On this very day in 1922, the fledgling Shamrock Rovers club were the envy of more senior established clubs that had just completed their first year as members of the League of Ireland. The Ringsend club had themselves made the big jump in the space of a year from the Leinster Junior League to the Leinster Senior League. For the third time in the club’s short history they had displayed meteoric values in the rise amongst the ranks of Irish football. The difference this time was that they were here to stay.
St. James’s Gate FC, founded in 1902, were amongst the founder members of the League of Ireland following the split with the Irish Football Association in 1921. They too had established themselves as a potent force as members of the Leinster Senior League before entering the League of Ireland in 1921. The Crumlin-based club proved their mettle in that first season carrying off the league title ahead of the more fancied Shelbourne and Bohemians. There could have been no begrudging them the place in the FAI Cup final they had earned for themselves. Standing between the ‘Gate and a historic double was Shamrock Rovers. The Ringsend club also enjoyed silverware that season in capturing the Leinster Senior League title. Their form throughout the season was impressive. The club had a solid base and their supporters numbered thousands, something that some of the more senior clubs wished they could match.
The general view amongst the band of football correspondents and the public at large was that Shamrock Rovers were, to all intents and purposes, a senior club. While the club had probably been planning to apply for membership into the League of Ireland for the 1922/23 season there was no shortage of encouragement for them to do so. Their form throughout the FAI Cup campaign of 1922 certainly suggested they were a match for anyone else. Having come through the qualifying rounds of the competition involving intermediate clubs Rovers then brushed aside the challenge of LOI clubs Olympia and Dublin United. A massive challenge lay ahead of them as they prepared to meet Bohemians in the semi-finals at Dalymount Park. In that game, John Joe Flood (pictured) put Rovers ahead after 35 minutes. Bohemians threw everything at them in response but this Rovers’ team were made of stern stuff and defended well to hold out for the win. St. James’s Gate had drawn with Shelbourne in the other semi-final and the outcome of that tie remained to be decided. Those two clubs met in the replay on 4th March with the ‘Gate emerging as 2-1 victors. The way was now clear for the meeting of St. James’s Gate and Shamrock Rovers in the final.
The clubs had previously met in competitive action just a matter of weeks before the FAI Cup Final due to be played at Dalymount Park on St. Patrick’s Day. The second round of the Leinster Senior Cup paired the sides together in a game played at Beech Hill, Donnybrook, that was won 5-2 by the ‘Gate. While St. James’s Gate were been written about as favourites to lift the FAI Cup to ensure a historic double the Crumlin side themselves were taking nothing for granted. They had good reason to show caution.
Dalymount Park was the home of Bohemians FC and first hosted football in 1901. The ground had undergone major improvements over the years and was ready to host the historic first-ever FAI Cup final. A recorded capacity attendance of 15,000 attended the final. The ‘Gate took the lead coming up to half time when Jack Kelly scored. The Rovers team was not overawed and Charlie Campbell put them back on equal terms ten minutes into the second half. It ended all square which meant the teams would have to come back and do battle all over again. The replay did not go Rovers’ way though. Kelly again was on the scoresheet for the ‘Gate when they again took the lead almost on the dot of half time. Rovers battled against a very experienced St. James’s Gate side and lightning was not to strike twice for them for this time the Crumlin side held their lead and went on to celebrate the double.
While Rovers returned to Ringsend empty-handed the whole experience had convinced them they were more senior material. The club very quickly applied to join the League of Ireland winning the championship at the very first opportunity of asking in 1922/23. The Leinster Senior League and FAI Cup campaigns of the previous season had moulded Shamrock Rovers into a force that was to go on to become a mainstay of senior football in this country, a position they continue to hold in present times. The acquisition of a ground on the Milltown Road, which at that time was on the outskirts of the city limits, was a major achievement. The ground enabled Rovers to consolidate themselves and having a home of their own meant they no longer had to depend on the use of grounds belonging to other clubs some of whom they were now directly competing with.
While they didn’t lift the Cup on that memorable day, 8th April, 1922, history had already been made and thanks to those 11 men (Rovers fielded the same side in the final and replay) generations of Hoops supporters have enjoyed following a club that has become steeped in history and folklore.
For the record the team that Shamrock Rovers fielded for the Cup final was: Billy Nagle, John Kelly, Peter Warren, William ‘Sacky’ Glen, Joe Byrne, Harry Birdthistle, Charlie Campbell, Bob Cowzer, John Joe Flood, Bob Fullam, Dinny Doyle.