves two seasons later for the first and only time.

Celtic started out as Evergreen United in 1951/52 and following a name change in 1959/60 were agonizingly pipped to the title by Shelbourne in a play-off in 1961/62. 

Further heartbreak was endured in the FAI Cup Finals of 1964 and 1969 when holders Shamrock Rovers triumphed after replays. After a series of mid-table finishes in the first four seasons of the '70s, as their neighbours from Ballintemple tagged on consecutive cup wins in 1972 and 1973, Celtic turned to former star Paul O’Donovan to rekindle the heights achieved by the 1962 team.

With Hibernians winning the inaugural League Cup competition of 1973/74, Celtic started their league campaign with a 1-1 draw with Finn Harps at Turner’s Cross on Sunday, October 7. 

Paul Fury and John McCarthy were involved in the build-up which led to Barry Notley’s 30th minute opener. After Brendan Bradley equalised for the visitors on the hour, Celtic’s O’Neill and Harps’ Hankin went close to a winner late on. 

It looked like another season of unfulfilled promise lay in store a week later as the Leesiders' first visit to the capital to face Bohemians ended in a 7-0 mauling, six of the goals being scored in the second half. Allowing for a first-half penalty save by Alex Ludzic, who used to train with former Celtic B keeper and later ISRS member Bertie Stark, goals from Turlough O’Connor (4), Terry Flanagan (2) and John McCormick resulted in the visitors suffering their heaviest ever defeat.

O’Donovan introduced Paddy Shortt, who started out with Celtic before moving on to Limerick and Waterford, for McCarthy for the visit of Home Farm on October 21. 

The hosts led through a Notley header after seven minutes with Shortt going on to cross for Frank O’Neill to spectacularly scissor-kick a second, 11 minutes from time. 

Next up was another difficult tie away to champions Waterford but with the introduction of former England international Bobby Tambling for Hyde, O’Donovan was sure the signing would be significant.

Bobby Tambling signs for Cork Celtic at the Country Club Hotel.
Bobby Tambling signs for Cork Celtic at the Country Club Hotel.

And so it proved, the Londoner proved an inspiration, setting up O’Neill for the lead after seven minutes, scoring the second himself 10 minutes later and crossing for Notley to notch number six in the 75th minute. 

In between, O’Neill helped himself to two with Notley grabbing number four in the 56th minute. On the same day, Hibs put three past Shelbourne without reply to make it four out of four with Celtic in fifth three points behind the leaders.

A one-nil home win over Dundalk and a 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers, O’Neill scoring in both, put Celtic within two points of Hibs before the first derby encounter at the Cross on November 18.

Despite Notley putting the hosts one up in the 28th minute, Hibernians replied with three second-half goals from Niblock, Sweeney and Coyne to keep the winners four clear of their opponents and a point ahead of Bohemians at the top. 

With Tambling injured, O’Donovan signed former Shelbourne playmaker Ben Hannigan who opened the scoring against Sligo at the Showgrounds, the victory being sealed with further goals from Ludzic (penalty) and O’Neill. 

Four wins in December over Athlone (1-0), Shels (3-1), Limerick (2-1), in which Jerry Myers scored a brilliant winner four minutes from time, and St Pat’s (2-1) catapulted Celtic into joint second, three points behind Hibs with everything to play for.

In the first week of January a 2-1 win over title contenders Finn Harps, Edwards and O’Neill among the goals, was enough to take Celtic to joint top after Hibs were held by Drogheda. 

With Hibs not playing the following week, a scoreless draw with Bohemians put Celtic a point clear only for the tables to be turned again as Celtic went down 2-0 to Shamrock Rovers while Hibernians trounced Home Farm 6-0. 

Celtic got back to winning ways by the slenderest of margins, needing an own goal to overcome Home Farm while Hibs accounted for Athlone, 2-0. The month would end with both teams locked on twenty-five points from sixteen matches after Celtic’s tie with Waterford was abandoned due to a waterlogged and Hibs took a point from Shelbourne at Inchicore.

A late Gerry Myers goal secured all three points at Oriel Park against Dundalk on February 3 and a 4-0 win over Shamrock Rovers, new signing Alfie Hale scoring the third, set up the match of the season against Hibernians at a packed Flower Lodge. 

Goals from John Carroll and Paddy Shortt sealed Celtic’s first derby win since 1968 to put the Turner’s Cross outfit on top again, a position they would not relinquish for the remainder of the season, the title being secured following a 3-0 win over St Pat’s on Sunday, April 7. 

Hibs missed out on runner’s up spot to Bohemians but Dick Brazil writing in Monday’s Echo following the win over St Pat’s said it all, ‘Tears flowed as freely as champagne on an historic day for Celtic and indeed for Cork soccer, for it finally showed their neighbours Cork Hibernians are no longer the premier team of city soccer.’

League of Ireland champions Cork Celtic pictured with Lord Mayor Pat Kerrigan at the City Hall in 1974. Front: Lord Mayor, Keith Edwards (c), Paul O’Donovan (manager). Back: Alek Ludzik, Tim Madden, Steve Hannon, John McCarthy, John Carroll, Pierce Moore, Frank O’Neill, Denis O’Driscoll, Richard Brooks, Donie Forde, John Horgan, Sean Linehan, Denis Ryan.
League of Ireland champions Cork Celtic pictured with Lord Mayor Pat Kerrigan at the City Hall in 1974. Front: Lord Mayor, Keith Edwards (c), Paul O’Donovan (manager). Back: Alek Ludzik, Tim Madden, Steve Hannon, John McCarthy, John Carroll, Pierce Moore, Frank O’Neill, Denis O’Driscoll, Richard Brooks, Donie Forde, John Horgan, Sean Linehan, Denis Ryan.

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