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100 YEARS AGO- WINNING THE IFA CUP FOR 1906 - by Christopher Sands
Tonight we have the meeting of Dublin’s original ‘old firm’ duo. On the one hand it is appropriate that this could be the deciding game for the league title, and on the other hand it is ironic, given what has happened off the field for this season. Shelbourne FC was founded in 1895 by James Rowan and others in the Shelbourne Road/Bath Avenue/Ringsend area of Dublin, this was five years after Bohemians had been formed. The progress of Shelbourne FC, especially in those early years, is well documented in Frank Martin’s Centenary Booklet, ‘Shelbourne Facts and Figures’, @1995. The club’s first year was spent in junior competition, winning the L.J League and L.J Cup. The club went senior in 1897, finishing second in both the L.S League and the L.S Cup, but we won the LS Cup in 1900. Bohs joined the Irish League in 1902, and Shels joined in 1904. We finished fifth in the Irish League that year. Our second place finish in 1907 (second to Linfield), was our best placed finish, otherwise we mainly hovered around fourth place over those years in the Irish League, 1904/20. But it was in battling for that other great trophy, the IFA Senior Cup, played on an all-Ireland basis, that Shels had more success.
In the IFA Senior Cup for 1904/05, Shels beat Bellevue, Bohemians and Glentoran to reach the Final. Alas, there we lost to Distillery. In 1905/06 we won against Cork Celtic, Glentoran, and Derry Celtic, and we beat Belfast Celtic in the final. To win such a major trophy after just over ten years experience was indeed an amazing achievement, at a time when winning the Cup was seen by many as even more glamorous and difficult than winning the League. This was all the more amazing for Shels as Dublin teams had played in the IFA Cup Final on three different occasions, all without success, Bohs in 1900, Freebooters from Sandymount in 1901, and Shels themselves, in 1905. That IFA Cup Final in 1901, the first one to be staged in Dublin, took place in the City and Suburban Ground, on Jones Road, the site that later became Croke Park, so soccer will be returning there soon, when our international team play there. After that great win over Belfast Celtic in 1906, the Evening Herald reported that tar barrels and bonfires blazed in Ringsend, Sandymount and surrounding areas, as the IFA Cup was paraded around. That was the first time the IFA Cup had gone to the southern region, or across what was later to be called the ‘border’.
On 28th April, 1906, at Dalymount Park, for the IFA (All-Ireland) Cup Final against Belfast Celtic, Shels lined-out as;- W Rowe; J Heslin, P Kelly; A Abbey, J Doherty, J Ledwidge, John Owens, G Byrne, V Harris, James Owens, J Clery.
Goalie Billy Rowe played for Shels from 1901 to 1912. Beginning at left-back in his first season, became the first choice keeper after that. Played 51 Irish League games and 23 in the IFA Cup.
Full-backs; Jack Heslin played for Shels from 1901 to 1908. A right-back, he played 48 Irish League games and 22 in the IFA Cup. Left-back Pat Kelly, a Shels player from 1904 to 1912, he played 68 games with 1 goal in the Irish League, and 14 IFA Cup games.
Half-backs; Alf Abbey with Shels from 1903 to 1908, played 45 Irish League games, scoring 2 goals, and 18 IFA Cup matches, with 1 goal. Centre-half Jim Doherty, with Shels from 1903 to 1912, played 59 games with 2 goals in the Irish League, and 26 matches with 1 goal in the IFA Cup. Joe Ledwidge played for Shels from 1901 to 1909, with 51 games in the Irish League, and 23 matches with 1 goal in the IFA Cup.
Forwards; John Owens played with Shels from 1901 to 1909, having 60 Irish league games with 12 goals, and 27 in the IFA Cup scoring 7 goals. Gerry ‘Gary’ Byrne; over seasons 1904-1906 played in 4 Irish League matches, and 5 IFA Cup games, scoring 5 goals. Val Harris; Shels captain on the day (and many other days), Val played for Shels from 1903 to 1908, and again 1914 to 1927 (with Everton FC in between) taking part in 71 Irish League games scoring 13 goals, and 36 matches in the IFA Cup with 12 goals (plus later many games in League of Ireland competitions).
James Owens; with Shels 1903 to 1909, played 58 Irish League games with 21 goals, and in the IFA Cup 21 matches scoring 7 goals. John Clery; played for Shels over 1902 to 1908, with 33 Irish League games, and
2 goals, plus 13 IFA Cup games, with 2 goals. Harris and Ledwidge had earlier in the season gained Irish international caps with the IFA.
Outstanding amongst them all, was the great Val Harris who was born in Ringsend in 1884. In today’s world Val would probably be called ‘Mr Shelbourne’. Earlier a prominent GAA player winning senior honours with Isles of the Sea of Ringsend, he was possibly the Kevin Moran of his time, with a dash of Paul McGrath added in. The first Shelbourne player to be capped for Ireland, at a time when only three games took place each year, he gained 20 IFA caps from February, 1906 v England, until 1914 when WW1 halted most competitions (the first six of those honours, plus four caps for the Irish League, were won while Val was still playing with Shels). If the break caused by WW1 had not occurred, it is almost certain that Val would have become the record holder of caps for the IFA. Starting with Shels in 1903, he moved to Everton 1908-14, returning to Shels, he played until 1927 (in season 1925-26 he was still playing well enough to win two caps in representative games for the Free State League). Val later became our coach/manager, gaining our first FAI Cup win for the club in 1939.
Playing centre-half later, having started his Shels career as a goal scoring centre-forward, he was sometimes criticised for not scoring enough. But his managers for club and country usually considered him their most important player, so he occupied almost every position on the field, usually marking the most dangerous opponent, thus reducing his scoring chances.
The year following Shels 1906 win we beat both Bohs and Belfast Celtic again, to reach the final. But we lost to Cliftonville in a replay. In 1907/08 we beat Cliftonville and Distillery to reach our fourth consecutive IFA Cup Final, against Bohs, the first all-Dublin final. But we lost to Bohs in a replay. In 1910/11, in another all-Dublin final, Shels beat Bohs after a replay. With war in Europe and civil unrest at home, football continued but at a slower pace, until we reached the IFA Cup Final in 1920. This final never took place as the other two other semi-finalists were expelled for unacceptable behaviour, and Shels were awarded the trophy. At this stage Shels had reached the IFA Cup Final on six occasions, gaining the trophy three times, 1906, 1911 and 1920.
Following various disputes between the Irish Football Association (IFA in Belfast) and some of the southern clubs, in 1921 a new association was formed in Dublin, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), with the Free State League (later the League of Ireland, now the FAI Nation League) for senior clubs. Shels and Bohs were there from the Irish League, and they remain the only teams from the original eight.
A further connection between to-nights teams was Bob Thomas. Earlier of Bohs, Bob won a league medal when Shels gained our second League Championship in 1928/29. Later manager of the Shels team when we won our sixth League Championship in 1952/53, Bob was uncle of future Shels favourite and club captain Theo Dunne. Theo in turn is the father of Thomas Dunne who also played for Shels, and Theo is also uncle of Richard Dunne of Manchester City and Ireland.
At time of writing this, we do not know if another Bohs-Shels game is to be played. Let’s hope Shels win tonight and the game in Derry is a draw, then Shels will win on points and the other possible game will be unnecessary, whatever the arbitrator’s decision has been. However, whatever the position, Best Wishes to Pat Fenlon, the players, and all at Shelbourne FC, tonight and during the very welcome break.
This article first appeared in the Matchday Programme v. Bohemians on November 17th, 2006