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04 Oct 2022

The Commentary Box: Turlough O’Connor reflects on a glorious time with Dundalk

The Commentary Box: Turlough O’Connor reflects on a glorious time with Dundalk

Turlough O'Connor speaking with Robbie Benson in 2015 at the launch of the club's home jersey. (Pic: Sportsfile)

I spoke to Turlough O’Connor, Dundalk’s 3rd most successful manager ever recently, to chat about his playing days at the club in the 1960’s and his managerial career in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

As manager of the Lilywhites, Turlough won two League titles and one FAI Cup and a number of League cups, Leinster Senior Cups and Dublin City Cups.

As a player he was on the first Dundalk FC team to ever progress in Europe, when the Oriel Park club beat Dos Utrecht of Holland in the old Inter City Fairs Cup after extra time. That was the equivalent of what is now the Europa League today.

Turlough was down in Dundalk recently as a guest of match sponsor and former club director Juve Albrecht.

As it turned out, a number of the 1987/1988 double winning team and the 1991 league winning team came with him. It was a great night at Oriel with all the ex-players and Turlough getting a lovely reception.

Career Retrospective

Turlough was born on 22nd July 1946. He is a native of Athlone. He joined Limerick as a striker in 1963-64.

He moved to Athlone town in 1964, spending one season at his hometown club. Turlough moved to Bohemians in 1965/66. He scored 26 goals for Bohs that season, before moving cross channel to play for Fulham.

The attacker returned home to Ireland in 1968 and joined Dundalk, where he made 91 appearances and scored 91 goals. In 1972 he returned to the Gypsies and played at Dalymount until 1979. He made 165 appearances for the Phibsboro club. During this time, he got 106 goals.

Turlough finished off his playing days with Athlone Town between 1979 and 1985. He was also manager of the club at this time. The Midlands native picked up seven international caps for the Republic of Ireland. He scored twice for the senior team.

Turlough made 15 European appearances for Bohemians and was top scorer in the League of Ireland in 1973/74 and 1977/78 with Bohemians. He hit the net 24 times for Bohs in 1978.

The striker won two league titles with Athlone Town between 1979 and 1985 as manager. He then joined Dundalk for the season 1985/86 and was there until 1993. He won so much silverware with Dundalk and also boasts the proud achievement of never seeing his teams out of the top 4.

On leaving Louth, he returned to Bohemians and remained there until 1993. He also managed the Republic of Ireland under 17 team while still in charge at Dalymount Park.

To his credit, he also took charge of the under 16 Republic of Ireland team in the European Championships, held in Ireland back in May 1994.

Turlough won the League of Ireland title twice as a player with Bohemians in 1974/75 and 1977/78. He won the FAI Cup as a player with Bohenians in 1976, as well as the League of Ireland Shield in 1971 with Dundalk and 1972 with Bohs. Not to forget a Leinster Senior cup triumph in 1971.

As a manager he won the league four times, twice with Athlone and twice with Dundalk. He won the FAI cup just once as a manager. That was with the Lilywhites in 1987.

He won the League cup five times as a manager, two with Dundalk. O’Connor won the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland Personality of the Year in 1980/81.

Turlough said it was great being back in Oriel. He says to be a guest of sponsor Juve Albrecht and to see his family continue their association with Dundalk was marvellous.  

He noted that seeing the family still sponsoring the club 40 years on speaks volumes.

The Fulham Days

Turlough said Fulham came calling for him after he had a successful season with Bohemians in 1966. It was an ideal opportunity for him and he describes his period with Fulham as a fantastic learning opportunity.

He exclaimed that coming from a small town like Athlone and then to Dublin, before a quick move to London was a big game changer for him. He recalled their being some great footballers at Fulham back then.

They included the late Johnny Haynes, English 1966 World Cup winner George Coen and also the great Alan Clarke. Former England boss, the late Bobby Robson, also played with Turlough at Fulham.

Turlough decided to return home to Ireland in 1968. Bobby Robson had just taken over at Fulham, having been a player. Turlough told Bobby he was not coming back. This was in 1968. He says he just simply never settled in London.

Irish Return

He returned to his hometown Athlone. Dundalk manager Tommy Rowe came calling to his house. Tommy asked Turlough if he would sign for the Lilywhites. Turlough promptly moved to Oriel.

Dundalk paid Fulham a transfer fee of £4,000 for O’Connor, which was a lot of money in those days. He spent four seasons at Oriel, scoring 54 goals in 91 appearances.

Turlough mentioned Jimmy Morrissey and Fran Brennan as some of the stand out players that were with him at Oriel. The prolific striker felt that one of the best winning sides he was ever on was the one that knocked Dos Utrecht from Holland out of the Inter City Fairs Cup in September 1968.

They won the game in extra time at Oriel with a stunning header from Jimmy Morrissey into the net of the town end goals. Turlough says he saw Jimmy Morrisey climb three feet in the air to get the winner.

Turlough met Tony O’Connell after his first training session at Dundalk. Tony had been a player at Oriel for three seasons. Tony offered Turlough a sales job with a new sportswear company he had founded in Duleek, county Meath. Jodi went on to be a very successful company.

Turlough later became a partner in the company. When Tony O’Connell left Dundalk for Bohemians shortly afterwards, he became the first professional player ever to play with the Dalymount Park club.

Turlough loved playing and clearly hinted he enjoyed it more than managing in his career. Between himself and his brothers, Michael and Padraig, the O’Connor family have scored 324 League goals.

As a family they are the leading league goal scorers. Turlough scored 178 goals. His brother Michael, who also played for Dundalk, has 110 goals. Padraig has 29 goals. Turlough is the fourth highest league scorer of all time. Turlough stressed the family are really proud of that record.

Turlough got a hatrick in his first match at Dundalk. He also scored a goal in each of his debuts with Limerick, Bohemians and the Republic of Ireland senior team against the then Czechoslovakia.

He remembered a cup game when Dundalk came back from 2-0 to draw 2-2 in Dalymount against Bohemians in 1974. Bohs keeper Mick Smith had been sent off with the score at 2-1. Turlough went into goals. But could not prevent Dundalk striker Harry Cobb equalizing.

The replay was played the following Thursday at Oriel. No floodlights were allowed as Ireland was on a three-day week because of the Arab Israeli war. There was an oil shortage all over Europe. In Ireland power was turned off in different parts of the country each day to save energy.

All the local schools were allowed to go to the game. Turlough and Terry Flanagan ran riot that day with Bohs winning 4-0. Terry moved to Dundalk a year later and helped them win the league in 1976 and the FAI cup in 1977.

Flanagan and O’Connor got 24 goals apiece in 1974 for Bohemians and were joint leading goal scorers.

Becoming Manager

Turlough moved into management after semi retiring as a player and returned to Athlone and won two league titles. Turlough revealed he came to Dundalk in 1985 when he me met with the then chairman of the club Stephen Byrnes in a lift in a Dublin shopping centre.

Stephen knew Turlough was not going to be staying in Athlone. He duly asked him would he be interested in the Dundalk job. Turlough said he would be interested. By the time the lift reached floor five an official meeting was set up.

It was a no brainer for Dundalk. They duly signed up Turlough and the rest was history. Athlone had made a decision to go all amateur. Turlough was living in Dublin. For him the Dundalk job gave him a great opportunity.

Eamonn Hiney became chairman and Turlough worked very closely with him. He was full of praise for the late Tommy Connolly. Tommy was Turlough’s assistant throughout his time as boss with Dundalk. He says it would never have worked out but for Tommy.

Turlough exclaimed how it was great to have three young local players in his team. Dessie Gorman, Tom McNulty and Barry Keogh. He remembers them being outstanding.

Turlough won the double with Dundalk in 1987-88. This he says was his greatest achievement as a manager. Turlough says nobody gave Dundalk a chance to beat Derry in the cup final of 1988.

He mentioned John Cleary’s penalty that won the cup. John scored in the Derry end. The Dundalk supporters were at the opposite end. They went onto win the cup.

Before that Dundalk found themselves 2-0 down in a league game against Derry City at Oriel. This was on the Easter Bank holiday Monday. Dundalk had to win the game to keep their title hopes alive.

Amazingly goals from Gino Lawless, Barry Keogh and Dessie Gorman won the game for the Lilywhites. They went on to draw their last game against Pat’s which was enough to win the league.

Turlough noted how his heart was in his mouth for the last 15 minutes until the referee blew the whistle and Dundalk had the league.

The 1991 Season

In 1991 Turlough won his second league title with Dundalk. Their first game was against Shelbourne in the league at Oriel.

The Dublin side beat Dundalk 5-1. It was a game that saw Paul Newe score four goals against his old team. Turlough had let him go in the close season.  But Dundalk were to go on and win the league with a team that were among their very best in the club’s history.

From that game on, the Dundalk defence conceded little to nothing. Alan O’Neill, one of the best keepers Dundalk have ever had, broke all goalkeeping records and this team proved to have had one of the best defences in the league.

Yet the Lilywhites were knocked out of the cup that season in a massive shock by Ashtown Villa, a non-league side. The game was heading to extra time just as the stadium announcer, the late Sean McGarrity, confirmed the game would be decided on the night.

Suddenly the ball was lobbed high over the Dundalk defense. The Ashtown Villa striker ran on and scored. Dundalk went on to win the league. But they were knocked out of the cup by a team managed by Turlough’s business partner and former Dundalk great Tony O’Connell.

Dundalk and Cork City dominated the league that season. It all went down to the last day. Turlough said they decided to go down on the train on the day of the game and not stay the night before. They would do as they normally did.

He remembered this team having such a great defense. Ronnie Murphy, David Mackey, James Coll and Martin Lawlor. All four were outstanding.

Turlough revealed he had signed James Coll after watching him play junior football in Tallaght. He had been tipped off about how good Coll was and that he was playing at a local level in Dublin. Coll was a leader and of course captained the team to a league title in 1995 under Dermot Keely.

O’Connor stressed he was very confident that day against Cork. His midfield was very strong with Gino Lawless, Tom McNulty, Terry Eviston and Mick Shelly and then there was Peter Hanrahan up front.

Dundalk were the better team throughout. With 15 minutes to go Tom McNulty was put in the clear by a marvellous through ball by Gino Lawless. Tom went on to shoot home from the edge of the box.

The Oriel Park men needed the win to take the league. Cork needed the draw. Dundalk were put under enormous pressure but went on to take the title.

Turlough says he was elated when McNulty’s shot hit the net. The last 13 minutes he says were tough. Alan O’Neill pulled off two top class saves that ensured the title was heading north to Dundalk.

The Athlone native says there were great celebrations on the train on the way home. The following evening the league title was paraded through the town with great celebrations.

His Departure

Turlough reached another cup final in May 1993. The game was against Shelbourne. Shels won 1-0 in a game played in front of a very poor crowd. Turlough told Eamonn Hiney he was leaving after the cup final was played.

He knew it was time to move on. He was persuaded to stay by the chairman. But he changed his mind and departed following a defeat to Monaghan in September 1993. He felt the time had come for him to go and to bring in a new manager to freshen things up.

Turlough left Dundalk at a stage when the club was doing well. But the 1990’s was a turbulent time, even though Dundalk won the league title in 1995.

Oriel Return

He told me he was very proud to have been associated with Dundalk and that he had some of his best times there.  He exclaimed how great it was to meet former Director Jacky Murphy at Oriel.

Turlough added he had done so much for the club when he was there. He says it was great to see people associated with the club 40 years ago still there.

Speaking about today’s side, Stephen O’Donnell in his eyes is going to do very well with Dundalk. He says he will be winning trophies very soon.

He also stressed Dundalk need a new stadium. Turlough added he hoped the new owners would work on this. It’s 60 years since there was any development to the ground at Oriel and Turlough played at the new Oriel in the late 1960’s. Now, he says there really must be a new stadium.

Legacy

Turlough was a gentleman when manager. He treated the local and national media with the utmost respect. He treated everyone with great respect.

I know there were times that I was hard on Turlough in my reports when Dundalk were not doing so well. But I said it as it was, and despite that there was never a bad word uttered between us.

Turlough was a top-class manager. He moved to Bohemians as manager in October 1993. He retired from there in 1999. That was a long and illustrious career in the League of Ireland coming to an end.

He is a lilywhite legend who if not inducted into the club’s hall of fame should be immediately. 

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