A RECENT TV programme recalling Derry City’s comeback to the League of Ireland in 1985 featured their first visit to Cork to play Cork City in the quarter-final of the FAI Cup at Flower Lodge on Sunday, March 16, 1986.
It was a memorable milestone in their early years after an absence of 13 years.
The club was expelled from the IFA in 1972 following the disturbances in the city and an application to play in the League of Ireland was finally granted at the start of the 1985/86 season. As a new club, Derry had to begin in the second tier, the first division, but after a 5-0 win over non-league Garda and a 3-0 success over Donegal rivals, Finn Harps in the first two rounds of the cup, the Candystripes were drawn away to premier opponents Cork City in the last eight of the competition.
A huge away support of over 7,000 fans, who travelled by car, bus and rail, converged on Leeside. Nineteen Ulsterbus coaches, each carrying a full complement of 53 passengers, made the journey in just over nine hours. A special train carrying 700 fans made the historic journey south and was the first from Northern Ireland to ever enter Kent Station. The influx of visitors brought huge financial gain to the Rebel city after what had been a difficult first half of the 1980s.
City, founded in 1984, saw off Bray Wanderers in round one after a replay. A penalty from captain Anto Whelan and Ian Hennessy, son of local legend Tony, set up an away tie against Limerick City on February 23. Kevin Kearney netted for City and Tommy Gaynor for the Treaty City before a double from Dubliner Paddy Hughes three days later in another replay resulted in Derry City coming out of the hat in the last eight.
Derry City player-manager Noel King started with the league’s all-time top scorer, Brendan Bradley, up front with another former Harps’ legend Declan McDowell captaining the Candystripes from the centre of defence. The Cork faithful was getting its first glimpse of exciting Brazilian mid-field star Nelson Da Silva and South African Owen Da Gama. Leeside boss Tony ‘Tucker’ Allen was without the services of the injured Paul Bowdren who had made 28 first-team appearances, eight as a sub, so far that season.
Cork Examiner reporter Mark Woods described the contest as ‘a tense, cautious and at times bruising tie.’ The importance of the occasion coupled with a very strong wind hampered the creative ideas of both teams.
It must be said that the tie would have been both team’s most important match to date with the expectations of both sets of fans weighing heavily on both teams’ shoulders.
As a member of City’s supporters' club, I experienced the tense atmosphere first hand when asked to remove a toilet roll from in front of the goalmouth at the Blackrock end. Behind the goal, there was a sea of green and white while the well behaved away supporters thronged the stand side and were in full voice. Needless to say, my journey out and back was done with haste.
City lost influential midfield schemer Pat Healy after three minutes with a recurrence of a hamstring injury but recovered sufficiently to go close on two occasions before the sixth minute. First, Whelan shot over from outside the area and then Kearney hit the side netting. Derry’s Nelson Da Silva combined with Da Gama on the stroke of half-time to text Jim Mulcahy.
Both teams huffed and puffed until six minutes from time when 19-year-old substitute Ian Hennessy capitalized on a slip by Ray McGuinness to side the ball past the advancing Eamonn Quigley and send the Cork faithful into ecstasy.
City would go on to lose home and away in the semi-final to Shamrock Rovers but their first dual with Derry would set in place a pairing which would go on to decide in years to come the destination of a cup final and a league championship.
Jim Mulcahy: Barry Neiland, Liam Keane; Anto Whelan (c), Mick O’Keeffe; Pat ‘Ginger’ Healy (Ian Hennessy), Stuart Ashton, Jimmy Nodwell; Paddy Hughes, Kearney (Bob Donovan),Charlie McCarthy.
Eamonn Quigley: Mick Gorman, Ray McGuinness; Nelson Da Silva, Declan McDowell (c); Noel King, Kevin O’Neill (Barry McCreadie), Owen Da Gama, Stewart Gauld; Brendan Bradley, Kevin Mahon.
B Thomas and P Byrne.