It stands alone in the record books - no team in modern League of Ireland times has rivalled Derry’s City’s feat of winning the League Championship, F.A.I. Cup and League Cup in the same season (1988/89). BBC Radio Foyle’s Richie Kelly tells the story . . .
IT stands alone in the record books - no team in modern League of Ireland times has rivalled Derry’s City’s feat of winning the League Championship, F.A.I. Cup and League Cup in the same season (1988/89).
The ‘treble’ has thus remained a bridge too far - even for the full-time teams that nowadays dominate the Football Association of Ireland’s National League.
Derry’s early form in the 1987/88 season – their first in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland – was inconsistent. Under Noel King as manager, Jim McLaughlin was brought in to form a “dream team” that failed to gel.
King opted to resign making it clear to the local Press that other options had been discussed but resignation was the best decision.
“I want to stay but can’t stay,” said King.
“I brought Jim McLaughlin to the club. I was the man in control but I failed to create a good working atmosphere. I, as an individual, must keep my dignity and say - I can’t do it.”
Jim McLaughlin was immediately installed as the new team boss but, despite taking the ‘Candy Stripes’ to their first ever F.A.I. Cup final that season, local opinion was still divided on the merits of the new boss.
During the close season McLaughlin reshaped the squad by adding four players from his hugely successful Shamrock Rovers team - Kevin Brady, Noel Larkin, Mick Neville and Paul Doolin. Shortly after the league campaign got under way John Coady was signed from Chelsea. Coady, too had been under McLaughlin’s tutelage at Rovers.
Many years later - in 2003 – Jim McLaughlin reflected on the success of his recruiting drive at Derry. He said: “The signings of Mick Neville, Paul Doolin, Kevin Brady and later Noel Larkin were vital for the club – all quality players.”
“But I also signed Liam Coyle from Finn Harps. Derry had earlier released him which should not have happened.”
Often football’s greatest triumphs come from very ordinary beginnings. Only a very discerning eye, observing City’s faltering start to the 1988-89 campaign, as the action commenced in the League Cup, at Finn Park and at Fanad, could have predicted the extraordinarily triumphs that lay ahead!
On Sunday 14 August at Finn Park with the new summer signings from Shamrock Rovers - Kevin Brady, Mick Neville, Noel Larkin and Paul Doolin – on board Derry managed only a no scoring draw. The critics, understandably, were unimpressed.
McLaughlin was typically defiant: “I saw enough on Sunday to tell me that Derry City has a team worthy of competing in the Premier Division this season,” he said
On Thursday night, August 18, Derry squared up to Fanad United, the top team in the Ulster Senior League and the knives were out again following a 1-1 draw with the Donegal minnows.
Derry’s final game in the group yielded a 4-2 Brandywell victory over Sligo Rovers but it was a frustratingly inconsistent display - City raced into an impressive 3-0 lead but faded badly in the second period and the goals conceded were the result of errors.
But fortune smiled on Derry. The line between success and failure is often minuscule. Finn Harps and Fanad United played a draw and the red and white warriors won the group by a point to scramble through to the last eight. It was a less than impressive beginning to McLaughlin’s first full season in charge but what was important was that his team was still in contention.
On Sunday, August 28th, Derry City made their way to Athlone for the League Cup quarter-final.
Although the game was decided by penalties after a scoreless contest there were perhaps the first indications that the new Derry was becoming formidable opposition. McLaughlin’s troops made light of the supposedly difficult away assignment by dominating the play. Poor finishing and good goalkeeping by Athlone’s Jim Grace kept the score-sheet blank.
The hero of the sudden death conclusion was the captain, Stuart Gauld.
Having taken over in goals from the injured Tim Dalton he saved Athlone’s fourth penalty and then put away the kick that decided the tie. Gauld’s penalty stop had been the only failure by the spot-kick takers during a tense and exciting conclusion. Despite the early doubts City’s season was gaining momentum.
On 4 September the real business began. The championship was about to start. Could Jim McLaughlin deliver on his unequivocal promise on local radio to bring the title to Derry City in his first full season in charge?
The demands were crushing; the severity of the scrutiny intense. The Derry Journal preview underlined the pressure the Derry gaffer was facing. The newspaper’s reporter of the day - Kieron Tourish – writing 48 hours ahead of the opening league fixture against Dundalk posed the question that intrigued local football - “And what happens if he has nothing to show after reportedly spending around £30,000 on new players in the coming season?”
When John Giles resigned after a reasonably successful spell as West Brom team boss in the 1970’s he said of management:
“Football and management are precarious professions. There is so much fear in the game, it spreads like the plague.”
However, the pressure is an attractive part of football management: what gives the job a buzz is its unpredictable nature. To be able to endure the sizzling temperature induced by high-stake games sets the football bosses apart. Just as the elite, mentally- tough, top players yearn for the high stake games so the best managers relish the tougher challenges.
McLaughlin was optimistic but guarded: “No one is entirely happy with the way we are playing but I think we will come good,” he boldly declared.
But in typical McLaughlin fashion there was no shirking the responsibility: “It takes hard work and you have to get there. I’ll have no one to blame if we’re not successful. There will be no one to blame. I’m the one in charge of the job and I’ll have to accept the criticism and whatever goes with it.”
Derry’s championship bid began with a head to head in the Brandywell against one of the main challengers, Dundalk. And as often happens when expectations are high they cancel each other out.
A stodgy 1-1 stalemate ensued: Paul Hegarty gave the home side the lead in the 53rd minute but 12 minutes later Barry Keogh lashed a 20 yard effort into the roof of the Derry goal after Paul Curran’s poorly headed clearance had set him up.
Macker’s team then held Cardiff City 0-0 in the Brandywell in the European Cup Winners Cup, won 2-0 at Bohemians (Noel Larkin with both the goals), drew 1-1 in Limerick(Paul Carlyle, the hit-man) and went through to the League Cup final with a merited 4-2 home success against Brian Kerr’s St Pats, with Larkin, Speak and Gauld (2), getting the goals. Four days later Derry put the same opposition to the sword in the league with a Jack Keay goal.
The critics were temporarily driven back and they remained under cover when City climbed onto the league summit with a 1-0 triumph in Cork. Noel Larkin’s second minute strike was sufficient to secure the points.
On 5 October Derry City lost for the first time going down 4-0 at Cardiff City in the second leg of their European Cup Winners Cup tie. But with a splendid piece of timing the emphasis was taken off a disappointing score-line when immediately after the full-time whistle manager McLaughlin unveiled in the Ninian Park corridors a new signing – John Coady from Chelsea. It was an attempt to address a lack of balance on the left side.
Four days later it was back to league action with the Candy Stripes slamming Galway 5-1 at Brandywell - Keay, Larkin, Healy and Speak (twice) on target.
Then it was on to Oriel Park and the League Cup final. Could McLaughlin’s team bring Derry City their first major trophy as a Premier Division club? And if City needed an encouraging omen a county Derry man had provided it a few days earlier. News had just filtered through from Australia that Maghera’s Tommy Hughes had won the 11th Melbourne International Marathon.
Like Hughes, Derry were also up for the challenge. The trip to Oriel Park turned out to be a night to remember. The fans appeared to anticipate something special: thousands made their way to Dundalk and what a night unfolded. McLaughlin’s storm troopers totally routed the opposition: Dundalk torn apart - 4-0 - by a rampant Derry.
Some newspapers suggested around 8,000 people watched the game. That may have been an exaggeration but there was no over emphasising one thing - the quality of Derry’s football. With Felix Healy outstanding in midfield, City bossed the first half and disappeared into the tunnel for the half-time break with a 3-0 advantage: Johnny Speak’s downward header from Healy’s cross on 28 minutes began the rout; Noel Larkin hammered in number two five minutes later and Dundalk’s cause was totally lost in the 38th minute when Healy ran through the retreating white shirts to set up the in-rushing Paul Doolin. And it was Doolin who added Derry’s fourth goal 13 minutes into the second period.
Local man, Felix Healy, the midfield inventor in Jim McLaughlin’s rebuilt team, had no doubt years afterwards about the importance of that result. The emphatic win over the team that had done the double the year before was a crucial turning point in Derry City’s season.
“I felt at that time we were becoming a good unit and the win in Dundalk – and the way we beat them on their own patch – took the team to a new level,” he argued.
“You need belief in football and the Dundalk result strengthened our belief. It took us up a gear.”
Such had been the quality of Derry’s football that, on the way back from the game, the first gentle whispers began - principally among the media, who else? Might Derry be capable of a clean sweep?
The glory game is also a nasty game often bringing its most clever exponents down to earth quickly. Derry’s return to league action on the Sunday was anticlimactic: a 1-0 defeat by Athlone ending their unbeaten domestic record. Elsewhere, St Pats 1-1 draw with Shelbourne took them to the top of the table, on goal difference from Derry. And to show how little room there was for manoeuvre Derry’s other great rival Dundalk beat Cork City 2-0.
The Candy Stripes response was to beat Waterford 2-0.Stuart Gauld got both scores in an uninspiring contest. Then City showed their cutting edge with a 5-0 victory over Shelbourne in Dublin.
Twenty hours later, however, the bitter Jim McLaughlin – Noel King feud was back in the headlines. King, now the manager of Shamrock Rovers, was claiming a moral victory after his ten men came back to get a late equalizer at the Brandywell for a 1-1 draw.
And the intensity of the rivalry raged afterwards when King suggested to the Derry Journal it was “Rovers A against Rovers B and the B team had been better on the day.”
The Shamrock Rovers team boss also appeared to have a dig at his former board of directors at the Brandywell, claiming he was given £12,000 to buy six players - and he wondered how much McLaughlin had been given to buy the current squad which he suggested “must be the most expensive side in Irish football.”
The spat continued with Derry City’s chairman Ian Doherty making it clear he viewed King’s remarks as ‘impertinent and unwarranted.’ But he refused to comment further.
However, McLaughlin, while emphasising he did not want to get involved in a public wrangle, said he was perturbed by the ‘tactics adopted by certain individuals’
McLaughlin also challenged King’s assertion that Derry had the best eleven individuals and should win the league, pointing out that King had given three of Derry’s current squad free transfers when he was player manager at the Brandywell. “How one’s opinion can change,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin further questioned the ‘antics’ adopted by Noel King’ which he insisted were very “unbecoming of a fellow manager.” This was no doubt a reference to Noel King’s celebratory dance in front of the Derry bench following Shamrock Rovers late equalizer.
Derry’s response was typical of McLaughlin’s close-knit unit. Cobh were hammered 5-0 in the Brandywell with Liam Coyle marking his first appearance in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland, and his first competitive match under Jim McLaughlin, with a hat-trick, after coming off the bench. That was followed, a week later, by a 5-2 win in Cobh, a victory that took Derry back to the top on goal difference. With 29 goals scored City were also the league’s top scorers.
Seven days later it was the clash of the titans as the top two Derry and Dundalk fought for an outright lead in the title chase. It was a splendid game of football with both goals coming from the penalty spot – John Cleary for Dundalk after 21 minutes and shortly after half-time City’s penalty kick expert Stuart Gauld replied in kind.
The following weekend Derry City eased ahead. It was easy against Bohemians in the Brandywell – 3-0 – while elsewhere Dundalk lost ground - held 1-1 at Shamrock Rovers. It was another excellent Derry display with emerging teenage star Liam Coyle scoring twice.
A 1-1 stalemate involving Limerick in Derry and a 1-0 reverse at St Pats left McLaughlin’s treble seekers still top of the table - but only on goal difference. However, Derry regained the outright leadership going into Christmas with a 4-2 Brandywell victory over Waterford. (Coyle, Carlyle and John Coady - whose displays since arriving from Chelsea had attracted severe criticism - scored twice)
The traders in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone reported the best Christmas ever in 1988. Derry City were also reflecting on a splendid Festive period. A superb 3-0 win in Galway featured a brilliant individual goal by Paul Carlyle - Derry’s 100th in the Premier Division. Next up Athlone Town shipped a 3-0 drubbing in the Brandywell - Felix Healy scoring twice.
The battle for the league title continued to be a tense, edgy affair. Derry won 2-1 in Waterford on New Year’s Day but a 3-2 defeat at Shelbourne a week later allowed Dundalk, who won 3-1 in Galway, to draw level at the top on points although Derry’s goal difference was much superior. In fact after 21 games Derry had hit 48 goals, making a mockery of the perceived wisdom that McLaughlin’s teams were dull.
A week later Derry bounced back from the Shelbourne defeat with McLaughlin celebrating the sweetest of wins - 2-0 at Shamrock Rovers. (Gauld and Curran scored the goals)
The result for Derry was soured somewhat by an article in the Shamrock Rovers programme, the tone and content of which surprised the Derry City chairman Ian Doherty. The writer claimed that if Derry did not win the title it would be seen as failure, suggesting that no League of Ireland manager before Derry’s current incumbent had the kind of spending power possessed by Jim McLaughlin. The article also felt that Noel King had made a mistake in bringing Jim McLaughlin to the Brandywell. It also suggested McLaughlin should have been the one to stand down in the bitter King – McLaughlin spat. Ian Doherty make it clear he would not have allowed such an article to appear in a Derry City programme, believing it to be unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of another club.
Meanwhile, Dundalk in the same weekend gave notice they weren’t going to let the title slip without a real scrap, with a 2-1 win over St Pats. It was an opportune boost for Oriel Park morale. The stage was set for a defining moment: Dundalk, level on points with Derry on the summit, travelled to Brandywell on Sunday 22 January for a showdown that would surely test the mettle of McLaughlin’s new team.
It was a tense, exciting, no holds barred confrontation in front of a full Brandywell house.
And cometh the hour cometh the men who play where the bullets fly: Derry’s deadly front duo – Johnny Speak and Liam Coyle – sent Turlough O’Connor’s team home without a point.
The City strikers got a goal apiece - both superbly executed - as the home lot conjured up some of their best football of the season. It was a typical McLaughlin team effort: good organization, superb balance and hard work creating the foundations for talented individuals to flourish.
The second Derry strike has become a Brandywell candidate for one of the best goals ever seen at the famous old stadium. A long ball out of defence picked out Liam Coyle, near the dugouts on the Derry left, alongside what was termed in the club’s Irish League days the ‘reserved’ side of the ground. The teenager killed the flight of the ball and in the same movement ‘nutmegged’ a Dundalk defender. Dundalk’s cover was then blown away by Coyle’s a curling, perfectly weighted cross-field pass into the path of striking partner Johnny Speak. The Sion Mills man, ever the deadly predator, gave Dundalk’s defence no chance to react by instantly dispatching a volley into the goal. It was a score that players of the highest pedigree would have found difficulty preventing.
The result left Derry two points in front of the Oriel Park club with St Pats in third place - four points behind Derry.
The following weekend Derry opened their FAI Cup bid with a 3-1 win over Bohemians (Doolin, Curran, Coyle) and when they returned to Dalymount Park the following Friday night to record a vital league win at the same venue the belief that an unheard of treble might be possible began to gain credence. Noel Larkin, a 62nd minute substitute, was the Derry hero scoring from close range with nine minutes remaining. In the swirling wind Liam Coyle had given City an early lead with his 10th goal in nine games but McGee’s equalizer had threatened to spoil Derry’s night until Larkin’s late, decisive intervention.
Later the manager held forth in the draughty corridors of Dalymount. This was McLaughlin in an environment he was comfortable with: it was in places like this he’d lived a lot of his life - the passionate football man masterminding a battling away performance on a bitter, windy night in Dublin; confirmation that his judgement of what separates winners from losers had held up. And presiding over men who were his kind of footballers: committed men who cared enough to make sacrifices, who wanted above all else to say, ‘I won a championship.” But there was no counting of chickens – McLaughlin was too canny for that. “It was a thoroughly professional display” he beamed afterwards as the wind whistled though the open doors on a cold, cold Dublin night in February.
Next game up was in Limerick – at muddy Rathbane. Rain had fallen overnight and there were some questions about the pitch. How that was handled underlined how clever McLaughlin was as a football manager. On the morning of the game some of the press went with the Derry gaffer to view the pitch. It was a small select grouping. It was pretty obvious immediately that the surface was going to be difficult to play on because of the rain. It was heavy to say the least. The canny McLaughlin however immediately warned all in the inspection party that on our return to the hotel no one was to mention the condition of the pitch. His logic was simple but psychologically clever: negative vibes must never be bandied about in the pre-match build up; players must never be offered an excuse for not giving one hundred per cent. “Never tell a player the pitch is not playable,” he reasoned. “ The nature of football is that players are always looking for excuses. It doesn’t make sense to give them a reason for not playing to their potential.” Needless to say we all held our counsel and a Derry team unconcerned by the Rathbane mud ground out a vital victory.
And then a facile 4-1 canter at home to Monaghan United kept the option of FAI Cup glory open as well.
Derry City roared like a lion into March, extending their lead at the top of the league table to three points with Paul Doolin’s late strike seeing off St Pats - 1-0 - in the Brandywell. Longford were also cast aside - 3-0 (Speak, Doolin, Coyle) - to earn an FAI Cup semi final place.
Speak and Coyle were again on the mark as Derry unnerved the chasing pack with a consistent run of results. A 2-0 victory over Cork City at a windy Turner’s Cross was followed by two victories in 48 hours - a 2-1 one success against Galway at Brandywell and then a massive result on an atrocious surface - 1-0 away to Athlone. But all the time Dundalk were keeping pace. Games, however, were running out; Derry’s precious 3-point gap had the local press suggesting the champagne was on ice.
And the weekend double had manager Jim McLaughlin enthusing about the kind of qualities his rebuilt side possessed. Years later he would tell the authors of a publication by the club to celebrate the ‘75th Anniversary of Cup Campaigns’ that bringing back to the Brandywell Paul Carlyle who had initially been signed by Noel King but had then gone off to play for Shamrock Rovers was a key capture. “ ‘Storky’ was a most underrated player,” he argued. “ He could do a job for you on the wing, in midfield, or even full back, a tremendous player.”
He also believed Felix Healy – signed by Noel King from Coleraine – was a crucial figure because of his ability to expertly direct operations in the middle of the park. “What a player,” he revealed. “I rank him one of the best I ever had.”
But more importantly following those wins over a weekend against Galway and Athlone McLaughlin now believed that finally local fans were beginning to appreciate what was required to win a League of Ireland championship. He said: “I’ve never seen a team put in so much effort. They kept going and refused to concede anything. It’s not just about football, it’s about guts and determination, will power, call it what you want. I sense that the fans are now getting behind us. That has pleased me tremendously.”
And then came wins over Waterford, and at Harold’s Cross against Shelbourne, where Derry came from behind to record a 3-1 triumph with Stuart Gauld 2 (1 pen) and Liam Coyle getting the goals. The target of a first ever League of Ireland title was moving ever closer.
On 2 April Derry had a chance to make history by becoming the first club to win both the Irish League Championship (1965) and the League of Ireland. But irony of ironies standing in the way at the Brandywell, Noel King’s Shamrock Rovers: erstwhile friends but now fierce rivals set to tangle again!
City were firm favourites after a 13 game unbeaten run. But Rovers spoiled the celebrations with a 1-0 victory. With Dundalk winning 1-0 at St Pats Derry’s advantage at the top was cut to four points and the Oriel Park side had a game in hand. The timing of the defeat could not have been worse – just when ‘Macker’ felt the critics had been routed, along came another twist. And what rankled most, it had been a poor display as well; on the streets new doubts.
And to increase the tension and uncertainty Derry were set to see plenty of Rovers. McLaughlin’s fiercest rival Noel King was due back in the city the following weekend for the first leg of the FAI Cup semi-final.
With the great prizes firmly in his sights the Derry manager came out fighting, putting his neck on the line in an interview for BBC Radio Foyle. Responding to my query that his team’s below par display in the league encounter had surely given the psychological advantage to his bitter rival Noel King, McLaughlin fired a broadside at the doubters: “On Sunday we will take the game by the throat,” he insisted.
And yet again his players proved that not alone were they the best outfit in the League of Ireland, but they also confirmed once more that an extra ingredient existed in the squad - the steel to ride out a crisis.
Derry won the opening leg 3-0 in a bruising game that had everything the football fan looks for in a cup-tie: three superbly executed goals, a sending-off near the finish, when outclassed Rovers had Harry Kenny dismissed in the 85th minute, after clashing with Johnny Speak, and five bookings. It was another profitable day for Derry’s front men - Speak twice and Liam Coyle got the goals.
A week later Derry emerged from the second leg to qualify for their second successive FAI Cup final. It was a weekend football fans across Britain and Ireland would never forget.
Derry and Shamrock Rovers both wore black armbands and a minute’s silence was observed before the game in memory of the ninety-four people killed at the previous day’s FA Cup semi final at Hillsborough, in Sheffield between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. One hundred and seventy were injured. A gate was opened to allow more fans into an already packed section of the west stand and victims were crushed in the entrance tunnel, on the steps up to the terraces and against the perimeter fence. The match was abandoned amidst dreadful scenes, with the dead and seriously injured, mostly from the Liverpool club, lifted over the surrounding fencing onto the pitch.
Derry and Rovers fought out a 1-1 draw to send the Candy Stripes through 4-1 on aggregate. It wasn’t a game for the squeamish. Four players were yellow carded and Rovers manager, Noel King was sent off for dissent.
Jim McLaughlin refused to comment on Rovers physical approach. He was only prepared to speak about his own side saying afterwards, “I was proud of the behaviour as much as the performance. We were professional and disciplined throughout and it was a great team effort.”
And he had every right to be satisfied. His team was now two games away from a clean sweep; a place in the history books beckoned. The League of Ireland’s most successful manager was about to prove yet again that he knew better than anyone else how to win the major trophies.
A week later Cobh Rambers came to the Brandywell with Derry requiring just one point to clinch their first ever League of Ireland title. It was difficult not to reflect on another Brandywell April, 24 years earlier, when Willie Ross’s outstanding mid-sixties team lifted Derry’s first and only Irish League title. On that occasion Derry won 5-1 and two of the key men during that triumphant offensive - Matt Doherty and Johnny McKenzie - missed the final match because of injury. Derry’s line up in April 1965 was: Frank Connor, Eunan Blake, Billy Cathcart, Jimmy McGeough, Jim Crossan, Doug Wood, Ron Wood, Bobby Gilbert, Fay Coyle, Joe Wilson and Roy Seddon. It was a team of two locals, three Scots, a Donegal man, Cathcart from Ahoghill, a Belfast man, two Dubliners and an Englishman.
Jimmy McLaughlin’s starting line up against Cobh Rambers, who played in claret and blue, the colours Derry wore on their senior soccer debut in 1929, was as follows:Tim Dalton, Pascal Vaudequin, Kevin Brady, Jack Keay, Mick Neville, Paul Doolin, Paul Carlyle, Liam Coyle, Jonathon Speak, Stuart Gauld, Felix Healy. The substitutes (both used): Noel Larkin, John Coady.
A jam-packed Brandywell celebrated a comfortable 2-0 victory, with Paul Doolin scoring both goals. And there were euphoric scenes when the captain Stuart Gauld lifted the trophy to confirm that Derry would become the first club in western Europe to represent two different political entities in Europe’s biggest competition, the European Cup, later the Champions League.
It had taken Derry 36 years to win the Irish League but a mere four to claim the Republic’s premier championship. Jim McLaughlin’s starting line up for the game that clinched the title contained three locals, three Dubliners, two Scots, a Frenchman, a son of Waterford and a native of county Tyrone.
And by coincidence Fay Coyle had led the Derry attack when the Irish League championship was clinched at Brandywell on April 1965; 24 years later his son Liam was on striking duty when the club lifted the Republic’s equivalent.
Cup fever now gripped Derry as thousand prepared to journey to Dalymount Park in the hope that ‘Macker’ would finish the season with a clean sweep by winning the FAI Cup. Cork City lay in wait.
On the last day of April – 24 hours earlier 14 Liverpool supporters had received jail sentences for their part in the 1985 Heysel stadium disaster – Derry City and Cork City played out a scoreless draw in a very disappointing final. The consensus was that Cork had shaded the play but the omens suggested it could be Derry’s year. A nervy Derry had a second half let off, underlining the feeling that this was their year. Dave Barry unloaded a crunching shot that beat goalkeeper Tim Dalton hit the inside of a post but inexplicably stayed out.
Derry striker Noel Larkin, who came on as a second half substitute, obviously sensed that stalemate would be the conclusion. He had already postponed his emigration to Australia by a week in the event of a draw and so was available for the replay the following Sunday 7 May.
This time Derry made no mistake winning 1-0 with hometown boy Felix Healy slamming the ball past Phil Harrington after 11 minutes. Goalkeeper Tim Dalton’s long punt up the field started the move. A desperate Cork clearance landed in the path of Healy and the former Northern Ireland international lashed in the score that made football history.
For Healy it was a memorable and rewarding moment. The previous season he had been a member of Derry City’s losing cup final team and he had also lost two Irish Cup finals while at Coleraine.
“I shall never forget that goal,” he told me after the game. “I felt the ball was going to drop into the spot it did - and when I smacked it I knew I’d connected right.”
“The feeling was great because I’d spent the week before the game wondering if I’d play because of a groin injury.
“For me personally I felt maybe I was destined not to win anything.”
“The criticism I got after the cup final defeat the previous season almost destroyed me. I picked up a serious groin injury in that match after getting an injection before the game. Because we lost the final and I was injured I got terrible abuse, so to come back and win the treble and prove people wrong was great.”
And it was rather appropriate that the Derry captain should be from Scotland, the country that has given so much to football at the Brandywell. The first City skipper to get his hands on the Irish Cup in 1949 was a Scot, Jackie McCreary, and now the first Derry City footballer to reach for the FAI Cup was also a Scot, Edinburgh born, Stuart Gauld.
But the personality of that Derry season was Jim McLaughlin. The shrewd Brandywell man had put his neck on the line at the outset. He’d faced his detractors head-on.
Recently looking back he said he felt fit enough at the time to face any challenge. Shamrock Rovers having at that time to move home and face into an uncertain future was, he believed, to Derry City’s advantage.
But he’s careful to emphasise that although the players he signed from Shamrock Rovers made important contributions it takes more than that to win a championship. “You don’t win without everybody playing a part,” he insisted. “By everybody I mean ALL - the players, the off-the-field management and the fans - all have be pulling with you as well.
“I don’t think you could ever forget what we achieved that year at Derry City. Before that I had eight glorious years at Dundalk – losing just once at home in European competition.
“And Shamrock Rovers was also successful but when they won trophies it was low key. There were no big celebrations in the way there was at Derry City or Dundalk, where I think there was a greater feeling of community.”
A great debate raged in Derry about the style of football under Jim McLaughlin. Some contended his teams were dour and unattractive. That argument doesn’t hold much water – certainly not at Derry City, where McLaughlin’s storm troopers scored goals for fun. The man himself believed it was much ado about nothing. “If I look at my start at Dundalk, I hadn’t the players so I cut my cloth accordingly,” he explained. “Shamrock Rovers were a famous club with a reputation for playing with some style, so you had to adhere to that.
“At Derry City we had good players and we used them wisely. We didn’t go dashing forward willy-nilly. The argument that our approach was safety first was overplayed. Look at our goal tally – it was prodigious. The supporters come to see goals – and we delivered in a way few championship winners have. Entertaining football is mostly about goals.”
‘Macker’ of course doesn’t have to justify himself. His record as a winning manager will stand the test of time. In any case his teams have always done the talking for him; and invariably they were the loudest, clearest voices in town.