Shamrock Rovers vs Japan, a Cup final shock and sticking it to the Toffees

1 month ago Irish Mirror

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Alan O'Neill smiles at the thought of UCD’s legendary double-act, together again, belting out the hits.

Dr Tony O’Neill - simply known in the game as The Doc - and Theo Dunne led the club to an unlikely FAI Cup success in 1984 and then onto an unforgettable European clash with Everton.

Dunne’s passing last weekend sent Irish football into mourning, just as the loss of The Doc did over 20 years ago.

Former goalkeeper O’Neill first linked up with Dunne at Shamrock Rovers in the mid-1970s, before they were reunited again at Belfield in 1983.

“They were a real double-act, The Doc and Theo,” O’Neill told Starsport. “I’m sure they are up there right now having a singsong and a few beers as we speak.”

According to the ex-Rovers, UCD and Dundalk net-minder, a night out with Dunne always ended with a rendition of Harry Belafonte’s classic, Island In The Sun.

“He commanded the respect of everyone - players, management and the opposition too. I don’t know anyone who didn’t have the height of respect for Theo,” O’Neill said.

“And then afterwards, he knew how to party. He loved an old singsong.

“I remember the PFAI awards, he’d always stay back with his son Tommy, with Tony (Cousins) and Martin Russell for a singsong. It would always be the highlight of the night.

“People think I only played for him at UCD, but my time with Theo goes back to 1975.

“I was a very raw 18-year-old, Mick Meagan was the Shamrock Rovers manager and Theo was his assistant.

“I got my first trip away with Theo and Mick in 1975 when we went to Japan. We played the Japanese national team over three games; we won one, lost one and drew one.

“And again, on a trip like that with Theo, you’d play well, train well and then when it was time to party, he had a few songs at the ready. It was great for team spirit and morale.

“‘Island in the Sun’ was his anthem. He’d always give that one an airing.

“It was the same when I went to UCD, he’d sing it particularly when we had a fair bit of success and usually in the Montrose Hotel after games.”

UCD’s greatest night came in May 1984 when, after a scoreless draw at Dalymount, they saw off the mighty Shamrock Rovers in an FAI Cup final replay at Tolka Park.

“Playing Everton in the Cup Winners’ Cup was the icing on the cake, but the cake itself was winning the Cup against probably the best League of Ireland team ever,” said O’Neill.

“That Rovers team was certainly the best I ever saw in my lifetime.

“It was the beginning of the four-in-a-row team and they would have had four doubles in a row but for UCD.

“For us to beat them was phenomenal and Theo, as manager, played such a huge part in that.

“The first game ended 0-0, so we played again the following Friday at Tolka Park under lights, and the atmosphere was great.

“We had former college students coming out to watch the game and then you had the usual magnificent Rovers support there as well.”

UCD went 1-0 up, Rovers equalised in the second-half, but the Students scored the winner deep into injury-time.

“I remember I got a smack in the head and I was out for a couple of minutes. I needed treatment and in the end the time was vital to us,” said O’Neill.

“We got the winner in the fourth minute of injury-time - a free-kick, everyone went into their box and Ken O’Doherty soared above them all to bury the ball in the net.

“The celebrations afterwards, I never experienced anything like them.

“Firstly, the night of the game we were all back at the Montrose. Then we had a night in a judge’s house somewhere in Sandymount. He was connected to the team somehow.

“We were taken to the Burlington Hotel for another night out. These were occasions that you wouldn’t get with other clubs. UCD was totally different.”

As for their meeting the following season with Everton in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, O’Neill recalled how the Toffees - the eventual winners of that year’s competition - had to squeeze past the Irish minnows.

“Over the two legs, it’s a great testament to Theo that we were the team to keep Everton the closest in terms of a result of any team they faced that year.

“We were beaten 1-0 over two legs and drew 0-0 with them at Tolka Park, which was a magnificent occasion.

“Going over to Goodison Park, little UCD, a team of students - we played that up a bit alright!

“We got a standing ovation going off at Goodison, which was lovely. I’ll never forget that.”

Dunne wasn’t just a managerial great - as a player he was the only man to lead an Irish club out against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Shelbourne lost 5-1 on aggregate in their 1963 Cup Winners’ Cup clash.

The late Theo Dunne’s legacy lives on with grandkids Gavin Molloy and Evan Caffrey now lining out for their grandfather’s old side Shels.

Nephews Richard Dunne and Tony Cousins enjoyed successful careers on either side of the Irish Sea, while son Tommy Dunne was both a player and a manager in the League of Ireland.

“Theo’s family is steeped in football and it’s still going strong with his grandsons at Shelbourne,” said O’Neill.

“It would mean a lot to Theo to see them playing there, after the career he had playing for Shelbourne.

“Football meant everything to Theo, but his family was obviously the biggest part of his life and they shared in his football glory, particularly when he was in management.

“I remember them coming down to UCD to watch our games.

“The Dunne dynasty’s contribution to Irish football has been huge.”
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