It’s like something straight out of the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ era of football and nearly unfathomable now. Imagine the top names of the footballing world, say Gerrard, Giggs or Rooney, disguising themselves in false beards and turning out in a summer tournament for amateurs. Well, back in the early sixties, in the idyllic Inishowen surrounds of Moville, that’s exactly what happened.
One such team was the hitherto consigned to history, Carfin Emeralds.
The Emeralds came from Scotland, then leading the way in European football - Glasgow Celtic would be crowned European Champions by 1967 (it is said up to as many of nine Celtic first teamers turned out for the Emeralds.)
The brains behind the Emeralds was Moville native, Monsignor Jack Gillen, who by the early 1960’s was ministering in Scotland.
Monsignor Gillen had the brainwave of sending over a team of professionals who might sweep all before them but who would certainly swell the numbers flocking through the gates at the Bay Field.
But how could these footballers get around the fact that, contractually, they were prohibited from playing in such ‘junior’ competitions where any injuries sustained could damage their future careers and certainly jeopardise their relationships with the clubs who had them under contract and paid their wages?
Who thought of it then? The only solution? To come to play in the Bay Field in Moville in disguise! What kind of disguise? Masks, false beards and make up!
The Carfin Emeralds made their Kennedy Cup bow in 1963, but it was the following year 1964, that they really captured the imagination.
In the first round they faced Derry’s own Tonnage Dockers, the men from Down the Quay, managed by Sammy Wilson and Jack (Jeek) Doherty.
After this first match rumours flew fast and furious all over town: ‘Who are these guys?’ “ Whoever they are, they’re not as hot as they were cracked up to be!’ “Was that really the young Jimmy Johnstone on the wing” “Was that Pat Crerand in the middle?” “Naw not with passing like that” “Maybe he’s been on the stout since he got here?”
1-1 the result in the first drawn game and the ‘mystery’ team were maybe no great shakes? The replay told a different story .
Twenty minutes into the game Carfin were three up. Dockers now needed a miracle “Mc Clean tried desperately to get the Dockers attack moving but it was Emeralds who scored again,” records the Journal of the day.
And so it was: “Emeralds sparkled at Moville” the Journal headline summarising the replay, 7-3 the result and the biggest crowd of the season witnessed the demolition of Dockers.
No names to identify the Emeralds were printed in the local reports. Their anonymity a thing to spur speculation wherever football fans gathered.
The quarter final draw to be played in early September that year-pitched Carfin Emeralds against Rosemount.
The Derry Journal reporter described that quarter final as ‘one of the best games seen at the Bay Field since the inception of the Kennedy cup’s big money prize’.
Emeralds held on for a 3-2 victory but Rosemount could have dented Emeralds reputation with a storming second half comeback after being three down at the interval.
Some of the shroud of mystery seems to be unravelling from around the Carfin Emeralds team by this stage in the competition for at least two of their players- Mochan and Haughey their goalkeeper- are named by the intrepid Derry Journal reporter of the day.
Emeralds faced Foyle Rovers in the second semi-final.
Admission was 2/6. with buses leaving Great James Street at 1.30 p.m. to be in time for the 3pm (sharp) kick-off.
That encounter too was a close affair decided by a solitary second half goal scored brilliantly by the aforementioned Mochan.
But now the Journal is naming the Emeralds goalkeeper as Haffey,- any relation of the famous Celtic keeper of that name?- and while the Rosemount line-out is reported, man after man, there is no team sheet for Carfin.
This Carfin Emeralds semi-final victory meant they would now be playing Manchester Athletic in the final scheduled for October 11th “a Scottish - English cross- channel affair”.
The back page advert for the final includes the information that Tamnaherin Children’s Accordion Band would be ‘in attendance’.
Admission remained at 2/6. The Derry Journal coverage of the final includes several photographs, one of which is captioned “Members of the Carfin Emeralds team, most of whom wore false beards side-whiskers and make-up are introduced to Rev. H Gallagher C.C. Moville before the kick-off..”
The Emeralds completed a convincing victory, Derry born goalkeeper Joe Cassidy, ‘custodian’ for the Manchester team picking the ball out of his net seven times. For this match more Emerald players named are ‘ Rainey, Mitchell, Ward and Howley’ with “Coyle” now their goalkeeper.
And so the 1964 Kennedy Cup left for Scotland, and the north west footballing fraternity were left wondering just who were the mystery superstars in disguise.