55 YEARS ON....The Blues most successful season.
The Waterford side that won the 1967/68 League title which would push on to give the club it's most successful season of all time just a year later.
As we gear up for a new season in the Premier Division (Go on, say that word "Premier" .... it feels so good!) I'm taking a trip down memory lane to the 1968/69 Waterford FC season which saw them capture three major cups for the first time ever.
In 2024 its all of 55 years ago that the Blues clinched the league title, having won the coveted League of Ireland Shield before that, and then went on to win the Independent Cup (or the Top Four Cup as it was also called)
All exerts are from "Forever Blue- A History of Waterford Football Club 1930-2023)
In the 38-year history of Waterford Football Club the team were coming off their most successful season to date. Again, European football beckoned for the Blues. After the humbling by East German side Vorwearts last time out the Blues were looking for something a bit spicier this time around. Of all the teams entering the fray that autumn, Waterford would pull the plum draw. They were paired against current European champions Manchester United. The champions of Ireland against a Manchester United side playing the first game in defence of the European Cup.
Excitement around the match had reached fever pitch and nobody who supported the Blues was ever going to miss the biggest game in the club’s history against the European Champions. There may well have been many more important games in Waterford’s 38-year history to that date, but never one as glamorous. A crowd of over 50,000 packed into Lansdowne Road, the obvious venue of choice to accommodate the fans to watch a proud Vinny Maguire lead his Waterford side out. The Dubliner striding alongside English International and European Cup winning captain, Bobby Charlton. Little did we know Charlton would briefly end up playing for the side United faced that day!
Traffic was at a standstill before the game. Absolute chaos. Car registrations from all over the country adorned the streets of the capital and combine this with the pedestrians and busloads of arriving supporters and even at 4pm in the afternoon it was jam-packed madness. A lovely touch was the Barrack Street Band heralding the arrival of the teams. The band had a close association with the club back in the sixties and it brought a nice touch of home. Then finally, after the teams exchanged pleasantries, the game kicked off.
The one thing Waterford didn’t need to do was concede an early goal. Their first venture into Europe two years previous had taught them that, but Denis Law was to make an absolute nuisance of himself that day and it was the Scotsman who put United ahead on eight minutes. Waterford had to make sure they won their little battles all over the field if they were to stay in the game. Noel Griffin had the unviable job of marking George Best whilst Jimmy McGeough never backed out of a challenge with Nobby Stiles and both men had a right tussle for the ninety minutes. Jackie Morley broke down as many dangerous build-ups as he could whilst Peter Bryan had an absolute barnstormer of a game, showing great timing in his tackles and taking on Kidd, Best and any United player he could with glee. Coad, Hale, O’Neill and Matthews ran their socks off and indeed Alfie Hale had the first chance which United goalkeeper Alex Stepney dealt with it. Just as it looked like Waterford could make it to half time just a goal down Law struck again heading home a Brian Kidd Cross though many Blues fans thought Charlton had impeded Peter Thomas on the goal line. It was more one way traffic in the second half from the European champions.
Johnny Matthews scores for the Blues in their 1968/69 European Cup game v United.
Best punished a mistake by Maguire and sent Law free to make it 3-0 and collect his hat-trick. Then finally on 55 minutes Waterford scored the goal the entire country was waiting for. Al Casey got hold of the ball squaring it for Johnny Matthews and the man from Coventry directed his shot past the outstretched hands of Jimmy Rimmer who had replaced Stepney in goal. Waterford got a bit cheeky and could have even pulled another goal back with an Al Casey effort, but the game finished a respectable 3-1 defeat.
However, it was a day for all to remember. A Waterford goal complete with standard pitch invasion and some money for the club. The second leg at Old Trafford? Well, that was always going to be daunting. Denis Law would score (this time four goals) along with strikes from Stiles, Charlton and Burns. Alfie Hale would test Stepney on two occasions, but Al Casey would have the pleasure of scoring Waterford’s first away goal in Europe the same night in the 7-1 defeat in front of 41,750 fans. It would, and still, remains a standout part of Waterford Football giving the Lilywhite’s a comfortable 3-0 win. To make matters worse Dundalk centre half Derek Stokes was on goal for the last 20 minutes because of an injury to Lawless, and Waterford still couldn’t score!
The first week in September, Shamrock Rovers came to town with two wins from two games. A paying crowd of £560 watched the Blues stage a superb display on the day to take the points. Though the visitors took the lead when a Tommy Kinsella right wing cross was met by the head of Mick Lawlor with Waterford goalkeeper Bobby Brohan badly out of position, things looked grim. But John O’Neill soon levelled after Mick Smyth parried an Alfie Hale shot. On 66 minutes Waterford went ahead. Jackie Morley set up Phil Buck whose clever ball set O’Neill free and he duly put Waterford 2-1 ahead. The Waterford striker completed his hat-trick in the 78th minute and to cap off a superb display Alfie Hale made the final score 4-1.
Wins away to Shelbourne (1-0 with a very late Alfie Hale goal which most papers called “sheer and utter daylight robbery by Waterford”), and an impressive 3-2 away win at Sligo Rovers (O’Neill with two and Al Casey) helped the Blues stay in the top two behind Drogheda United, the surprise package of the Shield who had won five games straight. When the Boynesiders finally lost to bitter rivals Dundalk 5-0, Waterford seized the chance to go top of the Shield table which they did when Alfie Hale scored a sublime hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Cork Celtic. A 4-2 win against Drumcondra keep Maguire’s men top of the League of Ireland Shield table.
Waterford would then see off that plucky Drogheda United side with a 4-2 victory with Hale and Matthews scoring a brace each and a 2-2 draw with Bohemians. Now with a record of seven wins, a draw and one defeat, Waterford would take catching and with one two games to play that looked unlikely. With their destiny in their own hands, Waterford had just two games to play, home to Limerick and away to Saint Patrick’s Athletic.
With a fifth ever League of Ireland Shield on the line the team could be forgiven if nerves would play a part when Limerick came to Kilcohan Park. But on the day, it was the complete opposite. Waterford were at their impervious best. A 7-0 beating of second last Limerick would put Waterford within touching distance of the Shield. And by no way did the scoreline flatter the home side in any form. The demolition began with a John O’Neill goal after 18 minutes and further goals from Hale, McGeough, Matthews, Maguire and two from Phil Buck finished the job.
As good as Waterford had been they still only had a one-point lead from Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk going into the last Shield game. A win would be needed however results elsewhere would help. A Dundalk loss benefited the Blues. Shamrock Rovers, Waterford’s nearest challengers drove down the road to play Cork Hibernians. Thankfully for Waterford, Hibs put in probably their best performance of the season and two goals from Carl Davenport gave Cork Hibernians the win.
What was happening in Cork obviously had an effect on proceedings at Richmond Park where Waterford played Saint Patrick’s. A dull first half gave way to a Blues masterclass after the break which saw them run out 4-1 winners. The first effort Waterford had on goal was in the 52nd minute and that produced their first goal. Peter Bryan and Al Casey combined to set up John O’Neill to open the scoring. Twenty minutes from time Al Casey scored a superb individual goal to give Waterford some breathing space. The hosts hit back with a Noel Campbell goal but the huge Waterford contingent who had travelled to the game really began the celebrations in earnest when John O’Neill and Al Casey made the game safe at 4-1. Waterford Football Club had just won their fifth League of Ireland Shield.
The first port of call domestically was the League of Ireland Shield, a trophy Waterford had last won a decade ago. But they came into the season in superb form and proved right from the start they were the ones to beat. Phil Buck had been the major signing during the closed season and was warmly welcomed.
There would be an opening day Shield win but the following week the Blues were no match for a very good Dundalk side. The trip to Louth gave little joy and goals from Morrissey, O’Connor and Campbell.
LEAGUE OF IRELAND SHIELD (Final Top Three table – November 1968)
Played Won Drew Lost For Against Points
WATERFORD 11 9 1 1 37 15 19
Dundalk 11 8 0 3 37 17 16
Shamrock Rovers 11 7 2 2 29 15 16
As league of Ireland champions, Waterford Football Club would be the envy and enemy of every other club wishing to overthrow them at the top of the table the following May in 1969. And they would draw some hope from Waterford losing their first game of the season in a poor performance away to Cork Hibernians where Martin Sheehan got the home side’s goal for a 1-0 win and two points. There would be instant pressure in the next game against a Dundalk side among the favourites for the title and in their ranks, they had Turlough O’Connor. Already an Irish international the 22-year-old striker had signed from Fulham and would go on to have a stellar career at Dundalk and Bohemians.
The game was played in absolutely horrendous conditions. After six minutes, Casey was fouled just outside the area, leading to a free kick. Up stepped John O’Neill to place an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner to beat Pat Lawless all ends up. The lead did not last long as Larry Gilmore equalised from a Hannigan free kick. Despite the conditions the game was an excellent advert for League of Ireland football. But the Blues would capture the points with late goals by John O’Neill and Phil Buck.
Missing that day would be Alfie Hale. The Waterford striker would be on duty with Ireland and would even cap the appearance with a goal in a 2-2 draw against Austria. The same day John Docker, who had been recommended to the Blues by Coventry chairman Jimmy Hill would be released after a short injury-laden spell.
A week later Waterford travelled to Dublin for a game against the old enemy. Over 20,000 packed into Milltown to watch the game unfold. The match was only eight minutes old when Paul Morrissey played a beautiful ball for O’Neill to fire past Cummins for the lead. The home side rallied and would equalize three minutes before the interval as Dixon fired through a sea of legs in the Waterford goalmouth to level things up. However, Waterford would not be denied. A foolish handball by Mick Kearin gave Waterford a free kick which John O’Neill floated it in, and Alfie Hale brilliantly dispatched it for a 2-1 win. No team wanted to play Waterford, especially at Kilcohan Park where a week later a paying crowd of £630 watched the Blues win 5-0 against Shelbourne.
But Waterford couldn’t win every game at home and in December Sligo Rovers brought off a real shock winning 2-1 there. Though Johnny Matthews would score, a Mike Hunter winner for the Bit O’Red won the day. The points were secured only after an absolutely unbelievable save from Fintan Brett from a Vinny Maguire free kick. A 1-1 draw against Cork Celtic followed in a game that was overshadowed by a minority of fans at Turners Cross. It boiled down to an incident involving Peter Thomas. With 80 minutes gone the Waterford goalkeeper would clash with Donal Leahy in the Waterford box. Leahy, not a violent man by any nature, was sent off. With the referee disallowing a Celtic goal, Mr. Quinn the referee was running the gauntlet. However, after the match home fans blocked the route to the dressing room, hopped on the roof of the pavilion and shouted, “We want Thomas!” They even ignored the repeated appeals of Cork Celtic player-manager Billy McCullough to be calm. It would take the players and officials almost 30 minutes before they could get back to the dressing rooms. It may have been forgotten in all the madness, but Johnny Matthews scored the Waterford goal!
Some festive cheer was provided with a win away to Drogheda which placed Waterford in fourth behind St. Patrick’s Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and surprise package Limerick. And it was the visit to Markets Field the first week in January that proved a real test of the Blues title credentials. Former Blues manager Paddy Coad and Watford striker Tommy Anderson had done a good job building Limerick into a tough nut to crack during both their tenures with the club and it was no fluke they topped the league table and on an unbeaten eight game run. From the start Limerick were the better side. The pace, passing and control surprised even their most ardent fans. Driven on by the majestic Al Finucane and ably assisted Sean Byrnes and Joe O’Mahoney the home side took over proceedings, going 1-0 up when a good ball from Tony Ahern set up Peter Mitchell to fire beyond Peter Thomas for the opening goal. The Waterford goalkeeper was then called on to make two superb saves from McEvoy and Aherne. When all hope looked lost Al Casey came up with an unlikely equalizer. Maguire’s men were happy to get out with a share of the spoils.
One thing the Blues loved to do regularly was outscore every other team in the league. A 5-3 home defeat of Saint Patrick’s Athletic in January would mean the team had scored a massive 33 goals after a dozen or so games. A bumper £572 attendance saw a young Danny Trainor score twice in a man of the match performance for the Blues with Hale and Buck getting Waterford over the line in the 5-3 game.
The end of the month brought a huge challenge when Waterford travelled to County Louth for their meeting with second placed Dundalk at Oriel Park. Once again, Maguire’s men would have to prove the team had the required ‘bottle’. Though Dundalk would take an early lead, Waterford would come from behind to win in a five-goal edge-of-your-seat thriller by three goals to two.
Dundalk had struck first blood after only six minutes via Derek Stokes but within three minutes the Blues were level when Al Casey scored. And Waterford would take a 2-1 lead at half-time when Alfie Hale put away a great Danny Trainor cross. A paying crowd of £827 would get value for every penny of their money. With the pressure on Waterford in an engrossing second half Jimmy McGeough handled in the Waterford penalty area stopping Turlough O’Connor’s shot from hitting the net. The chance of a Dundalk equalizer lay in the hands of Kevin Murray, but to the despair of the expectant home crowd he drove the ball wide of the post. Mick Millington what he thought would be a late equaliser with a minute left but when Kevin Murray handled a Johnny Matthews ball, Waterford were given a penalty.
Cometh the hour cometh the man. A huge momentous kick taken by Matthews who coolly placed the ball into the corner of the net beyond the reach of Maurice Swan to give Waterford the winning goal.
The same day Waterford won; Shamrock Rovers would run up a record 7-1 away scoreline against Shelbourne. If Waterford were to win the league, they knew exactly who they had to get past. And of course, this would be the biggest test of the season when Waterford hosted Rovers the first week in February, looking like it could be the defining game of the campaign.
Every season has a key moment. A turning point. A game which can make or break a season. Waterford’s performance this day would be among the best ever recorded against their old friends. A scintillating performance that would change the fortunes of both sides and with it the eventual league table. An incredible 17-minute spell just after half-time would give the Blues an astonishing win.
"The Major" Coad notches against Shelbourne at a packed Kilcohan Park in 1968.
The bumper crowd that paid £1,280 watched the drama unfold. From minute one Waterford were sublime, fearless and eventually unbeatable over the ninety minutes. The first goal after eight minutes was clinical. Maguire fed Casey who put across a superb ball into the area which Trainor took first time and beat Jimmy Cummins for 1-0. It stayed that way until 47 minutes when Shamrock Rovers shot themselves in the foot. Mick Kearin attempted a pass to Dixon but was cut out by Casey who let Hale in to double the lead. Cheered on by the huge home crowd Waterford went for the jugular with Al Casey in a starring role. He had made the first two goals, scored the next and was unplayable that Sunday afternoon. Eight minutes after the third goal Paul Morrissey went on a run and launched a ball into the visitor’s area with Alfie Hale put away for 4-0. The work rate of the home side was incredible with each player running themselves to a standstill. When a Johnny Mathews free kick was put away by Danny Trainor it gave Waterford one of their biggest home wins against the old enemy, 5-1.
It was five more of the best a week later with Waterford travelling to Dublin for an away date with Shelbourne who they beat handsomely 5-2. There would be a paying gate of £1,000 at Tolka Park for the match which did extremely well to go ahead considering two other Dublin clubs, Shamrock Rovers and Saint Patrick’s had their games called off. A superb Johnny Matthews hat-trick was the highlight of the day with Alfie Hale and Al Casey scoring the others.
That would now put Waterford on the same number of points (22) with Shamrock Rovers (who had a game in hand now) but four goals better in goal difference. Dundalk would be a dangerous one point behind them. Saint Patrick’s Weekend would be vital. Waterford travelled away to Drumcondra with Shamrock Rovers expected to take the two points away to Drogheda United.
The Blues played on a freezing cold Sunday with swirling wind to match and looked very on edge against a Drumcondra side with nothing to play for. Tense and nervous the Blues would find an opening goal three minutes into the second half. Al Casey, doing all the donkey work, to send in a razor sharp cross that Danny Trainor, just getting the better of Prole, to gleefully head Waterford in front.
But the Dublin outfit never lay down that afternoon and soon got on level terms. Clarke sent Whelan down the line and his cross was put away by Barry Flynn. Though Waterford had been on a superb run with only two defeats as we near the end of the league, Drumcondra really fancied themselves for a shock and Peter Thomas made two solid saves from Mullan and Flynn.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way and Maguire’s men found a way to nudge themselves in front again. Maguire to Shamrock Rovers had been beaten by Drogheda United 2-1 and Dundalk had only drawn 1-1 with bottom of the table Bohemians.
Now the Blues had a small gap at the top. A two-point lead going the last handful of games. Now there was the real chance of defending their League of Ireland title for the first time. The same Drogheda side who done Waterford a favour by beating Shamrock Rovers came to Kilcohan Park a week later and went two goals up in what looked like another shock. Arthur Fitzsimmons side had not only beaten Shamrock Rovers but also title chasing Dundalk and looked like adding the impressive Waterford scalp to that collection. The £646 taken at the turnstiles seemed to have meant little when the Boynesiders rightly went 2-0 ahead after just 37 minutes through Joe Colwell and Dermot O’Shea but Waterford found a way back into the game.
And it took a highly controversial goal to do so.
The referee, Mr. McCarthy from Cork, added three minutes at the end of the first half because of an Alfie Hale injury with the Blues striker going off but it seemed the Blues had scored a little over those three minutes when John O’Neill put away Phil Buck’s cross. If that had been a lucky call, the equalizer was more fortuitous. John O’Neill won the ball down the right and crossed for Danny Trainor. The Waterford centre forward completely sliced his effort, but goalkeeper Swan collided with Doug Boucher in a frantic effort to save and the ball dipped under the crossbar and just over the goal-line to bring the score to 2-2. With faith firmly in their corner Waterford went and won the game when a Johnny Matthews free kick was headed against the bar by Al Casey and the ball rebounded off of the goalkeeper’s face leaving John O’Neill to tap in.
When your lucks in?
The Blues win was made even more joyous when Shamrock Rovers failed to beat bottom of the table Bohemians and had to settle for a draw. Everything, just at the right time, seemed to have come together for the Blues. Their biggest rivals for the championship seemed to be faltering (not to mention a Cork Celtic Hibernians side in great form) and Dundalk now completely out of the running.
Waterford would go into the last game of the season four points clear of Shamrock Rovers who had a game in hand. Having got through some choppy waters to navigate a place of safety at the top Vinny Maguire’s men weren’t about to let it all go downhill from here. A win would be needed in the second last game away to Saint Patrick’s Athletic and Noel Dunne gave Waterford something to think about when he scored for Athletic just before half-time. But the Blues came back into the game immediately from the restart. They had the ball in the next twice but with both ruled out before Alfie Hale slotted home Vinny Maguire’s free kick. The sizeable Blues support enjoyed the rest of the game as news filtered through that Shamrock Rovers had fallen to yet another defeat, this time 2-0 to Cork Hibernians. Even Dundalk who had looked so dangerous up to the last three weeks, could only draw 2-2 with lowly Shelbourne.
The Blues were champions again. Another fantastic achievement.
The FAI Cup rolled around as ever in February. Shamrock Rovers under Liam Touhy for the last season before he left where after an unprecedented sixth FAI Cup in a row. The Blue Riband had been kind to the ‘Hoops, by the start of the 1969 tournament they had won the cup 9 times.
When the draw came out, Waterford were paired with Drogheda United. The Boynesiders had produced a very respectable season, finishing fourth in the Shield and sixth place from the twelve-team league, pushing Waterford 3-2 in Kilcohan Park earlier that season.
Unfortunately, the Louth side came across an unforgiven Blues and Vinny Maguire’s team made short work of their guests. Gates at Kilcohan Park were always being broken throughout the late sixties with the way Waterford were playing, but their 9th of February home game against Drogheda produced a staggering gate receipt of £2.253 (a crowd of around 11,000 plus) was exceptional. And the home side did not disappoint. Waterford eased into a 3-0 lead at half-time with goals from Alfie Hale and a brace from Johnny Matthews. However, Drogheda came back out in the second period determined to make a go of it and Ronnie Whelan drove through a sea of legs in the Blues penalty area to get one back at the start of the second half and when Noel Ennis reduced it to 3-2 things should have got a bit edgy.
As it turned out Waterford went up a few gears and killed off the very entertaining game with goals from Alfie Hale and Phil Buck for a 5-2 win.
This put Waterford into a second-round meeting with Limerick. Having beaten the Shannonside club 7-0 in the Shield and 5-2 in the league Waterford obviously started as favourites on the day.
Matthews to O’Neill. Bang. Drumcondra 1-2 Waterford. There would be a nervous last quarter of the game, but Waterford took home both points. News then filtered through that
It would turn out to be one of the biggest shocks in recent FAI Cup history. A single Peter Mitchell goal in front of an astonishing gate who paid £3,110 to see this game. Once again there was a problem with the Markets Field surface, and some seemed to think the ground was a wee bit smaller that most pitches which hampered wingers like Johnny Matthews. The only goal of the game came in the 29th minute when Andy McEvoy set up Mitchell who fired past Peter Thomas.
Limerick did a superb job of shackling Alfie Hale and John O’Neill as the Blues couldn’t find the equaliser to keep them in the cup though Danny Trainor would be the best Waterford player on display that day.
For the first time ever Waterford Football Club had successfully defended their League of Ireland Championship. But more glory would follow in the Top 4 Cup Independent Cup and at the expense of their old enemy, Shamrock Rovers. Waterford had seen off Cork Hibernians while Shamrock Rovers took care of Dundalk in their respective semi-finals.
The final took place at Tolka Park. One might argue it wasn’t a neutral ground considering it was in Dublin, but the capital would always seem the option, so it meant a trip to the big smoke to play at Dalymount Park. On the day a depleted Shamrock Rovers side fought vainly with a Waterford side full of confidence. The Hoops had many injuries after a long hard season but fought grimly anyway. A first half without much incident came to life with just three minutes of it left. Al Casey took a short corner for Shamie Coad to cross. When it came in it was missed by both Phil Buck and Mick Smyth on goal leaving Vinny Maguire to steer it into the net.
The Blues made sure of more silverware on 65 minutes when Coad raced onto a pass from Johnny Matthews and hit an absolute thunderbolt from all of 30 yards which beat Mick Smyth all ends up and put Waterford two goals ahead. The game was somewhat marred five minutes from time when a brief and unexpected punch up would lead to Waterford’s left full Paul Morrissey and Shamrock Rovers outside right Tommy Kinsella being sent off. A minute later Waterford centre half Jackie Morley had his name taken and a bottle was thrown at Peter Thomas. Despite the unsavoury end it was a good day for the Blues who doubled up on silverware. Both Alfie Hale and John O’Neill hit 29 league goals between them (Hale got 16, O’Neill 12) with Johnny Matthews got 10 in all competitions.
Played Won Drew Lost For Against Points
WATERFORD 22 16 4 2 68 30 36
Shamrock Rovers 22 14 3 5 56 28 31
Cork Hibernians 22 14 2 6 39 27 30
LEAGUE POSITION: 1st (Champions)
FAI CUP: QUARTER FINAL
LEAGUE OF IRELAND SHIELD; WINNERS
TOP FOUR CUP; WINNERS