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The Blues from 40 years ago. A season of 500 wins, local heroes and a harsh lesson from the Students.

40 years ago the Blues played in Kilcohan Park, averaged a crowd of under 1,200 and where managed by Alfie Hale. It had been four years since celebrating lifting the FAI Cup of 1980 and playing Dynamo Tbilisi in Europe as Waterford set about improving their Premier Division position as it had been eight years since the club had finished in the top three. Here is the story of that season.


At a time when the country was suffering mass immigration, huge taxes on pay packets, banks and postal strikes, money was tight, and clubs were feeling the pinch. Case in point the low attendances for the League Cup which opened the new season. Waterford again would face off with Galway United, Cobh Ramblers and Limerick United, the same teams in last season’s group stage. It had been a decade since Waterford had won the trophy and basically came nowhere near it since that 1973 win over Finn Harps. The Blues first game was against Cobh Ramblers, a side just who would grace the League of Ireland in a couple of seasons time. Having beaten Waterford in last year’s group stage they would be quietly confident. Andthey had every right to be. Playing at their Saint Coleman’s Park ground they overcame the challenge of Waterford in a 2-1 win which featured “one of the best goals ever scored in the ground” when Fergus McDaid beat the Waterford defence and then David Flavin with an outrageous chip from 40 yards to win the game. George Wilshaw’s corner went in off Breslin to give Cobh the lead. Jim Browne scored for Waterford in the defeat. A week later the Blues played the newly formed Limerick City (taking the place of Limerick United from last season) and both sides played out a 2-2 draw, though it really should have been more after two goals from Michael Bennett (set up by a young Martin Reid) then saw Limerick draw level late on. For their third and final game in the group Waterford would have needed a win and get miraculous results elsewhere to go for them but that was never going to happen. Hale’s men saw out their League Cup campaign with a very poor performance and 2-1 defeat at Terryland Park to Galway United. Paul Murphy’s two goals would ultimately do the damage though Waterford had the lead through a first half Jim Browne goal only to surrender to Murphy’s late second half strikes. The Blues would finish bottom of the table as their woeful run of results in this competition continued.


The Students of UCD would be the first test in the league at Kilcohan Park. Indeed, it was the visitors who opened the scoring through Michael Giles hitting a cracker from 25 yards. A minute later Robbie Gaffney’s long-range shot was spilled by David Flavin as the ball ran over the line to give the students a two-goal lead. Waterford finally put in an effort after this, but it took until 70 minutes to get a goal back via Vinny McCarthy and the Blues salvaged an unlikely point nine minutes from time when Tony Dunphy was fouled in the UCD box leaving Martin Reid to stroke home the resulting spot kick for 2-2. An unprecedented dispute at Markets Field ended in Waterford not playing their scheduled game against Limerick United the following week. This was a complicated issue between both a Limerick United and Limerick City team each claiming League of Ireland status. When Waterford arrived to play their game to play United, the Limerick City players and staff were on a picket outside the ground leaving the Blues contingent between a rock and a hard place as the Limerick United players were inside. After a brief chat the Waterford players and officials decided they would not pass the picket. A first home win of the season was most welcome with a 2-0 defeat of Drogheda United which was followed at the start of October with a dull scoreless draw at home to Galway United. There would be a real test of any title or European credentials when Alfie Hale’s men travelled north to Ballybofey to take on a high-flying Finn Harps side. The Donegal men were chasing down a first ever League of Ireland title and were second coming into this fixture. Waterford put up a spirited performance but the deadliest striker in the league (and now of all time) Brendan Bradley, proved the difference between both teams and was a constant thorn in the Blues side in a 3-1 win. George Mellerick got the Waterford goal. With another loss, this time against Shamrock Rovers, there was pressure firmly on Alfie Hale’s men when they travelled to Dalymount Park to play Bohemians, but it ended up a superb day in the capital. On a cold day full of misty rain and a fog so deep it was hard to see your hand in front of you, Waterford conceded first but levelled via Michael Bennett. It looked like the points had been thrown away just 17 minutes from time when Frank Hayes was taken down in the Bohemians penalty box, but Eddie O’Halloran’s spot kick was brilliantly saved by O’Neill, but three minutes later Michael Bennett struck again to give Waterford the win. There would be a daunting trip to Dundalk next though the Blues can count themselves very unlucky having been beaten 3-2 at Oriel Park. When the team bus breaks down on the way to the game you know things just won’t get better. And that was the case when they got stuck in Castlecomer. A relief bus arrived but that only got them to Naas before breaking down! They managed to crawl along to Clondalkin before they got a bus that actually got them to Dundalk 20 minutes before the 5pm game (it kicked off at 6.20.) Waterford were one down early, but Martin Reid set up Michael Bennett for a superb equalizer. Frank Hayes would give the Blues a 2-1 half time lead but two second half goals from the home side denied Waterford a point they were at least good enough for. There would be a real struggle when Home Farm came to town as the visitors put up a brick wall (which Mick Madigan finally breached before the hour) and it took an incredible one-handed save from David Flavin in the last minute to secure that win, much to the relief of the supporters. There wasn’t much Christmas cheer in that December of 1983. Defeat to Athlone Town was followed by a scoreless draw at home to Sligo Rovers which brought in only £400 at the turnstiles. At this point Waterford had lost 5 of 14 games, scored 16 but conceded 16. If the new regime in charge of Waterford United Football Club tried to bolster much needed money through the turnstiles at Kilcohan Park, then they would have a long wait. A defeat to Drogheda then put Waterford third from bottom. A 2-2 home draw against Limerick City would be a satisfactory result but again the hot and cold Blues produced an awful performance away to Galway United losing 2-0 and enraging the small but vocal Blues support that had made the long journey west. On 17 minutes Jim Sutton’s back-pass to David Flavin was way too short allowing Galway’s Brian Duff in to score an easy goal. Just minutes later some awful defending by the Blues left Stephen Craig the easy task of making it 2-0. Wins at home were hard to come by so the 2-1 win against Finn Harps was welcomed. It also showed renewed fight from the men in Blue, especially after they went behind to a superb 25-yard effort from Gilligan but two clever goals from Michael Bennett one in each half gave the small home attendance something to shout about. Shamrock Rovers would complete a rare double over Waterford (winning twice 2-0 without Waterford scoring) which doesn’t happen that often though there seemed to be little riding on the game. There would be a more spirited display at home to Bohemians in a game Waterford dominated by Alfie Hale’s men in the first half and Martin Reid had put in a towering performance, scoring once from the penalty spot and could have had four more if it wasn’t for O’Neill in the Bohemians goal. But lapse defending but more fatigue and tiredness set in allowing the Dublin side to score three second half goals to give them a rather flattering 3-1 scoreline. As bad as Waterford were, they were thankful Home Farm and bottom club Sligo Rovers were eight and ten points behind the Blues. There would be a unique milestone for Waterford United Football Club when on the 24th of March 1984 in a match against Home Farm they clocked up their 500th league championship victory since joining the Free State League in 1930. In that time, they had played 1,086 games, winning 500, drawing 213 and losing 375. Still a very good record when you take all the 54-year history of the club. I’d like to have said it was a classic encounter with Home Farm with thousands flocking to see the Blues in their pomp, but it was rather a dull game played on a cold wet afternoon and a pitch that was soaking wet. The Blues took the lead in the fifth minute when a combination of Madigan and Reid set up Coady to put Waterford ahead. Just 12 minutes later Madigan got in on the act to double the Blues lead. Home Farm did pull one back when Joey Malone set up Paul O’Neill, but Derek Grace completed the 3-1 win when he came on with ten minutes left and scored after being set up by Martin Reid. There would also be cheer when Waterford managed to kill off Athlone Town’s faint hope of retaining their title Championship with another Martin “Mock” Reid goal (having a superb season) to surprise the Midlanders. The season finished with a 2-2 draw at home to Shelbourne.


In the FAI Cup Waterford United were faced with a difficult away match against Drogheda United. Former Blues player Tony Macken was now in charge of the Boynesiders and had guided them to the League Cup early in the season by beating Athlone Town. That added another feather in his cap having won a League Cup medal as a player with Waterford 10 years before. However, Drogheda’s form going into this February cup game was abysmal. Just two weeks before this cup tie Shamrock Rovers had come to United Park and hammered Macken’s side 7-0 (a record that still stands to this day) and although they got to play Spurs in the UEFA Cup thanks to their finish the season before, there was pressure on the team to get a good cup run to take their minds off their lowly league position. It would be a performance of true grit that got Waterford past Drogheda that day at United Park. The conditions could not have been worse. Driving sleet, a temperature of one degree and a pitch like an ice rink. Both teams were having trouble adapting to it. Fair play to the supporters who braved the weather and brought in a gate of £1,700 – very respectable for the day that was in it. In a tight game, one goal would be enough. That happened on 16 minutes when George Mellerick (a new signing from Cork Ramblers) played a lovely ball which caught out the Drogheda defence and allowed Michael Bennett to score beyond the dive of Flynn in the home goal to give Waterford the lead. It was a lead they bravely held onto as Drogheda threw everything bar the kitchen sink at them, but Alfie Hale’s men did just enough to get over the line. There would be another away day and another non-league side to play in the next round. Bank Rovers were a Dundalk side that had fought past several rounds and beat Ballyfermot United to reach the second-round proper. Bar the god awful 1975 defeat to CYM the Blues normally took care of non-league teams, though Rovers were an extremely good side (they would go on to win the FAI Intermediate Cup a year later in 1985) and bolstered by a huge paying crowd of £3,000 and playing at Dundalk’s ground Oriel Park, they might have fancied their chances. But United were too good. Waterford went ahead through a Mick Madigan header that was set up by Vinny McCarthy and when Madigan notched his second of the game five minutes before the break there was only going to be one winner. Eamonn Coady added the third on 73 minutes then strikes from ‘Mock’ Reid and Jim Sutton, adding the fifth, just before the end of the match secured a superb win for the men in blue as they marched onto the next round. Finn Harps would prove the opposition at the quarter-final stage but this time a home draw for the Blues. The big surprise on the day both clubs clashed was the attendance. An astonishing gate of £3,100 by far the best home attendance of the season watched the story unfold. And Waterford were on it from the first minute. Dominant and in control of proceedings, they missed several chances before Finn Harps dead-ball specialist Jimmy McGroarty scored a superb opening goal from nearly 40 yards from what looked like a harmless free-kick. But Waterford did not panic despite having had an early goal ruled out for offside and were back level three minutes later through Eamonn Coady. The game kept flowing end to end but it would take something special to decide the tie and that’s what we got. With 69 minutes on the clock Waterford won a free kick from around 25 yards out. Up stepped Martin Reid who curled his magnificent effort beyond the despairing hands of Finn Harps goalkeeper Declan McIntyre for what proved to be the winner and put Waterford into the last four. The draw would be a first for Alfie Hale’s side as it paired Waterford up against UCD for the first time at a semi-final stage. UCD were a side still only playing in their fifth league season at Senior League of Ireland level. So, it would be an interesting match with both sides playing for the right to play Shamrock Rovers (who would overcome Shelbourne) in the final. The first Cup meeting at this stage was played out in Terryland Park and right from the start no team wanted to give it a go which meant for a boring, frustrating match. If you asked anyone at the game after 20 minutes what the final score would be, most would say 0-0. However, the only goal of the game came after 67 minutes. Robby Gaffney floated in a ball to Joe Hanrahan and the UCD man drove his effort at David Flavin who initially made a great save but then saw the ball tragically fall from the goalkeeper’s hands and the ball trickled over the line. It was a blow Waterford never recovered from and UCD grimly held on for the rest of the game to knock United out. The papers reckoned Alfie had got the line-up wrong. Most fans had been calling for Eddie O’Halloran at left back in defence but even the newcomer would probably still have struggled in a way below par performance that was crying out for Martin Reid to start up front, but he was left in midfield, not venturing forward. In the end only Kevin Power and Greg Hayes were the only two players who came out with any credit. The Munster Express certainly didn’t hold back in their match review, saying “It was a little short of grand larceny to charge £5 for this game which was among the worst semi-finals ever!” – and they wrote that in large writing! To put in one of our worst performances in the season’s biggest game was a huge disappointment. UCD would shock the league by going on to beat Shamrock Rovers after a replay to claim the FAI Cup for the first time in their history. To date that is still the case. More power to the students and well done to them. For Waterford, another year without silverware in a disappointing season.

LEAGUE POSITION 8th (Played 26, Won 10, Drew 6, Lost 10, Points 26)



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