JUST AS Dundalk's hopes of emulating Derry City’s historic ‘treble’ winning campaign ended in penalty heartbreak, a delighted Liam Coyle exchanged text messages with his ex-teammate, Jack Keay to celebrate the fact their 1989 heroics remain intact.
On the 30th anniversary of that incredible clean sweep of domestic honours led by the legendary Jim McLaughlin, it remains a great source of pride for Derry City Football Club and its fans.
It proved a bridge too far for the Lilywhites, regarded by many as the best team in a generation, who chased history but fell short as City’s achievement still stands alone in the record books after all this time!
As Shamrock Rovers midfielder, Gary O’Neill’s decisive spotkick sent Gary Rogers the wrong way to seal victory at the Aviva on Sunday, Coyle’s thoughts immediately turned to fellow treble winner, Scotsman, Keay as they both revelled in the fact their unique feat will be intact for at least another 12 months.
”After all this time, it still means so much,” explained Coyle. “It’s 30 years but for all the boys who were involved, we all still think about it like it was last week. We all still have fresh memories of being involved in it.”
Brandywell native, Coyle watched the final from the comfort of his living room with his son, Jack who is a promising talent currently representing Derry’s U19s.
Whether it was a case of nervous tension, he couldn’t watch the entirety of the match but believes Dundalk might never get as good an opportunity to replicate Derry’s unprecedented ‘89 success.
”The fact that it’s another year and we’re still the only team to do it is unbelievable,” said the former City striker.
“In League of Ireland history that’s still a great accolade to have. Our boys say that it wouldn’t have mattered (had Dundalk won the treble) but it does matter,” he insisted.
“I was on social media after the match and you could see what it means to Derry City fans. It’s massive and they still claim ownership of it even after all this time. And some of the people commenting probably weren’t even born then.
“I was thinking about big Jack Keay after the match,” he continued. “We played a charity match last week up in Creggan. It’s only Jack, myself and Felix (Healy) from the treble team that play in those games now. Felix wasn’t there but Jack said to me that he didn’t think he’d be able to watch the match. So it just shows you how much it means.
“I text him once the match ended and he texted me back to say he had just cracked open a bottle of beer,” laughed Coyle.
“So, after all this time, it still means so much. The funny thing about it was that I didn’t want to watch either of the two teams lifting the trophy. Obviously for selfish reasons it was the lesser of the two evils.
“For Derry fans the treble is an important thing in the history of the club and to see another team doing it wouldn’t sit well. They sort of claim it now, the Derry fans.”
Dundalk won the double in 2018 and lost out to First Division Cobh Ramblers in the EA Sports Cup semi-final - a competition Derry went on to win that year.
This season they were intent on making amends and wrapped up the league title with a month remaining and clinched the League Cup after a penalty victory over Derry City at Brandywell as they set their sights on the full set of domestic trophies when they met Shamrock Rovers in the 2019 FAI Cup Final.
Michael Duffy had kept alive Dundalk’s fading hopes in as he volleyed home a superb 94th minute equaliser after fellow Derry man, Aaron McEneff had dispatched a 90th minute penalty past Rogers.
However, the Hoops proved clinical in the shootout which followed as Dundalk rued another missed opportunity to match the famous ‘89ers.
”We have all thought about it and whenever I’m asked about it I always say it’s going to happen at some stage and if a team is going to do it, it’ll be Dundalk who are the best team but deep down you really don’t want them to do it.
“That just shows how difficult it is to achieve. Usually teams don’t mention the treble but I would say from about halfway through the season Dundalk players were really putting it out there that they were going for it.
”I always had a sneaky feeling for Rovers though. I thought Rovers were the best team I’ve seen this year. The match at Brandywell when they won 2-0, I thought they were absolutely outstanding that night. You look at what Rovers have in place and their structure, the stadium and money coming in and you always fear that once they get that first trophy there’s every possibility they could go on and dominate now.
“This Dundalk team, they won the league easy enough this year, but can they keep doing it? Is Vinny Perth the man to keep building on it? There’s rumours that there are a few players leaving this year and they will obviously have to bring in different players.
“But to try and do the treble, it’s so, so difficult. The pressure is building on you every week. Even the level Dundalk have got to over the last five or six years, it just shows you the pressure can get to the best teams.
“That’s how hard it is to try and win it. They have the money to go out and buy whoever they want and get to that level again because Shamrock Rovers look like the team who can go on and dominate for the next five or six years.
“That’s where Derry, Pat’s. Bohs and Cork really need to step up. Back when I was playing it was somebody different, winning the league or winning the cup. It was never one team dominating. So everybody has got to step up otherwise you could be looking at another two horse race for the next five or six years.”