By Philip O’Rourke (@effect_phil)
Unlike the last club I covered – Brooklyn FC -this next club was much easier to research. That was down to the fact that it still exists today, and are playing in their local league.
So many people sent me emails, numbers and messages with information that I was starting to wonder why this club was not still a League of Ireland club. Even back then, it was well supported, and it was one of the few clubs that I cover in the ‘Forgotten Clubs’ series that did not leave because of financial reasons.
It was clear to me, after doing my own research that this was more than just a football club to people of the area, it was a whole community-based project, and still is. Even their reasons for dropping out the League of Ireland were based on community values and making sure that their area would always have a club to support.
Although their short stay as a League of Ireland club only lasted five years, it was pretty eventful. This club was Limerick-based side Newcastle West AFC and this is their story.
In 1948 Newcastle United, as they were known back then, were founded, a club based in the Newcastle West area of County Limerick. In 1955 they were one of the clubs who founded the Limerick Desmond League (LDL) and won it in the first year of the competition.
The club found themselves as the dominant force in the Limerick area and were arguably the best supported. This prompted their board to make the bold move and apply for the League of Ireland First Division that was newly created in the year 1985. Anthony Reidy, the chairman at the time was quoted as saying to the press,
We’re 25 miles from Limerick City, but when Limerick are going well bus loads travel from here. I think a League of Ireland club here would draw 500-600 people
He was also quoted as saying, ‘Junior Hurlers here pull in crowds of 1000 or more. Senior Soccer would surely have a decent appeal and we could have plenty of support from outside Newcastle as well!’
Newcastlewest AFC were confident of being elected to the league and they were right to be. In 1985 they became one of the founding clubs of the League of Ireland First Division.
The clubs first ever senior game was a friendly against Cobh Ramblers, a club they would have a continued rivalry with over the next few years. They won that game 3-0 at Buttevent. The manager appointed for their first taste of Leage of Ireland football was Noel O’Mahoney. Their first season in the league was a stable one to say the least, with the club finishing 8th in a 10-team league, winning five, drawing 3 and losing ten. It probably says a lot that their player of the year that year was their goalkeeper John Wall. It was still seen as a successful season and proved that they could compete at that level.
The next season they improved slightly, coming 7th although they only won four games, drawing four and again losing ten. The season however will be remembered more so for off-field incidents. After a 1-0 win against Finn Harps in Ballybofey, Finn Harps lodged an appeal against the result, stating that Newcastlewest AFC had played an ineligible player in the match. The player in question was John McGettigan. The appeal went to the FAI board who ruled in favour of Newcastlewest and the result stood. This wouldn’t be the last time Newcastlewest were caught up in an allegation of playing an ineligible player. Frankie Glynn was awarded the player of the year for that season.
The next season, 1987-88 started off well for Newcastlewest and their new managerial appointment, Kevin Fitzpatrick. A 3-0 win against Athlone Town in the second game of the season was recorded as their biggest league win to date. They then played out a 5-5 thriller with Dublin side Home Farm. But once again controversy followed the County Limerick side.
An FAI Cup tie against rivals Cobh, ended up 4-2 to Newcastle West AFC after extra-time, resulting in a quarter final place. That was until Cobh lodged an appeal, saying that Newcastlewest had played an ineligible player, Billy Daly. Newcastlewest were expelled from the FAI Cup and Cobh were awarded the tie. In protest at the FAI’s decision Newcastlewest left the League of Ireland with immediate effect. A club leaving mid-way through the season was something the FAI didn’t want so after many meetings with the relevant parties a compromise was reached. A replay would be played at Ballygowan Park, Newcastlewest AFC’s home ground.
I was lucky enough to come across videos of the game and it was reported that there was an attendance of 2000 people at the game. Among them was fan, Gerard Lane, who was interviewed at half time during the game. ‘Cobh weren’t happy with that, but they are great sportsmen and there is a good crowd here today so hopefully they get entertained’.
After watching the highlights of the game, it looked a competitive but fair game. In a funny twist of fate, one that would only happen in football, the game was won by Newcastlewest by a single goal scored by the former Cobh player, and the player who had been subject to the appeal, Billy Daly. His header in the 47rd minute was the decider. Another fan interviewed at the time, Jim Kelly, summarised the game in a short but precise way. ‘What I feel today is that Newcastlewest are brilliant. Cobh are a good team and have good supporters.’
Newcastlewest went on to the next round, losing to Longford Town. Their league campaign ended in 9th place, with the club winning seven games, drawing five and losing fifteen in a longer 27 game season. The player of the season that year was Gerry Cussen. It should also be mentioned that League of Ireland legend Al Finucane ended his playing career that season at the young age of 45, playing his last game against UCD in a 0-0 draw.
The 1989-90 season was again dominated by the clubs FAI Cup success and they recorded their most famous win while a League of Ireland club against Sligo Rovers, beating them at the Showgrounds, in a 2-0 win with both goals scored by Paul Horgan. In what was an usual practice for the cup to run on after the league season ended, Newcastle West had, unknown to the everyone at this point, played their last game as a League of Ireland club, losing to Bray Wanderers at Ballygowan Park 2-0.
Their final ever game though was to be played in the quarter finals of the FAI Cup against intermediate Dublin side, St Francis. This was seen as a great opportunity to get to the semi-final, but it wasn’t to be. St Francis, who had previously knocked out two other League of Ireland sides in the cup had taken another scalp, beating Newcastlewest 3-0 at Ballygowan Park. After that defeat, Newcastlewest AFC decided to withdraw from the League of Ireland, citing that they wanted to improve their ground facilities and give senior football a better chance to gain a strong hold in the area, and so the League of Ireland lost another club.
It must be said, that after hearing many stories and getting so many messages and emails, that Newcastlewest is far from a ‘Forgotten Club’ and is still the core in the community of Newcastle West, winning leagues and still competing at a junior level. It was also refreshing to see a club not being influenced by money, and that reflects their decision to leave the league. Their community values come first and after talking to people associated with the club, it is a club that prides itself on giving something back to the people of that area.
Special mention goes to Jason Shanahan, former goalkeeper Pat Butler and a silent mention to others that wish not to be named. Like the other clubs I have covered, I would love to see Newcastlewest AFC back competing in the League of Ireland, as I can see their colourful club bringing so much to the party. However, I wish them luck in their current league as they are.
Next up is a club that has a name that you would probably associate more with alcohol than a football team. St James Gate wasn’t just the home of Guinness, but also the name of a one-time League of Ireland club. Let’s see what they had to offer….