A look back at the history of Oriel Park in Dundalk
In last week's Question Time, the date of the first competitive soccer game played at Oriel Park was inadvertently omitted. For the record, it was played on the afternoon of Sunday, August 23, 1936.
The first competitive game played on the new pitch was against Shamrock Rovers, in August 1966. The crowd was estimated at around 12,000 which, I believe, is still the record attendance for the venue. There was a friendly game played on the new pitch earlier, against Nottingham Forest the club that won the The English First Division Championship in the previous season, (1965/66). There was a packed attendance at this game but not nearly as large as for the Rovers game when the crowd forced open one of the gates and many got in free. There probably were a number other friendly games played against Irish clubs that summer also but I cannot remember any of them.
As I mentioned last week the early terracing at Oriel Park was formed of cinders of coal removed from G.N.R. locomotive engines being serviced at the 'cleaning shed' at the nearby Locomotive Works at Ardee Road. The first permanent stand at the ground was erected in 1940 and the boardroom was a converted railway carriage, set at a right-angle to the dressing rooms built of corrugated iron. Those dressing rooms were destroyed by a fire, believed to have been started maliciously, in March 1944.
The early pitch was on fairly steep slope but this was modified during the summer break of 1948 when, according to a report in the Democrat, a team of 15 men removed about four to six feet of the height at the Carrick Road end and spread it down the slope. They had no earth-moving equipment and only three lorries to move the filling.
The result was that the soil in the middle was fairly deep and most of this had to be removed when the new pitch was being laid in 1966.
The old pitch was surrounded by a wooden fence, about three feet high, on which youths sat during matches. The old Press Box was a wooden structure on stilts at the top right corner but journalists soon moved to the Directors' Box in the 'Malone Stand' on the 'Joe's Field' side. In the other stand, at the bottom of the other side, there was standing only on railway sleepers and, if I recollect correctly, was known as 'The Cinder Shed', which may have been the origin of the later name for the 'popular stand' at the far side of the new pitch.
A printers' friendly
As I mentioned previously in these notes, I was useless at playing soccer and the only game in which I took part at Oriel Park was a friendly game between the Democrat and employees of Magowan's printing works at the Ramparts. It must have been sometime about the middle fifties and I can remember that we beat them easily, thanks to the play of the late Johnny McEvoy from Dublin Street whose elder brother Jimmy played as a Northern Ireland international. Another decisive factor in our favour was big Pete Carroll, father of Joe Carroll, from McDermott's Terrace, playing in goals where he let little or nothing past him!
I recall that, in the dressing rooms afterwards, the Magown's boys grumbling that, if we had played them at Gaelic football, they would have won. A return match, to be played in that code, was immediately arranged by our captain Owen Myers from Barrack Street. That game was played in the Gaels' Field at the Ramparts which the Democrat won even more decisively; thanks again mainly due to the dead-ball kicking of Johnny McEvoy.
Contrary to popular belief, the new pitch was not aligned at exactly right-angles to the old pitch. The floodlighting was installed in 1967 and one of the pylons was blown down by a high wind storm in the following winter which also damaged the roof of the Main Stand.
It is a little remembered fact that Dundalk F.C. were declared unofficial 'All-Ireland Soccer Champions' by the national media when they won the inaugural Dublin-Belfast Inter-City Cup at the end of the 1941-42 season. Four teams from each soccer jurisdiction took part in this competition and Dundalk won the final at Dalymount Park on May 31 1942 by beating Shamrock Rovers 1-0. Ironically they lost the last match played in this competition when beaten 3-0 by Rovers in the final at the same venue in the summer of 1949.