Dundalk have had some dramatic moments over the years. Who can forget Ciaran Kilduff’s 89th minute equaliser in Alkmaar or the last day victory over Cork City to win the league title in 2014?
Possibly nothing compares to the scenes at Oriel Park on Sunday April 23rd 1995, however, when Dermot Keely’s side defied all the odds to win what was the club’s ninth league title at the time.
Having flirted with relegation the previous season, the real battle at the time for Dundalk was simply to keep the club afloat with a new company, Dundalk AFC Interim Ltd, taking over the club in December 1994 to avoid it going to the wall. Chaired by Enda McGuill, the eight strong board which also comprised of James McGuill, Terry Boyle, Stephen Burns, Nicky Coffee, Paddy Smith, Brendan Watters and Rita Quinn each pledged £5,000 each to keep the show on the road but debts of £250,000 meant that things were far from conducive off the pitch to provide the backdrop to a title challenge.
To add to matters, Dundalk had started the season poorly with just a solitary point from their opening three games. Indeed, 11 points from the opening 27 on offer hardly screamed the form of title contenders.
A 2-1 win over Athlone on October 20th 1994, however, was the start of an eight match unbeaten run which included five wins but even by the turn of the year after the rescue package was in place to save the club from bankruptcy no one expected Dundalk to finish the season top of the pile. Either side of Christmas and New Year Dundalk had lost to fellow title contenders Derry City (2-0 away), Shelbourne (1-0 away) and Cork City (3-1 at Oriel).
From January 13th when the side won 2-0 away to Athlone courtesy of a Mick Byrne double, they would lose just once (2-0 away to Shamrock Rovers on March 19th) in the final 12 matches. This included eight victories, including four in-a-row in an April that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
While half a dozen teams had been in contention at one point, three teams remained in contention on the final day. Going into that final game, Derry City were in pole position on 57 points and a +15 goal difference with Dundalk and Shelbourne a point behind on +14 and +13 goal differences respectively.
Facing a trip to St Mel’s Park to face an Athlone Town side who were already gearing up for a relegation play-off against Finn Harps, Derry City were hot favourites to win the league.
The drama that unfolded over the next 90 minutes, however, is now the stuff of legend. Donal Golden gave the Midlanders a shock lead after just 13 seconds in St Mel’s Park but early optimism for an upset was dampened by a sensational Liam Coyle equaliser for the Candystripes on 15 minutes.
That’s how it remained at half-time with both Dundalk’s game at home to Galway Utd and Shelbourne’s match at home to St Patrick’s Athletic remaining scoreless at the break.
Perhaps a sign that fortune favoured Dundalk came eight minutes into the second half at St Mel’s when Shane Curran saved a penalty from Stuart Gauld, whose previous record from the spot was 37 goals from 38 attempts. Meanwhile, 12 minutes later at Tolka Park, Shels’ hopes took a huge hit when Jason Byrne put St Pat’s ahead there.
Despite plenty of pressure, Dundalk still had to see out their end of the bargain if there was to be a title triumph at Oriel Park and they finally made the breakthrough against Galway on 75 minutes when Tom McNulty, renowned for big moments on the final day, raced onto Eddie Van Boxtel’s punt forward to round Joey Power and slot to an empty net.
Three minutes later Mick Doohan copper-fastened Dundalk’s position with a superb left foot strike to make it 2-0.
News would emerge of a goal elsewhere in the title race in the final few minutes but Stephen Geoghegan’s 90th minute strike for Shels was too little, too late for them.
As the whistle sounded at Oriel Park, crowds flooded the field with LMFM commentator Gerry Malone putting his radio to the PA to allow people to listen in to Gabriel Egan’s commentary from Athlone. An anxious final few minutes, which included a goal line clearance from Athlone, followed before scenes of joy erupted on the sounding of the full-time whistle.
For the first time all season Dundalk were top of the pile with captain James Coll having to be presented with the old league trophy which the club had won in 1990/91 as the actual title was in Athlone.
Somehow a Dundalk side had won the league against all the odds with a record of P33 W17 D8 L8 F41 A25 Pts 59.
Amazingly, the Lilywhites would finish as champions without winning a single Player of the Month award or having a single representative in the team of the season.
As Coll famously commented: “If you want to know who were the best team, check the final f***ing league table.”
Three days later he and Keely travelled to Lansdowne Road where they were presented with the official league trophy before Ireland’s European Championship qualifier against Portugal. The outcome? A 1-0 win for Ireland. The scorer? Dundalk’s very own Steve Staunton.
Some things are just meant to be and some things are just written in the stars.
We may never see the likes of the scenes 25 years ago again.
It was truly unbelievable stuff!
Dundalk squad 1995 (league only):
- Matt Britton (8 starts, 12 sub appearances)
- Brian Byrne (25 starts, 2 sub apps, 3 goals)
- Jody Byrne (14 starts, 1 sub app)
- Mick Byrne (7 starts, 1 sub app, 4 goals)
- John Coady (29 starts, 2 goals)
- James Coll (23 starts, 1 sub app)
- Ken DeMange (13 starts, 3 goals)
- Trevor Donnelly (1 start, 1 sub app)
- Mick Doohan (33 starts, 6 goals)
- Joe Hanrahan (24 starts, 3 goals)
- Brian Irwin (12 starts, 4 sub apps, 3 goals)
- Mick Kavanagh (2 starts)
- Stephen Kelly (27 starts, 5 sub apps, 9 goals)
- Martin Lawlor (7 starts, 3 sub apps)
- Keith Long (3 starts, 2 sub apps)
- Tony Loughlan (7 starts, 4 sub apps)
- Tom McNulty (29 starts, 2 goals)
- Greg O’Dowd (1 start)
- Warren Patmore (10 starts, 2 goals)
- Richie Purdy (32 starts, 2 goals)
- Eddie Van Boxtel (19 starts)
- Anto Whelan (30 starts)
- Peter Withnell (7 starts, 2 goals)