Glory Days

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THE CURRENT FAI Cup Final furore circulating around Derry City, has brought memories flooding back to ‘Candy Stripes’ midfield legend, Felix Healy.

SIMON COLLINS reports

Strolling through the gates of the Lone Moor Road venue past the assembled Press during last week’s ‘media day’, the hero of the 1989 FAI Cup winning side immediately recognised the buzz and excitement emanating from the current crop of ‘Candy Stripes’ ahead of the League of Ireland’s 2012 showpiece this weekend.

“Every time you get to a cup final all those memories come flooding back to you,” declared Healy. “And despite getting older, those memories are still very fresh in the mind.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in something like 15 finals during my career but getting to a major final like the IFA or FAI Cup final is different. You get ‘suited and booted’ and when I walk past the players now, I can sense the buzz they are experiencing and the lift they get from being part of the occasion,” he added.

Thirty three years may have passed since that historic ‘treble’ success, but the events and euphoria of that historic day remain fresh in the mind of this Lone Moor Road native - a day in which Derry City clinched all three major trophies and a feat which has yet to be repeated.

It was May, 1989, and Jim McLaughlin’s troops went into the Harp FAI Cup decider against Cork having just completed the Championship and League Cup ‘double.’ And on a wet Sunday afternoon over 15,000 fans from Foyleside made the pilgrimage to Dublin’s Dalymount Park in the hope of achieving a clean sweep.

But the long season had also taken its toll, the match proving to be an anti-climax on a ‘hard and bare’ pitch and after a lethargic, uninspiring display it finished goalless, despite Cork’s Dave Barry coming close to snatching a last gasp winner!

One week later the two teams locked horns again in the replay, this time in a sun-splashed Dalymount. And when Felix Healy thundered his shot into the net after just 11 minutes, the Brandywell club was on it’s way to re-writing the history books just four years after entering the League of Ireland.

Reflecting on that memorable day Healy, who at that time was 34 years-old and in the twilight of his playing career, claimed the over-riding sentiment was relief when the final whistle sounded given the intense pressure of the occasion and following the lows of losing out to Dundalk in the 1988 final.

“The 1989 Cup Final was a great occasion from the point of view that we had just been there the year before which was a horrible experience,” he recalled.

“My main abductor muscle in my groin ruptured and I didn’t kick a ball for four months after that and it looked like my career was finished.

“But all that changed dramatically the next year. We were back trying to win the ‘treble,’ something which had never been done before.

“In those days the Dalymount pitch was awful, it was in absolutely shocking condition to stage a cup final. It was bone hard and it was bare all over the place.

“The ball felt like a beach ball and given the nerves that you experience in cup final, it was an awful game and an anti-climax. We were a bit fortunate when Dave Barry’s shot hit the side of the post and then came back into Tim Dalton’s arms, but that’s the way it goes.

“The following week for me was just horrendous because I was struggling with my groin and couldn’t train properly and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play. I was relieved when I was able to play but I was actually physically and mentally drained by the time the match started. How I got myself in the box to score the goal I still don’t know!

“I was 20 yards inside their half and knew Tim (Dalton) was going to launch it long and I just seen the ball bobbling about and had a feeling it was going to get to me. There were six or seven people who also made attempts to get the ball but I got there first and I knew as soon as I hit it, that it was going in but I didn’t see the ball hit the back of the net.”

Adrenaline Rush

“There’s a feeling that goes through your body which is just unreal, it was an incredible adrenaline rush. The crowd was incredible. I just remember after that, that I didn’t play very well. The goal and the week long build-up just caught up with me and I was knackered after 20 minutes.

“I just felt so drained of energy and that happens to a lot of young people in cup finals. The rest of the game wasn’t really that enjoyable to be honest. I do remember carrying my son, who was six or seven at the time, around the pitch on my shoulder with the trophy.

“There were a lot of things going on at the club at the time and it’s hard to explain what it meant to a number of players, particularly the local players like Paul Curran, Paul Carlyle, myself and, of course, to Jim (McLaughlin).

“There was a great sense of relief. When you go around Dalymount with your kids and you’ve got the FAI Cup in your hands, not to mention the support that was there, it was fantastic. You never forget those things.

“To get to that stage at 34 and win the ‘treble’ was great. Then being involved in the cup final and the celebration dinner we had that night, I’ve some great memories from that final.

“The scenes coming in on the bus from the Everglades Hotel and the crowd in the Guildhall Square was amazing. So the fact Derry City are in the cup final again brings back all those great memories. You think about the way things have panned out for players that featured in the game and the way their lives have changed.

“When you get to cup finals it’s about memories and it’s a part of history. These occasions become more important, the older you get and that will also be the case with the lads on November 4th. You get one chance sometimes.”

As a manager, Felix twice came close to snatching two ‘doubles’ with the ‘Candy Stripes’ in 1995 and 1997. Having agonisingly lost out on the league title on the final day of the season in 1995, Derry went on to clinch the FAI Cup against Shelbourne at Lansdowne Road.

“As a manager in 1995, we were lucky we had a cup final to play in as we had experienced a horrible fortnight. Given what happened to us in Athlone in the last game of the season and the aftermath of all that. We had a very experienced side, but we were playing a very good side in Shelbourne.

“The Athlone match knocked the stuffing out of us but there would have been nothing worse than the season finishing in Athlone so, luckily, we had the final.

“In Lansdowne and we got off to a great start when Peter Hutton scored, Stuart Gauld then got a penalty and scored and we were comfortable at 2-0. But the match wasn’t great and then they did get a goal during the last 10 minutes you’re thinking, ‘not again’. But thankfully we ended up winning and the feeling again was incredible.

“But it was completely different as a manager. The celebration on the back of the disappointment of Athlone made a big difference to us. Again it’s about history and you become more aware of it when you’ve won the cup as both a player and as a manager.”

St. Pat’s are favourites

St. Pat’s will go into this Sunday’s Final as favourites, however, Healy knows only too well how cup finals can become level playing fields and he believes Derry City are owed a slice of good fortune following the Setanta Sports Cup Final defeat at The Oval earlier this year.

“Derry are going into the cup final on a good run but, in many ways, a cup final can prove to be a great leveller,” maintained Healy.

“Dundalk were ‘double’ champions when they beat us in 1988. We were ultimately ‘treble’ winners when we defeated Cork after a replay in ‘89m but it was a toss of a coin on the day.

“I’ve a feeling Derry might just nick it on Sunday. Although we didn’t play well in the Setanta Sports Cup Final, there was a blatant foul on Gerard Doherty in the lead up to their equaliser which the referee didn’t see, so it’s almost as if Derry are owed one.You just hope that on the day that it will be your turn,” he concluded.