Irish Cup Final 3rd April 1971 – 50 Years on
IRISH CUP FINAL 1970/71
3rd April 1971 Distillery 3 Derry City 0 at Windsor Park.
The 1970/71 season was a difficult one for Distillery. It unfolded through a period of civil strife – Grosvenor Park was starting to become a ‘no go’ area. All games against the ‘Big Two‘ (Linfield and Glentoran) had to be played away. Yet Distillery manager Jimmy McAlinden had managed to assemble what would turn out to be one of the greatest teams in Distillery history. They would be consistent all season despite the uncertain times and actually claimed 3rd place in the League. However it was in the Irish Cup competition where they would achieve legendary status.
The Whites travelled to junior side Ballyclare Comrades, in the first round of the Irish Cup on 13th February 1971, and fielded their full-strength team, apart from the injured Mervyn Law. Tom Finney, who was playing his first game of the season, took his place. The juniors got off to a tremendous start, when after two minutes, Joe Hylands took a Sam Armstrong pass and held off a tackle from Peter Rafferty, to shoot past Roy McDonald for the opening goal. Six minutes later, a corner from Tom Finney struck Thompson, and flashed past the keeper for an own goal, to give Distillery the equaliser. The rest of the first half was fairly even, though the Whites defence was uncharacteristically shakey. Finlay and Ewart missed good chances and McDonald had to make good saves from Wright and Clarke. Early in the second half Wright missed another chance, but after 60 minutes, McNicholl failed to hold a greasy ball, and Finney scored from a narrow angle, and the Whites held on for a 2-1 win.
The second round of the Irish Cup on 27th February 1971 saw Distillery travel to Glenavon, who had knocked them out the previous season over three games. The Whites got off to a great start, and an early goal blitz, saw Errol McNally make great saves from Peter Watson and Jim Savage. Then in the sixth minute, Denis Guy wasted a great chance for Glenavon, when he missed the ball completely with an open goal at his mercy. In the 17th minute the Whites took the lead, when Derek Meldrum crossed from the left, and Jim Savage lashed the ball in, as the Glenavon defence stopped for an off-side whistle that didnt come. Harry Shannon then drove two 25-yard shots over the bar, and just before half-time, Guy put a good chance past the post. After 53 minutes, Roy McDonald made a fantastic save from Jackie Fullerton. Guy missed another chance after 71 minutes, and then three minutes later, with Distillery under pressure, Martin O’Neill sent Peter Watson clear on the left. He centred for O’Neill to slot home the second goal, and Distillery were through to the semi-final with a 2-0 victory.
The Semi-Final of the Irish Cup, between Coleraine and Distillery, took place at Windsor Park on Saturday 13th March 1971. The Whites fielded the same team as the previous round, and got off to an unbelievable start, with a goal after only 40 seconds. Martin O’Neill put Jim Savage through with a great pass, and he coolly lifted the ball into the net, over the keeper’s shoulder. Coleraine equalised in the 14th minute, when John McCurdy had a shot, following a right-wing cross from Sean Dunlop, and Roy McDonald parried it, only for Barney Mullan to score. After this exciting start, the game settled into a rather predictable pattern, as both teams cancelled each other out. In fact, there were only two further moments of excitement, when George Lennox shot wide, followed by a near miss by Dessie Dickson, as the game headed for a 1-1 draw.
The replay took place on Tuesday evening 16th March 1971, again at Windsor Park. Each team had one change -–Davy Jackson returned from injury, to replace Ivan McMaster at centre-half for Coleraine, and Mervyn Law returned to the Distillery team, after being out for a month with flu, and Tom Finney was omitted. After an early scare, when Roy McDonald had to make a brilliant save to keep Coleraine out, Distillery started to impress. They looked very sharp up-front, and it was no surprise that they took an early lead. George Lennox put a good chance wide, then a free-kick from Alan McCarroll, was headed in by Peter Rafferty in the 14th minute. A few minutes before half-time, George Lennox put in a great effort, when he latched on to a bad back-pass from Davy Jackson, however, Eddie Crossan made a brilliant full-length save. At half-time the score was only 1-0 to Distillery, despite being in control.
The Whites were to rue this inability to increase the score, when midway through the second half, Coleraine were awarded a controversial penalty. Mervyn Law was adjudged to have pushed Tony O’Doherty in an off-the-ball incident, and Barney Mullan fired home the penalty, to make the score 1-1.
The Whites plugged away, trying to claim a deserved win and in the 87th minute the important goal arrived. George Lennox skipped down the left-wing, evaded Jackson’s tackle, and crossed the ball, for Mervyn Law to race in and head the winner at the far post. Distillery were 2-1 ahead, and three nervous minutes later, they were on their way to the Irish Cup Final.
The Irish Cup Final, between Distillery and Derry City, took place at Windsor Park on Saturday 3rd April 1971. The Whites were undoubtedly the favourites to win the trophy for the first time in 15 years. The 6,000 fans settled down to watch the game, with its unusual 3.45 kick-off time. Many Derry City fans boycotted the game in protest at the venue selected. In the third minute, the Whites took the lead, when a free-kick from Alan McCarroll, was flicked on by Peter Watson to Jim Savage, who touched it on to 18 year old Martin O’Neill, who had ghosted in behind the static Derry defence, and he coolly placed it in the corner of the net. Chang Smith then hit a good effort over the bar. A good run by Savage, saw him cut the ball across the goalmouth, but there was no one on hand to tap it in, as it rolled along the goal line. Noel Ward then hit the side-netting, before Danny Hale shot towards an empty goal, but McCarroll got back to clear off the line. After this spell of pressure, Distillery bounced back, when Tommy Brannigan put Savage through. Keeper Irwyn McKibben blocked his shot and O’Neill and Mervyn Law both missed the rebound. Derry fought their way back into the game late in the first half, but Whites defence stood firm. Roy McDonald then made two crucial saves from Noel Ward and just before half-time Ray White headed a John Rowland cross over the bar. Derry had the best of the first half and were unlucky not to score.
Within five minutes of the start of the second half, the Whites scored twice, and the Cup was theirs. In the 48th minute Martin O’Neill scored a classic goal, when he beat three defenders in a mazey dribble, changed feet, and from near the penalty spot, he cracked the ball into the net. Then in the 50th minute, McKibben missed an astute O’Neill header, and Jim Savage hooked the ball in for the third goal. Ten minutes later Savage nearly added to the score, when he hit the crossbar with a curling shot. Derry improved late in the second half when player-manager Jimmy Hill brought himself on for Jim ‘Chang’ Smith. They had three good chances to score a consolation goal – McDonald made a fantastic point blank save from Noel Ward, then Danny Hale shot wide and Declan McDowell headed past the upright. Distillery won 3-0 and their captain, Peter Rafferty, collected the Whites first Irish Cup since 1955/56. The only downside to a tremendous day was that due to the ‘civil unrest’ the crowd dispersed very quickly after the game, so when the team came out to do a lap of honor, there were very few fans left in the ground to witness it.
Distillery: — Roy McDonald; Alan McCarroll, Derek Meldrum; Tommy Brannigan, Peter Rafferty, Martin Donnelly; Mervyn Law, Peter Watson, Jim Savage, Martin O’Neill, George Lennox. Sub: Joe Patterson.
Derry City: — McKibbin; Duffy, McLaughlin; McDowell, White, Wood; Rowland, O’Halloran, Ward, Hale, Smith. Sub: Hill.