The journalist and former Irish soccer international, Eamon Dunphy, has acknowledged Sligo as ‘a great football town’ and remembered Sligo Rovers legend Tony Fagan as a ‘wonderful old pro’ as a Sligo Rovers supporter-led fundraiser passed 35,000 euro this week.
In an article, written in response to the ‘Up The Bit O’ Red’ fundraising campaign which sees fans donate a chosen amount aimed simply at creating a brighter future for the club, RTE Soccer’s Eamon Dunphy, tells how he gave his 1978 FAI Cup Winners medal to Sligo-born journalist, the late Sean ‘Bart’ Kilfeather of the Irish Times as a thank you for helping him start his career in journalism.
Dunphy was a member of the Shamrock Rovers team that defeated a Sligo Rovers team, 1-0, thanks to a controversial penalty in that Cup Final. In the article, he also recalls the efforts made by Johnny Giles to establish Shamrock Rovers as a club to match the best in Europe. And he pays tribute to former Sligo Rovers manager, Paul Cook, whose Wigan side knocked Manchester City out of the Cup. Eamon Dunphy interviewed Paul Cook as part of his podcast show – The Stand (listen here)
The Up The Bit O’ Red group wrote to Eamon Dunphy as part of its fundraising campaign. His article about Sean Kilfeather and the 1978 Cup Final medal features below.
Growing up my dream was to play in a winning FAI Cup final team. Even a losing team, for it was the occasion and the glamour of gracing the hallowed turf of Dalymount Park that appealed to my imagination.
In 1978 I realised that boyhood dream. Oddly the reality of the day didn’t match the dream I’d nurtured for so long.
I’d returned to Ireland after 17 years as a journeyman pro in England to help John Giles create an Irish football club that would match the best in Europe.
Keep our best young players at home, give them the best coaching and a worthy setting at Milltown and John believed it was possible to match Ajax or Celtic in European competition. It would take time we thought. Five years perhaps but we were very committed to the project.
A few months in I realised our aspiration was Mission Impossible. The League of Ireland was no place for nurturing outstanding young players. Too much mediocrity, too many small-minded blazers. And a viscous media who disliked John Giles, among the most insane accusations being that the Rovers Dream was his personal get-rich-quick scheme.
I’d decided to get out. John would persevere for five years. Now a figure much respected and admired by all in Irish soccer and beyond it’s hard to imagine the venom John attracted back in the day.
The ‘78 Cup Final was a consolation prize for a disappointing first year.
The day was wet, the air dank, the opposition an experienced Sligo Rovers team led by a wonderful old pro Tony Fagan.
The decisive incident in the game took place 4 minutes into injury time in the first half. Our English centre-forward, Steve Lynex, was tackled in the penalty area by two Sligo players, Chris Rutherford and Paul Fielding. Referee John Carpenter, a controversial star in his own right – and head – pointed to the spot.
Penalty. Ray Treacy scored. I thought Sligo had been robbed. Our opponents fought like lions in the second half. But we held on to claim the famous trophy.
I felt curiously empty afterwards.
Ironically one of the few journalists who’d treated John and his project with respect was Sean Kilfeather of the Irish Times. A Sligo man.
Seeing Sean afterwards I expressed my sympathy. “Yes, you were robbed”, “but you’ve got the medal”, Sean replied.
Not long afterwards I retired from football. I wanted to be a sportswriter. Journalism was a closed shop. To get your NUJ card you had to have contributed to a newspaper, to contribute to a ‘paper you needed an NUJ card. Catch 22.
It took me three years and much help from Sean to wangle my way into journalism. Sean proposed me to the Dublin Freelance Branch. I was rejected the first time, accepted the second. A Sligo man changed my life.
One night I met Sean for a drink. I’d decided to give him my FAI Cup Winner’s medal as a thank you for all his support.
Sean took it reluctantly. When sadly he died some years ago I wondered where his FAI Cup Winner’s medal would find a home. In Sligo, I hope. It’s a great footballing town with a wonderful tradition embellished this month by Paul Cook’s Wigan team which dispatched Manchester City from the FA Cup. Good luck to Sligo in their campaign.