The greatest day in Cork Celtic history... league joy at the Cross in 1974

The greatest day in Cork Celtic history... league joy at the Cross in 1974

Cork Celtic's Keith Edwards, with the League trophy, besieged by delirious supporters after their 300 win over St Pat’s in 1974.

Plunket Carter looks back on the 1973-74 season when Cork Celtic won their only League of Ireland title...

AFTER a disappointing opening day home draw with Finn Harps in the first Sunday in October, Cork Celtic headed to Dalymount looking for major improvement against Bohs.

For Celtic on that fateful day, Dalymount became a slaughterhouse as they fell unmercifully to the Dubliners firing squad who shot seven goals without reply.

Celtic manager Paul O’Donovan, who travelled with personal optimism, was appalled and in the post-match interview admitted to the local press: “We have a mountain to climb, make that Everest,” he quipped. To which a Cork reporter replied, “Paul, for heaven’s sake, I don’t think ye could make it up Patrick’s Hill”.

The memory of that 7-0 thrashing in Dalymount was a haunting one and it was unreasonable to expect a team to recover from such humiliation to salvage something from a season that began with promise during the shield campaign.

Consequently, Paddy Shortt (a brother-in-law of assistant manager Donie Leahy) was immediately lured back to the Cross from Waterford and Celtic pulled off a mighty coup when, 10 days later, Paul signed Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer, English international Bobby Tambling who, a Jehovah Witness, was in Ireland to continue his religious work.

His 202 goal-scoring record stood the test of time until being surpassed 47 years later in May 2013 by Frank Lampard.

“In the opposing penalty area he was like a fox let loose in a henhouse, was how the legendary Irish international Paddy Coad described Shortt.

Footballer at work... Paddy Shortt in the English Market in 1971.
Footballer at work... Paddy Shortt in the English Market in 1971.

“This winger would have made it cross-channel in the days when wingers were wingers,” added Coad.

O’Donovan, reeling from the Dalymount slaughter, began his climb of 'Everest' to resue his title dream.

Strange things happen — Foinavon ('a donkey') was 100-1 when he won the Grand National in 1967. Like the Grand National, the League race was a marathon event with 24 more fences to be overcome.

Celtic made an absolute 'hames' of the first of those but quickly steadied up to fly the next three fences in magnificent fashion, on the way inflicting a massive 6-2 defeat on champions Waterford when new signing, English international, Tambling stamped his class on the game.

Next up were Cork Hibs at the Cross and such was the interest that Celtic made it an all-ticket game.

Incidents from the memorable game were played by RTÉ for weeks after when they used their clip of 'Those boots were made for walking' featuring a massive melee in the Celtic goalmouth showing Noel O’Mahony running 100 yards to enter the shemozzle with a massive leap into the heart of the battle.

Hibs won comfortably 3-1 to put a stop to Celtic’s gallop and doubts about their capabilities surfaced once more and it was obvious that reinforcements were again needed.

Well, it wasn’t going to be for the want of trying and the directors headed by Pierce Moore put cash on the table to recruit decent players.

‘If you don’t speculate you can’t accumulate’ was the policy adopted by Celtic and, encouraged by directors Moore and John Horgan, and manager Paul O’Donovan, using the £9,000 received from Derby for Christy Egan, invested in more big signings.

After Tambling picked up a bad injury in the defeat by Hibs Paul swooped to sign 31-year-old Big Ben Hannigan, holder of Championship medals with Shels and Dundalk.

Blessed with all the footballing skills, Hannigan had exceptional ball control, was an immaculate passer and had a healthy appetite for goal scoring.

Cork Hibs keeper Bobby Brohan about to punch the ball away from the head of Shels Ben Hannigan during the 1960 FAI Cup final at Dalymount.
Cork Hibs keeper Bobby Brohan about to punch the ball away from the head of Shels Ben Hannigan during the 1960 FAI Cup final at Dalymount.

Normally deployed in a deep-playing midfield role he could hold the ball indefinitely, creating time and space for his colleagues.

Describing his temperament, one soccer scribe rather diplomatically reported that “he had an easily aroused disposition, often exploited by opponents”.

Big Ben, who became a fan-favourite and was the character in the team, came up trumps. The signing in January of Alfie Hale, a 35-year-olf former international and already a holder of five league titles, was a masterstroke.

His vast experience during the run-in to the title was priceless, as was the return to the Cross of fan-favourite Carl Davenport who had been playing with senior leaguers Crosshaven.

The FAI Cup was, surprisingly, a welcome respite from the intensity of the nervy league race.

However, Turner’s Cross on a misty Wednesday in February was no place for the faint-hearted as Celtic’s dramatic, controversial replay with Drogheda entered the closing minutes.

Queueing for a League of Ireland soccer match at Turner's Cross.
Queueing for a League of Ireland soccer match at Turner's Cross.

Celtic, trailing 1-0, were thrown a life-line when Hannigan equalised. With two minutes remaining the ‘Cross erupted when Big Ben appeared to head a perfect winner only for ref John Carpenter to rule that the ball went wide of the upright and through the side netting.

All hell broke loose and the game was abandoned after missiles were thrown on to the pitch; not the perfect way to prepare for a top of the table local derby with Hibs four days later.

A win for Hibs would, in all probability, have resulted in the championship flag being unfurled at Flower Lodge at the end of the season — Hibs had 29 points from 18 matches, one point ahead of Celtic.

On the run for home, Celtic still had to get over their Beecher’s Brook which was the old enemy Hibs.

Captain, Welshman Keith Edward in his second season at the Cross, urged his team to be ruthless in their charge for the title.

This local derby had been the topic of conversation since Christmas and 18,000 were there to see Celtic win their first derby since 1968 and edge ahead in the title race. It was a defining moment in the season and the side that gave Celtic the points,

The team was: Ludzic, Carroll, McCarthy, Edwards, Brooks, Hannigan, Myers, Tambling, Shortt, Davenport, Hale.

It was advantage to Celtic as in their remaining seven games they did not have to meet any of the top five pursuers, unlike Hibs who had a difficult run-in, with Waterford, Harps and Bohs (lost 3-4) all awaiting.

Alfie Hale scores for Cork Celtic.
Alfie Hale scores for Cork Celtic.

Celtic didn’t need any favours as their unbeaten league run was extended to an impressive 21 games with the most difficult one being a hard-fought 1-0 win over Athlone, who had improved out of all recognition following the appointment of new manager Amby Fogarty.

This was followed by home wins over Shels and Waterford and an edgy scoreless draw with Limerick at the Market’s Field.

Every dog has its day and the most memorable day in Cork Celtic’s (Evergreen United's) history arrived on April 7, 1974 when, amidst emotional scenes, they beat St Pat’s 3-0 in their penultimate game.

The vastly experienced Hale, winning his sixth Championship medal, got the first, Blondie Carroll hit a screamer for number two and it was fitting that Tambling should have the last say. It seems Celtic’s ambition was reborn in full when he was signed in November.

Bobby Tambling in action for Chelsea.
Bobby Tambling in action for Chelsea.

With history about to be witnessed the attendance of just 5,000 spectators was disappointing. Possibly an indication of the partisan divide among the Celtic and Hibs fans in complete contrast to the 16,000 which attended in 1961 for the virtual league decider between Celtic and Shels when you would have needed a heart of stone not to be supporting the brilliant locals.

A happy day at the Cross in 1974.
A happy day at the Cross in 1974.

Celtic’s league victory was much more than a triumph for one man, however. All 21 players who took part in the league campaign contributed to the success.

Long before Tambling’s clincher, hundreds of success-starved Celtic fans had been gathering on the touchline for the final whistle to allow them maul, hug, and kiss their champions who exorcised the ghosts of the past.

All the former Celtic greats were there with lumps in their throats and hardly a dry eye to salute the lads who finally and deservedly brought the title to the Cross.

Cork Celtic at a reception in Murphy’s Brewery. From left: Paul O’Donovan, Donie Forde, Murphy’s rep, John Horgan, Keith Edwards, Pierce Moore, Sean Linehan, John McCarthy, Alfie Hale.
Cork Celtic at a reception in Murphy’s Brewery. From left: Paul O’Donovan, Donie Forde, Murphy’s rep, John Horgan, Keith Edwards, Pierce Moore, Sean Linehan, John McCarthy, Alfie Hale.

An emotional Hale said afterwards, “this was my sixth medal and I hope I will not be misunderstood when I say the pleasure of winning a League now lies in the joy I see in the faces around me”.

It was a triumph for their colourful and oft-times controversial manager Paul O’Donovan who, in all his years with Celtic, experienced the trials, tribulations and emotions of pro football.

Never before in the history of any association’s national competition has a team suffered such a hammering (7-0) in their first away match as Celtic did and recover to win the league in style.

On that humiliating day at Dalymount, Celtic lined out as follows:

Ludzik, Brooks, Edwards, Hyde, Fury, Carroll, Tobin, McCarthy, Edwards, Brooks, Hannigan.

The dozen members of the 21 strong panel fortunate to be directly involved in the historic win over St Pat’s were:

Alex Ludzic, Mick Tobin, John McCarthy, Keith Edwards, Richard Brooks, Ben Hannigan, John Carroll, Barry Notley, Paddy Shortt, Alfie Hale, Bobby Tambling.

Sub: Frank O’Neill.

Cork Celtic League of Ireland champions 1974: Paul O’Donovan, Ben Hannigan, John McCarthy, Keith Edwards (c), John Carroll, Barry Notley, Alek Ludzik, Denis Ryan (groundsman). Front: Alfie Hale, Mick Tobin, Paddy Shortt, Bobby Tambling, Richard Brooks, Frank O’Neill. Mascot Don Moore.
Cork Celtic League of Ireland champions 1974: Paul O’Donovan, Ben Hannigan, John McCarthy, Keith Edwards (c), John Carroll, Barry Notley, Alek Ludzik, Denis Ryan (groundsman). Front: Alfie Hale, Mick Tobin, Paddy Shortt, Bobby Tambling, Richard Brooks, Frank O’Neill. Mascot Don Moore.

Unlucky not to be involved in the game was Gerry Myers who was surprisingly omitted after featuring in the previous 13-game unbeaten run up to the St Pat’s game.

Appearances and scorers 1973-74:

Appearances in bold, goals in (brackets):

26: Ludzic (2-goals), Brooks; 25: McCarthy, Edwards; 24: Shortt (1), Carroll (3), O’Neill (12); 23: Notley (9); 20: Myers (2); 19: Hannigan (5); 16: Tambling (7); 13: Tobin; 9: Hale (3); 8: Fury, Irwin; 6: Davenport (3), Madden; 3: Hyde; 2: House, Holmes; 1: O’Mahony C.

Celtic scored 50 times including three own goals.

Players involved in other competitions 6: Bertie O’Sullivan; 1: Bryan McSweeney, Richie Cahill.

CELTIC ROLL OF HONOUR:

League of Ireland: 1, 1973-74.

League of Ireland Shield: 1, 1960-61.

Dublin City Cup: 1, 1961-62.

Top Four Cup: Four, 1956-57, 1958-59, 1959-60, 1973-74.

Munster Senior League: Two, 1936-37, 1955-56.

Munster Senior Cup: Seven, 1951-52, 1957-58, 1959-60, 1961-62, 1963-64, 1971-72, 1973-74.

FAI Junior Cup, winners: 1935–36: 1.

FAI Youth Cup: 1948-49.

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