Sporting memories :United’s cup overflows

Galway United’s thirst for national football honours was finally satisfied in Lansdowne Road in 1991 with a 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup. It was a success that gave reality to dreams cherished for so long by so many who had fostered local football for decades. Linley MacKenzie spent the weekend with the United squad, watching their dreams become reality.

At 6.55pm on the 13th of May 1991, the FAI Harp Lager Cup crossed west of the Shannon for the first time in its 70 years.

It was 26 hours after Galway United captain Johnny Glynn had struck the match-winning goal. In that time more distilled water had been gulped from that silver chalice than the volume of the Western divide.

It was a different United team returning home than that which left Galway at 8.45am the previous day. The quietness on the bus did little to suggest history was in the making, but on Monday it was different story. The cup took pride of place in front, and the police escort accompanying the bus from the Burlington Hotel was determined to show Dublin just where the cup was headed. Speeding through every red light and every wrong lane, one player claimed it was "more bloody nerve-wracking than the game".

Shamrock Rovers had attempted to steal the show with their tradition. Like clockwork they had run onto the Lansdowne pitch cock-a-hoop, accompanied by a team of boys and girls decked out in Rovers' strips.

In the United camp only the trio of manager Joe Malone, John Cleary and Larry Wyse had inspected the pitch. Malone had attempted to stamp out a few bumps as spectators would after a polo chukka. Cleary's son Andrew acted as goalie for a few shots, while Wyse carried out a fitness check after receiving a pain injection just hours earlier for his calf injury.

President Robinson nodded her way through introductions, somehow agreeing with the United goalie Declan McIntyre that it was a great day for the women of Ireland.

Two minutes into the game there was a loud roar of disapproval from the west stand as Tommy Keane hit the dust after a collision with the Rovers' goalie. Questions were immediately asked of the Rovers' defence, and then about the ref's decision-making, but play carried on regardless. Every time the ball went down Nolan and Carpenter's left wing, expectations rose. Every time Arkins got a touch, the United support stayed quiet until Cleary or Derek Rogers foiled his fun.

Rovers carved chances, but they were fewer and farther between. United knew the cup would be theirs if only they could get a clear chance. Just when all looked lost Keane's cross to Glynn ended Rovers' 25th dream.

It didn't matter if the football was not the greatest sporting spectacle. The underdogs from the province had beaten the city slickers.

Cleary collapsed on the pitch; Glynn was lifted shoulder high; John "Bubbles" Byrne looked like he'd finally explode; fans went beserk; and no one really looked at the losers' glum faces as they slunk into the dressing room. They were gone within half an hour.

Glynn held court in the corridor for an hour, cup of tea in hand, while the team repleted their energy with sponsors' brew, linament, and a chorus of "Gazza at Carraroe". It was two hours before they departed, loathe to leave the comfort of the dressing room few players could savour at Terryland.

By Monday afternoon the only comfort the team sought was the City of the Tribes. There was much discussion down the back of the bus where Malone, Wyse, Campbell, Cleary and Nolan estimated their earnings from the 20/1 odds. Tommy Keane slept and Noel Costello recorded every moment on video for posterity. Byrne continued to clock watch and count heads - "Totting up votes for the local elections," they claimed. Others read about their exploits in the papers, some sat shell-shocked, and Glynn clutched his cup for dear life.

Johnny Morris Burke's local in Athlone welcomed their prodigal son, and a short time later the Ballinasloe town band heralded their arrival. "Football in the 60s, hurling in the 80s, and Galway United for the 90s", shouted Michael Finnerty of Ballinasloe Urban District Council.

Keane awoke at Loughrea to stand barman at Larry's. Eamon Deacy sat quietly signing autographs on ticket stubs, programmes, school notebooks - any scrap of available paper fans could find.

But the loudest celebrations awaited them in Galway where some seven thousand thronged the Cathedral car park as Mayor Michael D Higgins welcomed home the history markers. Celebrations continued well into the night, and the following day - the west wasn't sleeping at all.


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