THE HOLY TRINITY - Jim McLaughlin, Stephen Kenny and Turlough O’Connor - with the league trophy and FAI Cup - at Dundalk FC’s jersey launch in December 2015 (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
Martin Bayly on Larry Wyse. Thirty years have passed and yet the 1988 FAI Cup final is the immediate thought when those names are uttered in the one breath.
Wyse was, of course, the winner of perhaps the most contentious penalty award in Irish football history, taking a tumble under Bayly’s pressure as he headed towards the Dalymount Park touchline.
Despite the fact that there were no appeals, match referee John Spillane deemed the Dundalk man to have been fouled and, much to the surprise of the 20,000 present, he shrilled firmly on his whistle as Derry City went ballistic.
The Lilywhites won courtesy of John Cleary’s resultant conversion, earning manager Turlough O’Connor the only FAI Cup triumph of his career, and completing just the second double in the club’s history.
“It couldn’t be 30 years,” O’Connor says in shock.
He is on holidays abroad as we speak. He laughs: “It couldn’t be.”
But it is.
Stalling, the line goes quiet for a second, before the conversation gets back underway.
“It was a harsh penalty.
“I think about John: the coolest man on the pitch. He just stroked it in and his reaction afterwards, he celebrated in front of the Derry supporters.
“It was an early break and I think that affected the way we played overall, because it wasn’t a memorable final. We were probably better the year before when we lost to Rovers.”
“So much has happened, it’s hard to even comprehend that it’s 30 years ago.”
Dundalk were the second of O’Connor’s three clubs in management, his native Athlone Town and Bohemians being the others - all clubs that he played for, too.
Indeed, his familiarity with Dundalk was the main attraction in 1985, when chairman Stephen Byrne asked him to take the job.
After the highs of Jim McLaughlin’s reign, times were tough in the north-east, money was tight. But, having left Athlone following an unprecedented period of success, O’Connor would manage the Lilywhites for eight years, winning two league titles and the ‘Cup in ‘88.
“They were fantastic times. Dundalk, under Jim, was a fantastic club with a fantastic team and they were so successful. So, I was delighted to be part of getting Dundalk back on the run again after being in the doldrums for a couple of years.
“Financially, we were very much hamstrung. We sat down one time to talk about a budget for the coming year and it was noted that we had talked about everything bar how much money was available.
“I remember Eamonn Hiney, who took over after Stephen, saying (after being asked about the playing budget): ‘look, we’ll leave it to Turlough because he’ll do what he always does.’
“In other words, we’d no money, so just let Turlough at it...
“But we had a very good side, strong personalities in their own right. Martin Lawlor, Gino Lawless, those lads were great.
“I had some locals playing for me at Athlone and when I was looking at Dundalk, I was very fortunate that I’d some very good local players coming through: Tom McNulty, Barry Kehoe and Dessie Gorman. It meant a lot to the town at the time to have that.
“And Tommy Connolly was a hugely important lad with me because he was local and I felt it was important to have someone who knew what was going on as my right-hand man. I’d that at Athlone with Jackie Quinn.
“I leant on Tommy very much. He was great, the club were great.”
O’Connor’s playing spell yielded nothing in the way of silverware over four years (1967-’71), hence why his term at the helm is arguably more memorable in general. But, on a personal level, that isn’t the case: “We had Kevin Murray, Ben Hannigan, Paddy Turner, Stokes up front, they were great times with great players.
“We had a very good team and we were a bit unlucky in some aspects, but the football we played and the quality we had was great.
“Some of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in football were with Dundalk and to spend eight years there as a manager and four as a player, it was phenomenal.”
On the topic of quality football, O’Connor reckons his former club will “do it” on Sunday, a win which would ensure Stephen Kenny draws level with McLaughlin on eight major trophies in charge.
Though, already, he credits the former’s achievements as being on a level far beyond what anyone else has achieved in the League of Ireland.
The best team doesn’t always win the ‘Cup, though, he warns, referring to his side’s loss in ‘87 as an example as well as Dundalk’s defeats in each of the past two seasons.
O’Connor is still a strong follower of the domestic game and remains in touch with Jackie Murphy and co., keeping himself up-to-date on the goings on at Oriel.
He is planning to be there on Sunday, hopefully, to watch the men in white commemorate the win of 30 years ago in fitting fashion.