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League of Ireland Glory Days

 

‘’Glory days well they pass you by / Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye / Glory days, glory days’’. The words of Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen, and the song touches on sporting as well as other memories. While Bruce might have had baseball in mind, I think the song is apt for League of Ireland fans whenever they remember those heady days in the past that saw their clubs on top of the world [there’s a Carpenters song there, but we will stick with Bruce!].

All clubs in the League of Ireland have had glory days, even if they are limited to a brief time in the top flight, or an era of lengthy Cup runs. Some clubs have several different eras of glory days to choose from. Spoilt for choice!

My own club Bray Wanderers had their glory days in the 1990’s, bookending the decade that saw promotions and a Shield win with FAI Cup triumphs. Those days will live long in the memory. My recollection of those times is that they were glory days for St Patrick’s Athletic too, with league titles in 1990, 1996, 1998 and 1999 under Brian Kerr, Pat Dolan and Liam Buckley.

Over at Dalymount Park Bohemians fans will remember the period of dominance in the first decade of the 2000’s as the most recent glory days. League titles were won in 2000-01, 2002-03, 2008 and 2009 while 2000-01 and 2008 also saw FAI Cup wins and the added glory of ‘the double’. With Keith Long doing a marvellous job at the helm, perhaps the next era of glory is just around the corner?

Sometimes you have to go back a while to remember the glory days, and this can mean that only fans of a certain age can remember them. Take Finn Harps for example. Throughout the 1970’s the club consistently finished in the top half of the table of the then single-division League of Ireland. The Dublin City Cup was won in 1971-72 at Dalymount Park, also the setting in 1973-74 when the club lifted the FAI Cup. The club played an attacking brand of football and graced the European stage on several occasions.

UCD can point to the 1980’s as glory times. Having been elected to the League of Ireland in 1979, the club struggled at first until they changed their rules in 1983 and allowed semi-professional players and players who weren’t students or former students to play for the team. The FAI Cup was duly won in 1983-84 and UCD played Everton – then the best club in world football – in the 1984-85 European Cup Winners Cup, losing narrowly on aggregate.

The early 1980’s were also heady days for Athlone Town, who were League of Ireland champions in 1980-81 and 1982-83. If a club deserves a return of some glory then it is Athlone. They have ploughed on in the League of Ireland against all the odds. Survival brings its own strange kind of glory, but the past has signposts to what the future could bring if finance, squad and luck all come into alignment at the same time.

Drogheda United’s most recent period of glory was under Paul Doolin. Having adopted a fully-professional squad in 2004, the club won the 2005 FAI Cup and successive Setanta Cups in 2006 and 2007 before winning the League in 2007. They played in the UEFA Cup in 2007-07 and the 2008-09 Champions League.

Recent years have been glory ones for Cork City and Dundalk. It has been a bit like ‘Federer or Nadal’ in tennis! With league titles in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019, together with FAI Cup wins in 2015 and 2018, Dundalk have added the glory years of the 2010’s to those of the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.

The thing about glory days is that they don’t last forever. Success is fickle and finite and deserts even the greatest of teams, fans and squads. Liverpool have had to wait 30 years to win the top-flight title in England, but they won it, proving that success will return. You just have to dig in and survive the downtimes, no matter how lengthy they are – but that’s the essence of supporting a team isn’t it?

At the time of writing the welcome news came through that the SSE Airtricity League will return later this month. It will be interesting to see if the COVID-enforced break changes the dynamic in the league. Will it mark the beginning of a new era of dominance for some clubs? The ‘Glory Days’ of the future?

Brian Quigley

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