Rovers v Bohs at Windsor Park? The mere suggestion of these two clubs playing a match at the home of Linfield F.C. in Belfast would be laughed out of it. It might even bring a few shivers down one’s spine! Yet, you can believe it, such a game was actually played there. The year was 1943 and the occasion was the first leg of the All Ireland Inter City Cup Final. This competition was the brainchild of Shamrock Rovers’ chairman Joe Cunningham who saw the opportunity to promote unity in the game on the island at a time of great hardship on account of the ongoing world war.
Perhaps, in their keenness or indeed innocence, those in charge of the running of the competition felt that, in the ideal world anyway, there was a good chance of the final each year being competed for by a team from the north against a team from the south. 1943 was the second year of the competition and, just like 1942 when Dundalk beat Rovers, the final was to be an all-League of Ireland affair.
Before the ‘split’ in 1921 Bohemians would have been regular visitors to Windsor Park as members of the Irish League. There’s no record of Shamrock Rovers having ever played at this venue before 1943 though so the Hoops were making a piece of history for themselves in that regard. The period was only 20 years after the Free State had been established and sectarian violence had been rife in Belfast. Attitudes amongst the football public didn’t appear to be so hardened and a crowd in the region of 5,000 attended the first leg of the final between Bohemians and Rovers at Windsor Park.
There was also no particular rivalry between Rovers and Bohs at that time so fans of both sides would have freely mingled on the trains going to and coming back from the game.
The first leg was played on Saturday, 29th May with the second leg taking place the next day at Dalymount Park. Imagine the look on the faces of Stephen Bradley and Stephen McPhail if the current team was asked to fulfil such a schedule!
The now (sadly) defunct Irish Press newspaper carried an account of the weekend’s event:
A 2-0 Win Each – Corners Give Rovers Inter City Cup
The first leg: Bohemians 2 – Shamrock Rovers 0
At Belfast on Saturday, Bohemians were almost outplayed by Rovers but the speed and nippiness of Mick and Kevin O’Flanagan carried them to victory. In the first half Rovers had 8 corner kicks. Bohs had none.
Five minutes before the interval K. O’ Flanagan put Bohs in front, scoring after his first shot bounded off the crossbar. He also scored their second though Palmer seemed to fist the ball into the net in his attempt to clear. The receipts were £306.
The second leg: Shamrock Rovers 2 – Bohemians 0.
Defeated by Dundalk in last season’s final, beaten 2-0 by Bohemians at Belfast on Saturday in the “away” game in this season’s final, Shamrock Rovers won the Inter-City Cup tourney yesterday, when, at Dalymount Park, they wiped out Bohemians’ Belfast lead, and won the Cup on corner kicks, 19 to 9.
There was no doubting the fact that they were the better team yesterday, and might have reaped a harvest of goals but for the brilliance of Molloy, the Bohemian centre-half, who was masterly in foiling T. Clarke, and repeatedly repulsed attacks which seemed almost certain to produce goals. Coyle and Glennon were also in fine fettle, but in other departments Bohs were patchy.
DEFENCE WERE ON TOP
The weakness of K. Delaney and the complete lack of cohesion in Bohs’ forward line made the task of Rovers defenders in the first hour comparatively easy. The O’Flanagan brothers raiding tactics were the only Bohemian goal-scoring possibilities, but Charlie Byrne took the sting out of Mick O’Flanagan, while Kevin (his brother) fared little better when he took over leadership of the attack eighteen minutes before the end. When Bohs made six positional changes, they turned the tide in their favour for a period, and the game became thrilling, but the ordeal of playing on successive days after a glut of matches during the month told on the stamina of the players, and they were unable to sustain their effortDelaney, the Rovers’ right winger, was injured in Saturday’s match, and was replaced by Matthews. That was the only change.
Rovers’ quickly set about their task of wiping out Bohemians two goals lead and in the seventh minute succeeded in reducing it when T. Clarke had a shot deflected by a defender into the net for a simple-looking goal.
Rovers were on top but a few minutes before the interval M. O’Flanagan should have equalised but with the goal at his mercy he sent the ball wide.
Bohs moved Delaney to outside left at the interval, Fullen going inside left with Dunne inside right. In the twelfth’ minute of the second half Coad, from about, twenty-five yards, scored Rovers second goal, the ball going over Landers’ head into the net. Later Coad sent the ball over off the crossbar.
With 18 minutes to go Bohs made numerous alterations which seemed likely to produce beneficial results but they did not materialise. The receipts were £613.
There was no penalty shoot-outs in the game at this stage of its existence to determine a tie; instead, the side with the most corner kicks were declared the winners.