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Club History
On This Day – May 2 1955

Rovers vs Chelsea

Some older Hoops fans still talk about the day the mighty Chelsea came to Dublin only to be humbled by the ‘Coads’ Colts’. In our latest look-back on a golden moment, Robert Goggins writes about that day at Dalymount Park.

On this day sixty-five years ago the English League Champions, Chelsea, came rolling into town to play Shamrock Rovers at Dalymount Park. The occasion was Paddy Coad’s Benefit Game and, as it turned out, it certainly did this fantastic servant of the Hoops proud. The previous day the Republic of Ireland played Holland in a friendly at the Phibsboro venue. The game was slated by the press for its lack of entertainment. The public were very critical back then. They went to games to be entertained – the loyalty factor didn’t come into the equation.

The much-anticipated FAI Cup final between keen rivals Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers just over a week beforehand had also failed to deliver to the expectations of the public. The Ireland v Holland game was the second big game at Dalymount in the space of a week that had turned out to be a damp squib. This might have concerned Paddy Coad on the morning of his big game against Chelsea. After all, this was one of the biggest personal moments of his career and he may have wondered if the public, perhaps expecting a rather dull exhibition game, would stay away in big numbers. I mentioned in a previous article how admired and well-respected the Waterford man was amongst the football public at large. The attendance at his benefit game was given as 19,000 – that was 2,000 greater than the international the day before. What makes the attendance all the more significant was that, unlike the traditional Sunday afternoon kick-off time enjoyed by the national team, Paddy’s game was staged early on a Monday evening which would not have been the easiest of times for fans to come along. The magnificent attendance reflected the level of respect the football public had for Paddy. The choice of opposition played a major part also.

With Chelsea having won the league title it couldn’t have worked out better for Paddy. At that time the natives supported local clubs and not English ones but there was a big interest in what was going on across the sea. The fact that Chelsea came as English Champions made the occasion even more of an attraction.

Chelsea were winners of the First Division. Although older fans will be aware, it is worth mentioning for the benefit of younger readers, that the English First Division then was the top division, the equivalent of the present-day Premier League. The South London club had, like Rovers, spent a couple of years rebuilding a squad that could challenge for honours. It was two points for a win then and they finished the season with a four-point lead ahead of joint runners-up Wolves, Portsmouth and Sunderland. They came to Dublin led by their manager Ted Drake, a former England international who himself had won the First Division twice while playing for Arsenal.

The following is the report from the Rovers v Chelsea game that was published in the Irish Independent on Tuesday, 3rd May:

SHAMROCK ROVERS gave soccer in Dublin a great tonic when at Dalymount Park last night they beat the English League first division champions, Chelsea, 3-2 after the finest 90 minutes’ entertainment we have had for a while, It wiped out the unhappy memories of their display In the cup final, and gave all the coming games an assurance of full support, for when tongues get wagging on this match, the folk who stayed away from the international will be back in force. At the start of this contest between the F.A.I. Cup winners and the English League champions, Chelsea perhaps, were a little over-confident, but they got the shock of their lives when they found themselves three goals down in 23 minutes. Then they showed how good they are with a magnificent fight-back that all but earned them a face-saving draw. Indeed, the match-winning kick for Rovers was made by a full-back, Gerry Mackey who, with O’Callaghan out of goal and three minutes to go, kicked a shot by Parsons off the line. This was Paddy Coad’s benefit match and the Dublin public showed what a favourite he is, for the attendance was 19,000 – larger than Sunday’s international – and it was a great night for the Rovers’ player-coach as he helped his young team to beat one of the best sides in England.

They won on football ability, playing the dream stuff that caught the public imagination in the early months of the season. From the kick-off, they were going places, and they knew where they were going so that the Chelsea men were left standing as Rovers played the quick-moving, quick-passing football that we have admired so often.

Leo O’Reilly

Led by Leo O’Reilly, a fiery-haired youngster who has jumped from the lower regions of the Leinster League into stardom in such a short space of time, they swept through the opposition.

An English colleague – asked me how many international caps he has – and then found he was only the substitute for Paddy Ambrose. He has a lot to learn, but by the way in which he took Rovers’ first and third goals last night there are a lot of folk who would be only too willing to pay for the chance to teach him. Although he was out of the game for long spells in the second half Paddy Coad inspired his team. In the early stages he made them a colourful side rather than the bedraggled Rovers which won the Cup. I cannot remember a half-time ovation like that accorded Rovers, who turned over with a three goals lead against the English champions. All the winning side were stars. Some of O’Callaghan’s saves were masterly. Mackey also did his bit with that save, and Burke, Keogh and Hennessy were all superlative.

Tuohy looked another Eglinton, and Peyton and McCann were a fine right wing, and the way O’Reilly hit home the first goal in the seventh minute after a Tuohy-Peyton move was an inspiration. Four minutes later Peyton sent out a lovely ball to Tuohy, who hit a grand drive into the net.

The crowd cheered to the echo in the 23rd minute, when a move by Peyton and Coad gave O’Reilly his chance to score the third.

In the second half Chelsea made a magnificent fight back and after two minutes Parsons, their outstanding forward, scored. When they got the second by McNichol in 30 minutes the stage was set for a great finish, and so it proved. Later came Mackey’s save on the goal-line to climax a match that will be remembered for many a day.”

Footnote: Leo O’Reilly (pictured) lives in Churchtown and is a regular at games at Tallaght Stadium. I can honestly say what an absolute gent Leo is. In their final league game of the 1954-55 season Rovers beat Cork Athletic 7-1 with Leo notching up a hat-trick. Two months before that he had done even better by scoring four goals in the 7-3 defeat of Dundalk in a league game at Milltown.

Compiled by Robert Goggins

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