Like most football clubs, Shamrock Rovers had very humble beginnings. The club was formed in 1899 in the city of Dublin in an area where the districts of Ringsend and Irishtown meet. The very first meeting took place at number four Irishtown Road but it wasn't until the second meeting was held around the corner in Shamrock Avenue that the name Shamrock Rovers was decided upon.
The new club immediately registered with the Leinster Football Association but spent the first two years playing friendly games. It didn't take long though for the first piece of silverware to arrive as Rovers were crowned County Dublin League winners in 1904/05. That same season the club also captured the Leinster Junior Cup when they beat Dundalk 2-1 in the final at Dalymount Park.
Shamrock Rovers then took a further step up when, in 1905, they joined the Leinster Junior League and went on to win the LJL league title as well as retain the Leinster Junior Cup. Within the few years since formation the club had grown considerably. The committee believed that the time was right to take a further step forward and they entered the team into the Leinster Senior League for the 1906/07 season. However, as the season began it became obvious that Rovers were suffering problems in trying to get players out and when they failed to secure a private ground, which they were required to do as members of the LSL, they were forced to pull out of football.
The club was revived in 1914 and entered the Leinster Junior League winning the league title at the first go. That season they also won the All Ireland IFA Junior Cup when they defeated Derry Swifts. Again they sought a place in the Leinster Senior League and although Rovers went through the season without any problems they decided not to enter a team into any league the following season. Failure to secure a private ground as well as the impact on playing resources brought about by the Great War meant that they could not continue. The club did not disband though and in 1920 they applied to enter the Leinster Junior League once again. It was to be a case of third time lucky as Shamrock Rovers have not looked back since then.
The spread of Association Football throughout Dublin and other pockets of the country came at a furious pace and when in 1921 the leading clubs who were members of the Irish Football Association (governed from Belfast) decided to split and form their own association (to be known as the Football Association of Ireland) a number of vacancies arose in the Leinster Senior League. Rovers were successful applicants to join the LSL and learning from their past mistakes they quickly secured a private ground at Windy Arbour, three miles out of Dublin city. As a junior team, Shamrock Rovers played most of their home games at Ringsend Park and when they were in the Leinster Senior League in 1915/16 they played at Shelbourne Park, home of Shelbourne FC.
Not only did Rovers win the Leinster Senior League in 1921/22 they also had a breath-taking run in the very first FAI Cup competition and were only beaten by St. James's Gate (inaugural League of Ireland winners) after a replay. The following season, 1922/23 Shamrock Rovers joined the League of Ireland and have enjoyed unbroken membership since.
The 1920's were very successful times for Rovers. The Ringsend men won the title in their very first season as members of the League of Ireland scoring an all-time record of seventy-seven goals and suffering just one defeat in the process. By now Rovers had secured their own ground on the Milltown Road, which was only a short walk from their support base of Ringsend-Irishtown-Sandymount.
The title came to Milltown again in 1924/25 when they also won the FAI Cup having beaten rivals Shelbourne 2-1 at Dalymount Park before 25,000 spectators. The emergence of the famous 'Four F's' in the Rovers forward line, Fullam, Fagan, Farrell and Flood, was to capture the public imagination.
In 1926 Shamrock Rovers moved from their first pitch at Milltown to another one which was located just behind the original ground. As the decades progressed they developed this ground by building covered stands and terracing and crowds of up to 30,000 were often recorded for the big games. Rovers soon became known as the 'Cup Specialists' as they captured the FAI Cup five years in a row from 1929 to 1933. It was in 1931/32 that they had won their second double. It was at this time that players such as Bob Fullam, David 'Babby' Byrne, William 'Sacky' Glen, Dinny Doyle and Charlie Jordan were all household names. It was in 1927 that Rovers first donned the green and white hooped jerseys and soon earned themselves the nickname of the 'Hoops'.
Amongst the many class players who came to came to Milltown from across the water and from Northern Ireland during this era was Vincent Matthews who had previously played with Sheffield United and was also a former England international. Former Rangers and Aberdeen forward Jim Smith was another who assisted Rovers to the league title in 1931/32.
The Thirties brought limited success as Rovers took a back seat to their Dublin rivals but a major event in 1937 was to see the dawning of a new era at Milltown. Having left Rovers in 1925 to join New Brighton in England, Jimmy Dunne went on to enjoy a glittering career playing in the forward line of Arsenal, Sheffield United and Southampton as well as for the international team of the Irish Free State. Jimmy turned down the opportunity of renewing his contract at Southampton and turned his back on a successful career in the English League to come home and take on the role as player coach for Shamrock Rovers. It didn't take long for Jimmy's influence to take hold and the Hoops won their fifth League title in his first season in charge, a feat they repeated the following year. The FAI Cup was won for the eight time in 1940 when the Hoops beat Sligo 3-0 in the final at Dalymount Park attended by a record crowd of 38,509.
The League title managed to evade Rovers during the 1940's but they did win the FAI Cup in 1944, 1945 and 1948. A new record was set in 1945 when Rovers beat Bohemians in the FAI Cup with an all-time high attendance of 41,238. It was in 1942 that an inside forward by the name of Paddy Coad was to join the club from Waterford. At the time nobody could have envisaged the impact that Coad was to have on the Milltown club, he was to win every honour in the game including eleven international caps and he was to captain the Hoops to unprecedented success in the next decade.
With the untimely death of Jimmy Dunne in November, 1949, Coad reluctantly accepted the offer by the owners of the club, the Cunningham family, to take over Dunne's role. He brought many young players into the team and by the time Rovers won the League title in 1953/54 he had put together what many old supporters believe now to be the best Hoops team ever. They went on to win the League in 1956/57 and 1958/59 as well as the FAI Cup in 1955 and 1956. Many other honours in the Shield and various cup competitions were also won. Almost all of the players who donned the green and white became international players including Eamon Darcy, Ronnie Nolan, Shay Keogh, Gerry Mackey, 'Maxie' McCann, Liam Tuohy, Paddy Ambrose, Tommy Hamilton, Noel Peyton and of course Coad himself.
A brave decision was made by the club in 1957 to enter a team into the European Cup, the first time for an Irish club to do so. The Hoops were handed a red-hot challenge when they were drawn against the mighty Manchester United (the 'Busby Babes') in the preliminary round. A United team, boasting a superior fitness, ran Rovers ragged in the first leg at Dalymount and ran out 6-0 winners with three of the goals coming in the final ten minutes. Paddy Coad said afterwards that Rovers had learned from the experience and the return leg was a different story as United had to fight hard to get a 3-2 win.
At the end of the decade the team that become popularly known as the 'Coad's Colts' began to break up. Paddy Coad returned to his native Waterford, and the task of rebuilding the team began. Under Sean Thomas the Hoops bounced back in 1963/64 winning the League and Cup double in impressive style. Liam Tuohy had returned after a spell at Newcastle in England and Paddy Ambrose remained. Soon players the likes of Frank O'Neill, John Keogh, Pat Courtney, Johnny Fullam, Bobby Gilbert, Mick Leech and goalkeeper Mick Smyth were the new household names. They went on a Cup winning run from 1964 to 1969 and in doing so beat their own record of five in a row from the early 1930s. But while Rovers had restored their mantle of Cup kingpins the league belonged to Waterford.
There were many great European nights during the sixties in particular when Rovers entertained the cream of Europe including OGC Nice, Valencia, Rapid Vienna, Real Zaragosa, Bayern Munich, Cardiff City and Schalke 04. The highlight of Rovers' participation in Europe came in 1966 when they met the German giants Bayern Munich in the second leg of the Cup Winners Cup. A star-studded German side took the lead in the first leg at Dalymount Park but Billy Dixon equalised for the Hoops to make it 1-1. Having fallen two goals behind at the Olympic Stadium in Munich, with goals from Bobby Gilbert and Liam Tuohy Rovers got back on level terms and ahead in the tie on away goals. However, disaster struck just minutes from the final whistle when Gerd Muller broke through to score a third for Bayern and so it ended 3-2 on the night to the Germans and 4-3 on aggregate.
If the Sixties were kind to Shamrock Rovers then the Seventies were the exact opposite. Although involved in a play off for the league title in 1971, which they lost to Cork Hibs, success in the main was to evade the famous Milltown club. Times were hard in Irish football as televised highlights from England began to bite into attendances. The Cunninghams sold their interest in the club in 1972 and Glenmalure Park, Rovers home at Milltown had fallen into a sorry state.
Then came the arrival of a new saviour in 1978 when former Leeds and West Brom midfielder John Giles was appointed as player/manager. Giles brought a new professional ethos to Milltown and the public responded by coming through the turnstiles in large numbers once again. However, the success was short-lived as none of the other clubs joined with Giles in trying to make the League more professional. Apart from the FAI Cup (1978), Tyler Cup (1978) and Leinster Senior Cup (1982) the Hoops failed to deliver. Giles departed to Canada and the experiment came to an end.
But were not finished yet and the owners, the Kilcoyne family, pulled off a major coup when they enticed the hugely successful Dundalk manager Jim McLaughlin to take over at Milltown. McLaughlin very quickly put together a team comprising the best of players in the League and perhaps his biggest signing was that of midfielder Pat Byrne who had previously won League and Cup honours at Bohemians and had enjoyed a career at Leicester in England and Hearts in Scotland. Joining Byrne at Milltown also were Jody Byrne, Mick Neville, Kevin Brady, Liam O'Brien, Neville Steedman and Dermot Keely. They gelled together very quickly and the title was won in McLaughlin's first year in charge. They went on to win a further three titles in succession and the era became known as the 'Four in a Row'. Although UCD denied Rovers the double in 1984, they did manage to achieve the feat in 1985, 1986 and 1987.
Tragedy was to strike in 1987 when, just as the season was coming to an end, the news leaked out that the Kilcoynes had sold the Milltown ground for property development. Fury erupted amongst the Hoops faithful who boycotted the alternative venue of Tolka Park and the club was brought to its knees. In 1988 the Kilcoynes sold out to a consortium of interested fans led by John McNamara but efforts to buy back Milltown failed and the ground was lost forever. In 1990, McNamara pulled off a coup by securing the Royal Dublin Showgrounds as a venue for Rovers to play in but that particular era came to an end in 1996. Rovers won just one honour in that time, the league title, their fifteenth - a record - which was won in 1993/94. Stephen Geoghegan scored twenty-three league goals that season and came within four of equalling Bob Fullam's record set in 1926/27.
John McNamara sold out his interest in 1996 to a new consortium who, within a few months, announced exciting plans to bring Rovers to a new stadium in Tallaght on Dublin's southside. The original plan was to have an all-seated stadium with a capacity of 10,000 but serious objections by a group of local residents held the project up for years and when work finally began in 2000 Rovers ran out of money and were unable to finish off Phase One which would have seen them up and running there. The whole stadium saga soon became wrapped up in red tape and when South Dublin County Council refused a further extension to the original planning permission in late 2004 the then board of SRFC had to finally concede defeat.
The land has now passed back to the local authority who have unveiled a plan to complete the development as a community sports facility with Shamrock Rovers offered a very good tenancy package at the site. In the meantime, Rovers have been playing in a variety of venues around the city including Richmond Park (home of St. Patrick's Athletic), Tolka Park (Shelbourne FC), Dalymount Park (Bohemians) and the Morton Athletics Stadium. Despite the lack of funds to compete on the pitch Rovers have maintained a decent showing in the Premier Division under managers Mick Byrne, Damien Richardson and Liam Buckley. They qualified for the UEFA Inter Toto Cup in 2003 and made history by beating Polish side Odra Vodislaw in both the home and away ties.
With sixty-two players having won international honours for the Republic of Ireland further history was made in 2002 when midfielder Luke Dimech won three caps at senior level for Malta followed a year later by Samir Boughamen who was capped for Morocco against Tunisia. As the club awaits the move to Tallaght, much work has been done off the pitch. Following a period of examinership during the summer months of 2005 the supporters group, the 400 Club, successfully bid for ownership of the club and have instilled a new thinking in taking Shamrock Rovers forward.
Today, Shamrock Rovers not only have a senior team, an Under 19 and Under 17 teams operating in the SSE Airtricity National league but also an sixteen schoolboy teams and a junior academy. Despite living a nomadic existence for the past eighteen years Shamrock Rovers is still very much alive and eagerly anticipating the dawning of a brand new era operating from the new stadium.
Roddy Collins' brief tenure as manager of the Hoops came to an end last November when the team finished second last in the Premier Division and had to face First Division Dublin City in a promotion-relegation play off. Sadly for Rovers, the club was condemmed to the First Division for the 2006 season after losing 3-2 on aggregate to the 'Vikings'.
Undeterred by this setback, the club management set about rebuilding Shamrock Rovers. A new budget was introduced and former centre half Pat Scully was quickly appointed as successor to Collins. Scully, operating with a much smaller budget than that of his predecessors began a major clear out of the playing staff. Practically a whole new squad of young players who had played in the First Division were signed including club captain Aidan Price. Just three of the squad from 2005 were eventually retained - Derek Tracey, Barry Murphy and Cathal O'Connor.
Off the field the club faced a new setback with the Tallaght stadium. Despite the go-ahead for funds to complete Phase 1 being given by Mr. John O'Donoghue, Minister for Sport, a legal challenge was mounted on behalf of six GAA clubs who are claiming a right to use the facility.
2006 turned out as a successful year for Shamrock Rovers both on and off the pitch With the new board having put properly run structures in place and getting the club back onto a financial keel, the team captured the First Division title despite a close battle with Dundalk and Galway United for the honour. The Hoops defence set a new record of having conceded the least number of goals in any campaign ever - just 13 in 36 games. Shamrock Rovers were successful at the first go in being accepted as members of the new FAI-run Premier Division. With the submissions examined by the Independent Assessment Group, Rovers were hailed as being a model club - a far cry from the depths to which the club had sunk just fifteen months before.
Just when it appeared that there were no further hurdles, the stadium project was to be held up yet again, this time due to a High Court challenge by the Thomas Davis GAA Club The Minister for Sport, Mr. John O’Donoghue, had pledged the funds to complete Phase One but only on the understanding that the stadium would be a soccer only facility. Thomas Davis GAA Club attempted to have this changed by the Minister and SDCC and when they failed to do so they took their case to the courts. The project was to be held up for the best part of another year but then, in February, 2008, the High Court ruled that Thomas Davis GAA Club had no case. The GAA organisation were left to pick up the full cost of the challenge, around six hundred thousand euro.
Back on the pitch, the Hoops were rated as relegation candidates by some press reporters as the 2007 season began but with no external pressure on them Rovers went on to prove that their return to the Premier Division was no fluke. They maintained a lofty position in the table throughout the season and as leaders Drogheda United saw their opponents falter one by one the Hoops snapped at the heels of the County Louth club, even threatening to overtake them at the top. However, Pat Scully had to work off a small squad due to financial restraints and in the final couple of weeks of the campaign injuries and suspensions took a heavy toll. Rovers’ hopes of qualifying for Europe evaporated but in enjoying a decent season they forced their opponents, and those reporters who had got so wrong, to sit up and take notice A sad note from 2007 was the passing away of Larry Palmer who had kept goal for Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup finals of 1944 and 1945.
The 2008 season began with a friendly away to Kildare County, a game the Hoops won 3-2 with new signing Dessie Baker scoring twice for Rovers. Other new signings on show that evening at Station Road included Darragh Maguire, Pat Flynn, Stephen Rice and Sean O'Connor. The league campaign began brightly with the team taking ten from twelve points on offer in the opening games. However, it all began to go badly wrong for Pat Scully and a much-publicised spat with midfielder Rice saw the fans take the side of the player. Scully departed in October and former Bohs, Newcastle and Shels midfielder Jim Crawford stepped in as caretaker manager until the end of the season. Although the Hoops won just one of their final twelve league games, 3-0 at home to Cork City in August ,the points they amassed in the earlier stages of the campaign were enough to keep them safe from any threat of relegation.
Michael O'Neill stepped down from the post of manager at Scottish League club Brechin City to accept the challenge of managing Shamrock Rovers. He brought in Trevor Croly as his assistant and former Northern Ireland 'keeper Tommy Wright as Goalkeeper Coach. Former Rovers' midfielder Shane Robinson made a return to the club as O'Neill swooped also for 'Robo's' former Drogheda United teammates Ollie Cahill and Stephen Bradley. The new manager also brought in a number of players from the Scottish League including the relatively unknown Gary Twigg. It wasn't to be long though before Twigg opened his account at Rovers and became an instant hit with the fans.
The day that Hoops fans had long awaited finally happened on Friday, 13th March, when the team took to the pitch at Tallaght Stadium for the very first time. The capacity was restricted to just 3,500 at the semi-built stadium and such was the interest in the occasion that the club could easily have sold four times that amount. Sligo Rovers, who provided the opposition in the final league game ever at Milltown in 1987, were at the centre of Shamrock Rovers' history once again. The game ended 2-1 in favour of the Hoops after Twigg became the first player to score at Tallaght; Dessie Baker got the second. Sligo's Gavin Peers made history too by becoming the first opposition player to score at Tallaght. With the club settling in to their new home, the eyes of the football world were once again looking at Shamrock Rovers. Unable for twenty-two years to stage prestigious friendly games on their own turf, the Hoops benefited immensely through their new circumstances by welcoming Newcastle United, Real Madrid and Hibs during the month of July in a 'Festival of Football'.
The East Stand at Tallaght Stadium was opened on Saturday, 22nd August when Dundalk were the visitors. That brought the capacity of the ground up to just under 6,000. With the Hoops in contention for the league title right up to the end of the season, crowds of around 5,000 were the norm at home games. Rovers went on an unbeaten run of twenty-two league games which was only brought to an end by Cork City at Tallaght on 20th October. That defeat effectively put paid to any hopes that the Hoops had of winning their first league title since 1993/94. They did however finish runners-up to Bohs and guaranteed themselves a place in the UEFA Europa Cup in 2010. Striker Gary Twigg, a 2009 signing from Scottish League side Brechin City, contributed handsomely to the effort and finished the season as top goalscorer in the Premier Division with twenty-four goals. Twigg was rewarded for his exploits when he received the PFAI Premier Division Player of the Year Award for the 2009 season.
The 2010 season proved to be a memorable one with the Premier Division title coming to Tallaght in dramatic style. The final series of games played on Friday, 29th October, saw the Hoops clinch the title after a 2-2 draw with Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds. Across the city, Rovers' arch rivals Bohs were also going for the title and defeat for Rovers coupled with a Bohs win against Dundalk would have guaranteed a third successive title for the 'Gypsies'. Bohs won their game 3-1 but Rovers did enough at the Carlisle Grounds with goals from Gary Twigg and Thomas Stewart to secure the title on goal difference.
Despite having a good run in the League Cup the Hoops could not yet again get their hands on what has proven to be a rather elusive trophy for them. Sligo Rovers denied the Hoops a place in the final when they won the semi final 2-1 at the Showgrounds on 17th August. The Westeners also provided the opposition to Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup final. The Hoops overcame St. Pat's in the semi finals after a replay. The final, the first ever to be staged at the new Lansdowne Road Aviva Stadium, captured the imagination of the public and the attendance of 36,101 was the third biggest ever for an FAI Cup final. The game was highly entertaining but finished nil all after extra time with Sligo going on to lift the cup following a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
European football returned to Shamrock Rovers in 2010 and having eliminated Israeli side Bnei Yehuda from the UEFA Europa Cup 2nd Qualifying Round the Hoops set up an historic meeting with Italian giants Juventus in the next round. The Italians won the first leg at Tallaght by 2-0 but an expected rout of the Hoops in the away leg didn't materialise as the Dublin side put it up to their more illustrious opponents losing just 1-0 after a fantastic performance in heavy rain. The Under 20 team under the guidance of former Hoops' striker Andy Myler captured the league title following a dramatic penalty shoot-out in the final against Bohs at Tallaght.
The 2011 season will go down in living memory as one of the most memorable ever for Shamrock Rovers. Throughout the history of the club the Hoops had shown the way in attaining success and this season was to produce a magnificent achievement only ever before dreamed of by League of Ireland clubs. Having once again qualified for European competition as a result of winning the league title in 2010, the Hoops exited the Champions League qualifying stage after two rounds but were paired with Partizan Belgrade via a two-legged play off for a place in the group stages of the Europa League. The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg at Tallaght Stadium; that left Shamrock Rovers with a mountain to climb in the return leg in Serbia. Vladimir Volokov put the Serbs ahead in the game ten minutes before half time but Pat Sullivan equalised in the second half with a blistering shot to silence the huge home crowd. The game went into extra time and it was during this period that a major upset in European competition took place. Karl Sheppard was taken down in the box in the 113th minute and Stephen O’Donnell’s well-placed penalty was to earn the Hoops not only a famous victory on the night but also place in the group stages of the Europa League.
Shamrock Rovers were paired with Rubin Kazan (Russia), Tottenham Hotspur (England) and PAOK (Greece). The first game for Shamrock Rovers in Group A was a home tie against Rubin Kazan which the Russians won 3-0 and although the Hoops eventually finished at the bottom of the table they did the League of Ireland proud with their battling performances throughout. The game that will stand out in the memory of all Shamrock Rovers fans is the one away to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Over 2,500 Hoops fans made the journey for the occasion and provided a fantastic atmosphere that earned them an ovation from the home fans at the end of the game. Stephen Rice gave Rovers the lead in the game but Spurs eventually finished as 3-1 winners.
The Premier Division was won for the second year in succession but the home fixture against Spurs in the Europa League was to represent Michael O’Neill’s final game in charge of Shamrock Rovers. The Board moved swiftly in late December to appoint Stephen Kenny as successor to O’Neill. Perhaps the success the club had enjoyed in the period prior to Kenny’s arrival worked against him in a way as the fans grew impatient in a short time and called for his head when results didn’t match up to the high expectations that existed at the club. Trevor Croly took over as manager in November 2012 and although he managed to guide the Hoops to victory in the Setanta Cup, EA Sports Cup and Leinster Senior Cup, league form over the almost two seasons Croly was in charge was disappointing. Croly was replaced by Pat Fenlon in August 2014.
Shamrock Rovers entered a team into the League of Ireland First Division for the 2014 season as part of the club’s policy to provide a full pathway for the development of young players. However, a disappointing 2014 season was to take its toll financially on the club and they took the decision not to enter the team again for the following season.