FAI History, Chapter 2 - International competition
Chapter Two - Ireland's Olympic team
The encouragement offered by France to the Football Association of Ireland Free State meant it was entirely appropriate that the first International game featuring a team selected by the new organisation should be played in Paris.
The process was facilitated by the Olympic Council of Ireland who found their application to the 1924 Olympic Games Committee to enter a team was accepted with alacrity.
The FAI Free State initially named a squad of 22 and this was reduced to the travelling party of 16 players with Charlie Harris nominated as trainer.
It seems incongruous at this remove that the travelling party should have taken two days to reach Paris but the limitations of overseas travel at the time made it so. The party travelled from Westland Row railway station to Dun Laoire, then by ferry to Holyhead and train to London.
An overnight stay in London was unavoidable and the following day they travelled on by train to Dover, by boat to Calais and finally by train to Paris.
The Olympic tournament was played on a straight knock-out basis and Ireland were drawn against Bulgaria, who were very much an unknown quantity at the time. The match was played in the Stade de Colombes, which was the main venue for the Olympic festival.
The historic first team to represent the FAIFS in international competition in the 1924 Olympic Games was: Paddy O'Reilly (Athlone Town), Bertie Kerr (Bohemians), Jack McCarthy (Bohemians), Ernie McKay (St. James' Gate), John Joe Dykes (Athlone Town), Tommy Muldoon (Athlone Town), Mick Farrell (St, James' Gate), Dinny Hannon (Athlone Town), Paddy Duncan (St. James' Gate), Joe Kendrick (Brooklyn), Jimmy Murray (Bohemians).
Reports suggest there were only 500 people in the stadium for the match but it marked an historic occurrence as the new Irish tricolour of green, white and orange was raised for the first time at a major international sporting fixture.
It marked the entry of the Irish Free State into the international sporting community and it was also the first time for Irishmen to compete in an Olympic event under their own National flag. The main Olympic Games festival would not be held for another two months, long after the football tournament had concluded.
Happily this momentous event had a joyous ending. Dinny Hannon led the team on to the pitch and 90 minutes later Ireland celebrated after a goal from Paddy Duncan in the second half sent them on to the second round of the tournament and a match against Holland.
Ireland and Holland were accommodated close to one another in Paris and the relationship between them was of such a warm and friendly nature that the Dutch issued a pre-match invitation to the Irish to join them for dinner after the match.
Ireland made one change in their team selection - Frank Ghent replaced Joe Kendrick and Ghent's inclusion brought to five the number of players from Athlone Town who had recently won the FAIFS Cup.
Ghent delivered upon his promotion for he scored a goal that took the match into extra time. But it was not enough and Holland, who had to endure a torrid second half while Ireland sought to save the match, scored again in extra time and Ireland were out.
Ireland had made a very positive impression and before they returned home from Paris they were issued with, and accepted, a challenge to play a friendly match against Estonia. Ireland won the game 3-1 with goals from Paddy Duncan, Mick Farrell and Tommy Muldoon.
Ireland were still in demand upon returning home. The USA sought a match on their way home from the Olympics and Ireland confirmed their improving form by winning 3-1 with all three goals being scored by Wed Brooks.
The Football Association of Ireland Free State had come of age as a separate entity in international football. While it would be some years yet before all of the issues involved would be finally settled, a bench mark had been set down for future generations.
The early FAI competitions were inevitably dominated by the clubs from Dublin - Bohemians, St. James' Gate, Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers were pre-eminent among the clubs in the 1920s and for much of the 1930s.
Matches were often robust affairs - to use a euphemism - and the stars of the era needed to be physically brave as well as skilful.
These qualities were epitomised by famous characters like Bob Fullam, of Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers, John Joe Flood and Dinny Doyle, also of Rovers, Billy Lacey, Shelbourne, Frank Brady, Fordsons, Harry Cannon, a legendary goalkeeper with Bohs, Mick Foley, Bohs, William ‘Sacky' Glen, Shamrock Rovers, etc. etc.
Shamrock Rovers established themselves immediately as a force in the League and they lost only one game in the 1922/'23 season. They scored 77 goals in their 22 championship matches and their star was Bob Fullam who put his name on 27 of them.
Fullam had won an Irish Cup medal with Shelbourne in 1920 and was three years a player with them. It was with Shamrock Rovers he became famous and his powerful shooting gave rise to the catchphrase "Give it to Bob" which became part of the popular vernacular.
The new organisation struggled for international recognition, notwithstanding their collaboration with the Olympic Council of Ireland in sending a team to the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924.
Two more years elapsed before the FAI Free State secured a fixture against Italy in Turin with the two bodies agreeing to stage a second match in Dublin 13 months later.
The selection of the first team to represent the organisation under its own banner was eagerly awaited and when it was made public the reaction was one of delight in Dublin and disappointment in the provinces. Apart from two players from Fordsons of Cork - Frank Brady and James Connolly - the selection was an all-Dublin one.
More than that it included a player who was not playing senior football at the time. For the selectors included the former Belfast Celtic defender, Joe Grace, who was playing in the Leinster Senior League with Drumcondra at the time.
Bohemians' provided the goalkeeper in Harry Cannon and Jack McCarthy was a second representative from that club. Shelbourne provided two players, Mick Foley and Fran Watters, with Foley the designated team captain.
Shamrock Rovers provided four members of the team - Bob Fullam, John Joe Flood, Jack Fagan and Dinny Doyle and, inevitably almost, the new selection struggled to contain the Italians in Turin. They lost three first half goals but rallied bravely to deny them a fourth.
The result was, of course, of secondary importance for the fixture was of enormous historical significance for the FAI. And, before they left Italy, they finalised arrangements for the return match in Dublin.
Italy clearly viewed the match as an opportunity to broaden their base of international players for they sent a "B" selection while the FAI also made big selection changes.
Frank Brady and Bob Fullam were the only two survivors from the team that played in Turin and among those who were handed the FAI's international shirt for the first time were William "Sacky" Glen, later to become part of Ireland's football folklore, and four players who were brought back from England.
The full team selection was: Frank Collins (Jacobs); Alec Kirkland (Shamrock Rovers), Frank Brady (Fordsons) capt, William Glen (Shamrock Rovers), Mick O'Brien (Derby County), Tommy Muldoon (Aston Villa), Billy Lacey (Shelbourne), Harry Duggan (Leeds United), Christy Martin (Bo'ness United), Bob Fullam (Shamrolck Rovers), Joe Kendrick (Everton).
The selection of Billy Lacey was interesting for he was now in the twilight of a great career. He was one of the first players from Ireland to make an impression in England and while he was playing with Liverpool he helped Ireland - governed by the IFA in Belfast at the time - to win the Home International Championship in 1914.
He had played his first international match five years earlier and won 23 international "caps" in all. He was one of the southern players who continued to be selected by the IFA after the formation of the FAI.
Expectations were running high as 20,000 fans converged on Lansdowne Road for the match as Ireland sought to reverse the 0-3 defeat in Turin. And ambition was sent soaring when the popular Bob Fullam fired Ireland into the lead after six minutes - the first international goal to be scored under the aegis of the FAI.
Minutes after the goal Fullam smashed a free kick at goal and Italy's full-back Mario Zanelli had to be stretchered off the pitch after deflecting the ball away from goal with his head. Folklore has it that when Ireland were awarded another free soon after, the Italians beseeched them not to allow Fullam strike the ball !
Ireland, however, failed to build on their early excellence and the technically adept Italians played themselves back into the match. Two goals from Fernando Munerati gave them a narrow win.
The work of the FAI officials in the corridors of power across Europe continued apace and gradually the new organisation won acceptance. Belgium were next to extend a hand of friendship and an invitation to send a team to Liege in February 1928 was eagerly accepted.
The Belgian Federation had been in existence for some time but their national team was made up of locally-based part-time professional players. This, the Irish believed, was an opportunity to put the disappointment of the Italian defeats behind them.
Ten months after the game against Italy in Dublin, the FAI again made many changes in the team selection. Joe Kinsella (Shelbourne) and two players from Fordsons, Jack Sullivan and Paddy Barry, formed a new half-back line and Jimmy White of Bohemians was at centre-forward.
The Irish struggled to find a balance, however, and fell two goals behind in the opening half. The start of the second half was delayed because of a violent thunderstorm and the Irish seemed to respond with fire of their own.
White scored within minutes and Billy Lacey fired home an equaliser from 20 yards range soon after. With Belgium reeling, White put Ireland in front and Jack Sullivan converted a penalty to give Ireland a handsome 4-2 win, their first success at senior international level.
Fourteen months had elapsed before the return match took place on April 20, 1929, and again the Irish team selection showed many changes. Only two survived from Liege - Paddy Barry and Charlie Dowdall while John Joe Flood was selected after being left out since the first match against Italy in Turin.
His recall was timely for Flood responded with the sort of performance that made him one of the most admired footballers of this era. He hit three goals - the first to score a hat-trick for Ireland since the FAI established their organisation in Dublin.
David Byrne of Shelbourne added a fourth goal and Ireland had reason to celebrate - they were now accepted as a legitimate international force on the playing field and progress at administrative level accelerated accordingly.
Belgium sought a further match with Ireland, this time in Brussels, and on May 11, 1930, Ireland defeated them 3-1 in Parc Astrid to confirm their superiority. Flood again was on the scoresheet and Jimmy Dunne (Sheffield United) scored twice.