FAI History, Chapter 4 - The Early Post-War Years

The suspension of international football because of the Second World War saw the spotlight focus on domestic football during the 1940s.

There are grounds for believing that the standard of football in Ireland during the decade was at an uncommonly high level for many players who might otherwise have been playing professionally in England were happy to provide their services to the local clubs.

The thriving nature of the game in the Republic was facilitated by the work of some shrewd and dedicated officers in the FAI headquarters, among them Joe Wickham and Ted Dowling.

Joe Wickham was a member of the Bohemians club and he graduated from the Leinster Football Association to lead the FAI with distinction until his death in 1968.

His work as Secretary of the FAI helped lift Ireland into the front rank of international associations and ensured that the resumption of international football after the War meant a steady programme of matches for Ireland.

Ted Dowling was introduced to senior football with the Dolphin club in Dublin and he became President of the League of Ireland in 1935, while he was still a young man. He later was appointed Secretary and held that post until the 1980s.

Joe Wickham's work meant that the FAI developed strong ties especially with Portugal and Spain and it was to Portugal that Ireland travelled for its first match since 1939 when they faced the home team in Lisbon's Stadium of Light in the summer of 1946.

This marked the only time that the FAI chose to depart from their stated policy of inviting only those players born in the Republic to play for their representative team.

The reasons behind this only departure from the norm were never explained but with a match against Spain in Madrid the following Sunday, the FAI needed a strong squad of capable players and perhaps that is why they chose four Northern Ireland players for their travelling party.

They were Billy McMillan (Belfast Celtic), Jackie Vernon (Belfast Celtic), Josiah Sloan (Arsenal) and Jimmy McAlinden (Portsmouth).

The match on June 16, 1946, attracted 60,000 spectators and they were thrilled by Portugal's devastating performance. Their fleet-footed forwards danced their way through Ireland's defence to score three goals in the first 20 minutes of the match.

Ireland's goalkeeper, Ned Courtney, was forced off with an injury in the 30th minute and, in the absence of a second goalkeeper in the squad, it was Con Martin who came off the bench as substitute goalkeeper.

A Dubliner, he was playing with Glentoran at the time and at 18 years of age he played senior football with Dublin's Gaelic team and helped them win a Leinster championship. Dublin won the all-Ireland that year as well but the GAA authorities learned of his soccer involvement and dropped him from the team after the Leinster final.

Con Martin was a remarkable athlete for he made such an impact in goal against Portugal and as first-choice goalkeeper against Spain the following Sunday, that he was offered a contract as a goalkeeper by Matt Busby at Manchester United on the recommendation of Jackie Carey.

Martin kept a clean sheet for the rest of the match against Portugal and Ireland snatched a consolation goal when Jackie O'Reilly scored following a pass from Josiah Sloan.

Martin for Courtney was the only change in the team for the match against Spain on June 23 in Madrid's Metropolitano Stadium which drew an attendance of 45,000 spectators. They witnessed a huge upset as Ireland beat Spain when the only goal was scored by Sloan from O'Reilly's pass.

Martin, whose only experience of goalkeeping was a rare appearance there as a young man when he stepped into senior football with Drumcondra, was the outstanding player.

He defied a talented Spanish attack with a spectacular performance but on his return to England he chose Leeds United over Manchester United because they committed to using him as an outfield player.

Such success so quickly after the resumption of international competition was a further boost to the growing popularity of the game in Ireland and its development was hastened further when England agreed to travel to play in Dublin for the first time on September 30, 1946.

The fixture owed much to the diplomatic ability of Joe Wickham who chased the game when England announced they would play Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Belfast on September 28 to kick-start the resumption of international action in the North.

England defeated Northern Ireland 7-2 but they met a much more resourceful and capable team two days later at Dalymount Park before 32,000 spectators. They were happy to return home with a 1-0 win.

The match created a great stir in Ireland with the Taoiseach of the day, Eamonn de Valera, hosting a pre-match reception for the visiting players, the first time such a function had been held.

England were represented by a collection of distinguished players - Laurie Scott, George Hardwick, Neil Franklin, goalkeeper Frank Swift, Billy Wright and Henry Cockburn formed a formidable defence.

Their forwards were, likewise, among the most feted in the game with Tom Finney, Raich Carter, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion and Bobby Langton forming an elite attacking force.

Ireland included two players who had played against England for Northern Ireland two days previously in Bill Gorman and Jackie Carey. A third who was selected on both teams, Davy Walsh, pulled out of the Dublin game because of injury.

Kevin O'Flanagan's brother, Michael, was playing with Bohemians at the time and he was brought in as a late replacement at centre-forward.

Kevin, who was with Arsenal at this time, was alongside him on the right wing and both went on to play rugby for Ireland, an accomplishment exclusive to the Flanagan family.

Ireland played superbly against England but could not find a way past the giant Frank Swift in England's goal. And all of the reports of the game remarked upon the cathedral hush that fell on the excited crowd in the stadium when Tom Finney scored the only goal.

Jackie Carey was viewed as the outstanding player on the pitch, a fact that was later recorded in print by Frank Swift. Carey started at right-half and then dropped into right-back when Bill Hayes was injured. Ireland's Alex Stevenson struck the woodwork of the England goal but an equaliser was not forthcoming.

Spain made the return visit to Dublin five months after the England game and Ireland made three changes from the England game. Davy Walsh came in at centre-forward, Johnny McGowan, who was to win an FAI Cup medal with Cork United a couple of weeks later, was given a first cap at full-back and with Jackie Carey at left-back, Peter Farrell took his place at wing-half.

The surge in interest in the game after England's visit led to an attendance of 42,000 for the visit of Spain on March 2, 1947. The crush of spectators caused the officials to allow spectators on to the touchlines and despite reservations the decision to proceed was taken.

The winter of 1947 was the worst experienced in Ireland for many years and the pitch was soon in a sad state. Indeed the match was suspended after five minutes because of spectators encroaching on the pitch. They were within the playing area again 16 minutes after play resumed when Davy Walsh scored.

Soon afterwards Paddy Coad, in his second international, added another goal before Spain quickly cut the deficit. Then the English referee, Walter Barrack, was forced to suspend play again after 36 minutes when Kevin O'Flanagan was unable to find space within the crowded touchline to take a free kick !

Play was suspended for 25 minutes while Gardai helped create space on the touchlines and officials re-marked the sidelines. And when half-time arrived, the referee ruled that because of the poor light and the delays, the teams should turn around without taking a break.

Spain had come to terms with the mood of an extraordinary day and the difficult conditions by now and they equalised in the 59th minute. But Ireland had the last word and when Coad crossed accurately eleven minutes from time, there was Davy Walsh to head the winner.

Ireland's appetite for international football was soaring at this point amongst players and spectators, but the next day out represented a reality check as Portugal pricked the expanding bubble of Ireland's confidence.

They paid their first visit to Dublin on May 4, 1947 and, as in Lisbon twelve months previously, they proved too quick and elusive for Ireland. They scored within 12 minutes and had the clinching second goal before half-time. Billy Hayes missed a penalty and Ireland were well beaten by the slick Portugese.

A third game against Portugal in the space of two years drew 50,000 spectators to Lisbon's Stadium of Light on May 23, 1948, and again Ireland were unable to secure a result. Two first half goals gave Portugal a hat-trick of wins over Ireland.

Ireland continued their brief tour of the Iberian Peninsula by playing Spain again in the Montjuic Stadium, Barcelona, on May 30, and performed well as they went down to a 1-2 defeat. Ireland's goal was scored by Tommy Moroney.

Moroney, a Cork United player who had recently moved to West Ham United after winning an FAI Cup medal in 1947, was one of several newcomers on that trip. He was also an accomplished rugby player and had represented Munster and looked set for a successful rugby career before the offer of a professional career with West Ham caused him to specialise.

Moroney's goal was the first of the game in the 24th minute when he snatched up the rebound as a Davy Walsh header came back off the crossbar. Ireland failed to capitalise upon their bright start and Spain were level by half-time and claimed a first win over Ireland with a second goal in the second half.

An unexpected 0-1 loss to Switzerland at Dalymount Park next time out when three players were given their first international caps - Eddie Gannon, Rory Keane and Jackie O'Driscoll - caused uproar in the media who questioned the efficacy of selecting English based players for the National team.

Ireland played their international matches on a Sunday with the English-based players travelling by boat to Dublin on Saturday night after playing for their clubs.

It was a tribute to them and their respect for the International shirt that so few failed to travel over the years. Those who did not make the trip invariably were hindered by injury sustained the day before the match.

The loss to Switzerland opened up discussion on the issue, however, and the FAI's five-man selection committee responded to public demands for change. They chose six League of Ireland players for the next match, against Belgium, on April 24, 1949.

Paddy Coad was joined by Willie Hayes (Limerick), Lar O'Byrne (Shamrock Rovers), John ‘Kit' Lawlor (Drumcondra) and the Shelbourne players Brendan Carroll and Gerry Malone.

The move was not a success. Despite the presence of Jackie Carey and Con Martin in the Irish defence Belgium took control and scored twice in the second half to cause the Irish selectors to think again.

The successful football tournament at the Olympic Games in London in 1948 so soon after the cessation of hostilities in the War and the prospect of resuming qualifying matches for the World Cup of 1950 fired Irish ambitions. The FAI selectors resolved to try a new approach.

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