Last week marked a very special anniversary and one of the most important dates in Irish football history.
For it was on the 25th of September 1963 that Dundalk did what no Irish club had ever managed to do before and that was win a game away in Europe, beating FC Zurich on their own turf.
Teams had tried and failed before the Lilywhites left for Switzerland and brought home that priceless victory thanks to goals from Dermot Cross and Jimmy Hasty in a 2-1 victory.
Unfortunately, they went out 4-2 on aggregate after the visitors, inspired by the brilliance of winger Jakob Kuhn who would go on to manage Switzerland, had won 3-0 in Dalymount Park in front of a 23,000 strong crowd in a game in which the ‘hosts’ had to wear a local summer league side’s jerseys due to the visitors turning up with only white jerseys.
In fact, as then club committee member Des Casey recalls, it almost could have been so different against a side who would go on to reach the semi-finals before being beaten by Real Madrid.
“Leading 2-0, out hearts skipped a beat when Hasty hit the crossbar with 15 minutes left as that would have levelled the tie on aggregate,” he said. “Zurich pulled one back late in the match – but how close we were to levelling the tie!
“Dundalk’s performance that night was a great team effort but outstanding performances were rendered by Christy Barron in goal, John Murphy, Tootsie McKeown, Tommy Rowe, Leo O’Reilly, Francie Callan and the late Jimmy Hasty.”
He also recalls how, as the travelling party gathered under the bright lights at Russell’s Bus Saloon on Park Street on the Monday, with the game taking place two days later, they departed in the knowledge that they had been written off as “no-hopers” after the first leg result.
Dundalk departed for central Europe as reigning league champions having shown steely resolve to hold their nerve in a tight title race, winning the championship by a single point from Waterford and Drumcondra.
The party of 42 arrived in Zurich confident of upsetting the odds and went ahead after half an hour when Cross drove home following a rebound and 12 minutes after the break, they pulled further ahead after Hasty picked up possession, nutmegged a defender and calmly poked the ball under the onrushing goalkeeper before agonisingly cracking the crossbar shortly afterwards.
Nonetheless, nobody could take away from the magnificent result which had been achieved in even more difficult circumstances after Timmy Lyons picked up a nasty injury in the first leg and missed out and with further niggles to contend with, captain John Murphy recalling how they must have looked like the walking wounded as they touched down on Swiss soil.
“I remember getting off the plane and Timmy Lyons had a broken ankle and was in a wheelchair,” he said looking back. “Trainer Gerry McCourt had a bad limp and he followed Timmy and then Jimmy Hasty with one arm came behind him so we must have looked like we had taken a wrong turn on our way to the Lourdes.
“Leo O’Reilly came in for Timmy at centre-half and played there as if he had played there all his life and when we went over there, we had nothing to lose and produced one of the best displays a Dundalk team ever produced. It was wonderful and we had a great crowd with us.”
As well as injuries they had also the weather conspiring against them on arrival in Switzerland as torrential weather conditions meant they were prevented from training on the pitch and had to make do with being put through their paces on a stone pitch and were soaked as they did so.
That side’s goalkeeper Christy Barron fondly remembers the great togetherness of that side which enabled them to pull of many such similar results and says that the players were all extremely proud of what they achieved that September night 40 years ago.
Barron said: “The key was our team spirit as we had been together for years. We understood each other and played to each other’s strengths.
“There was great heart in the team and on many occasions we would be a goal or two down but come back and win.
“We were delighted with ourselves in the dressing room afterwards and the Irish ambassador had come from Geneva to watch the game and came in and told us that we mad him feel proud to be Irish.”