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St Francis FC Revist Fairytale Final

 

By Patrick Gormley

On a bright, breezy day in May 1990 St Francis Football Club, founded in The Liberties in 1958, stepped onto the famous pitch at Lansdowne Road and into the history books of Irish sport becoming the first non league side to reach the FAI cup final. A feat which no other club has repeated to this day.

 Twenty years on and the pride of that achievement still resonates around St. Francis FC as The Liberty found out when we spoke to some of the 1990 team who were more than happy to share their memories of the historic day.

“I suppose it’s better to say a bit about the semi final against Bohemians first”, begins Gary Matthews, who was the goalkeeper for St Francis throughout the cup run. “That match could only be described as Custer’s last stand with Bohemians camped in our box for most of the game and us defending for our lives with a little help from the crossbar, which they hit more than a few times. Somehow though we broke down the wing and the ball was crossed for a tap in, it was such a simple goal and I think it really disheartened Bohs who weren’t having any luck in front of goal. Also the fact that we played them in Tolka Park, which would have been an enemy ground for Bohs, didn’t help.”

 So with the match finishing 1-0, it was only after the final whistle that the St. Francis players really started to realise what they had achieved. “I remember after the ref blew the whistle in the semis and we were in the final, it kind of all went into a different level of excitement for the club”, Gary explains, “suddenly we had all the attention from the national press, looking to talk to us and all that went along with that, it was surreal at times.”

 Bernard Connolly, who played right midfield for the club during the cup campaign in 1990 also remembers the build up to the final. “It was a complete fairytale for a club the size of St. Francis, we had played some really tough opposition to get to the final that year.” Bernard continued “I suppose one of my highlights from the cup run was playing Cobh Ramblers in the second round and having to mark a young Roy Keane in the 2-2 draw in Cobh and then the replay in Dublin which we won 3-0. The funny thing was that was his last game for Cobh Ramblers and his next competitive game after the replay was for Nottingham Forest against Liverpool in the old first division in England.”

 Sadly the club went on to lose the final 3-0 to Bray Wanderers, in what turned out to be a final of firsts. It was the first FAI cup final to be played in Lansdowne Road, St. Francis were the first non league side to reach the final and John Ryan of Bray Wanderers was the first player to score a hat-trick in an FAI cup final. An attendance of 35,000 was recorded that day, which is not bad considering the two teams were both outsiders to reach the final, with all of the other clubs in The Liberties coming out to back St. Francis and displaying a wonderful sense of community.

 However, Bernard Connolly puts the defeat down to nerves saying “The team was really nervous the day of the final and this was added to when the kick off was delayed for the guts of half an hour as the crowds were still coming in. This led to the team not playing that well and the fact that we conceded two soft penalties was not going to help us. And the third goal, I suppose if you were a Bray fan you might say it was a screamer, but I feel that Terry Hillard the hardest man on our team who sadly passed away a month ago, stumbled just as John Ryan took his shot for Bray and deflected the ball into the top corner which was really unlucky.”

 Disheartened and dejected after the game, the team was given a huge lift when it witnessed the huge crowds that turned out on Francis Street to greet the players and showed them the pride that the area felt about their huge achievement. Gary Matthews added “This really lifted the spirit in the camp and to see all these people turn out to support us is something that will stay with me forever.”

 The team had a twenty year reunion just before Christmas last year and played the final on the big screens. However Bernard Connolly informed us that he quite deliberately kept his back to the screens and has still to watch any replay of the final.

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