1969 is a year that goes down in history. We often hear that oft-repeated phrase
Summer of '69, an era of Woodstock and the hippie movement. 1969 was the year when Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon, the year when The Troubles broke out in The North, Richard Nixon became President of the United States, the Vietnam War was still raging and speaking of war, Honduras and El Salvador actually went on hostilities over a 1970 World Cup qualifying match. Eamon De Valera was President of Ireland and Jack Lynch was Taoiseach. That's some of the many events that happened that year.
Closer to home, 1969 was also remembered for Westport United's best run in a national cup competition in 57 years when the Covies reached the semi final of the Irish Junior Cup in 1912; their most famous win at the time was a 2-1 victory away to Irvinestown Wanderers in Fermanagh when teams from the mainly Catholic areas of Ireland found it very difficult to beat the mainly Protestant sides in Ulster as the whole island was then under the jurisdiction of the Belfast based Irish Football Association. Unfortunately, as Westport United reached the semi final of that competiton, they had to concede the tie due to lack of funds. Following partition and independence, the Football Association of Ireland was founded in 1921 and Westport United affiliated to the new organisation and seceded from the IFA like all clubs in what was then the Irish Free State and the FAI Junior Cup was established in 1923 for clubs like Westport United to compete in. Until our FAI Junior Cup success in 2005, this was our best ever run in the FAI Junior Cup and it's a cup run that is even still spoken about to this day by many of our older supporters.
The story began in 1968 when Westport United were actually in danger of elimination away to Castlerea Celtic and then embarked on a memorable run to the semi final. Only Talbot United stood in the ways of a memorable trip to Dalymount Park. Now let's look back on that famous cup run.
The journey began in October 1968 when Westport United were drawn away to Castlerea Celtic and the appointed referee failed to show and on the toss of a coin, a Castlerea official officiated. Noel Duffy and Ger Smith both scored for Westport United but Castlerea came back twice to make it 2-2. With five minutes remaining and United under pressure, Chris Keane saw the linesman flagging for offside and blacked down the ball with his hand, assuming that the referee would acknowledge the linesman's flag to set up for a free kick but to the horror and disbelief of players and supporters alike, the referee awarded a penalty. To the relief of everybody, justice was served when Castlerea missed their penalty and Westport survived to fight another day and it was another day to be fought in the replay in the Sports Park and it wasn't the tight, tense battle that was witnessed in Castlerea. United were totally dominant in a huge 10-1 scoreline with Ger Smith bagging four goals (plus two more disallowed) and two each from Tony Browne and John Coffey while Chris Keane and Michael McLoughlin also netted.
In the second round, Westport United took on Ballina Town on November 10th 1968 and advanced with a pretty routine 3-0 win with goals by John Coffey, John Murphy and a great goal by Ollie Hopkins.
The third round saw Westport United tagged as underdogs against an excellent Springfield United from Sligo but turned up to give the pre-match favourites a footballing lesson and made the footballing public sit up and take notice with a truly astounding 7-0 win with goals from John Coffey (2), Tony Browne (2), Niall Halpin, Ger Smith and John Murphy.
Following a bye in Round Four, United were once again drawn against Sligo opposition, this time it was Sligo Collegians on February 2nd 1969 and it was to be United's toughest tie since the 2-2 draw away to Castlerea Celtic. Westport United won the game 1-0 with a bizarre winner by John Coffey. Tony Browne took a corner kick which saw John Coffey getting in between three defenders, got in a remarkable back header, swivelled for the follow through and then chested the ball into the corner of the net.
United yet again faced Sligo opposition in the sixth round of the FAI Junior Cup and on March 9th 1969, they faced Calry Bohs in another closely fough game but also a high scoring contest. United squeezed past the Calry challenge on a 4-3 scoreline with Ger Smith (2), Sean McLoughlin and Tony Browne. Frankie Campbell missed a penalty that day but it booked Westport United their passage into the quarter final of a national cup for the first time since 1959, when they lost to Saint Saviours from Dublin.
United were drawn at home to Hoganville from Dublin, one of the pre-tournament favourites and they weren't given much of a chance. Practically everybody except themselves had United written off. The general consenus that United had done really well and whatever happens, we're proud of the lads. On March 23rd 1969, upwards of a third of the town's population descended upon the Sports Park for a historic game. United tore up the form book as they held their own against one of the aristocratic clubs of junior football at the time and after 90 minutes of tight, tense football, both sides were deadlocked at 1-1. Extra time was needed or else the game would have went to a replay. There was to be a hero and it was Johnny McNally who scored the winner and the Sports Park vividly exploded with pure, unbrindled joy as supporters scaled the perimiter walls around the pitch and ran onto the pitch with such fervour to join McNally's team mates to celebrate the goal in truly unprecedented scenes. It took some time to clear then pitch but when play resumed, United weathered the Hoganville storm to hold out for the famous 2-1 extra time victory that was greeted by an emotionally charged and even bigger pitch invasion at the finish to send United into their first national semi final since the Irish Junior Cup run in 1912, some 57 years earlier.
However, there was to be a twist in the tale as Hoganville lodged an objection on the grounds that three of the Westport United players were not named on the match card by their full Christian names. The objection was lodged against Tommie Joe Gibbons, Tony Browne and Ger Smith, eventhough they overlooked Chris Keane. They contested that the names should have read Thomas, Anthony and Gerad respectively. Don McBride travelled to Dublin to reprsent the club at the hearing and the objection, which could easily be described as spurious, was thrown out.
Westport United, relieved to have seen such a farcical objection thrown out, were now looking forward to the club's biggest game in its history. They were looking to right a wrong from 1912 by playing in their semi final and the stage was set for April 27th 1969 for the biggest match ever seen in Westport and only 90 minutes separated Westport United and a day out in Dalymount Park. The pre match build up was intense as one might expect for a game of such magnitude and a huge crowd, similar in size to the quarter final descended on the amphitheatre settings of the Sports Park. Westport United faced another Dublin side in the form of Talbot United and in the match itself, United played well, really well and more than good enough to win the contest. Unfortunately, United's profligacy in front of goal proved to be their downfall as Talbot United knew where to find the goal and it was the visitors that won 2-0 and the dream of playing in the spiritual home of Irish football, Dalymount Park was over and the supporters were very proud of the great days the team gave them on a remarkable journey. In the final itself, Talbot United were defeated 2-0 by St Francis FC in an all Dublin encounter.
There was a consensus at the time that United had a side good enough to win the FAI Junior Cup and their results and performances demonstrated the belief shown by supporters at the time and there was even an argument that Westport United should enter the League of Ireland. However, while the club didn't enter the League of Ireland, 36 years on after that famous cup run, Westport United finally got their hands on the most coveted trophy in Irish Junior football when they defeated Waterford Crystal in Kilkenny back in 2005.
The squad that took part in that famous FAI Junior Cup run is as follows: Tommie Joe Gibbons, Noel Duffy, James Moran, Sean McLoughlin, Chris Keane, John Coffey, Ger Smith, John Murphy, Onzie Smith, Michael McLoughlin, Niall Halpin, Liam Quinn, Ollie Hopkins, Tony Browne, Jimmy Burke, Frankie Campbell, Johnny McGinley, Jim McDermott, Peter Hutton