Long Read: The Flames and the Bagpipes - The Story behind Cabinteely's League of Ireland opener in 2015

Sat, Apr 18 2020

Amid the backdrop of dissent and frustration, Cabinteely had a task on their hands to prove the doubters wrong when they were admiited into the League of Ireland in 2015.

“If the club (Cabinteely) are surviving in the league in five years’ time, it will be one of the most remarkable stories that has happened in Irish football” - this was just one of the many dissenting voices at the time of Cabo’s entry into the League of Ireland in 2015.

Coincidentally, in their fifth year competing in the League of Ireland, the Green and Whites went mightily close to taking their place in the top table of Irish football - leaving many with egg on their face. 

To prove many of the doubters wrong, Cabo - who were led by Eddie Gormley - had to start as they meant to go on, beginning on their first night as a League of Ireland outfit. 

Eddie Gormley’s side were handed a difficult opening night clash, to put it mildly. Shane Keegan’s Wexford Youths would be the visitors to Stradbrook on March 6th, 2015. Wexford would go on to win the First Division that very year. 

And that challenge was something they only learned of being a certainty just over a month prior with their late acceptance leaving the club scrambling to get things set before their big kick-off.

The manner in which Cabo found their way in the League of Ireland was quick, and potentially more surprising than anything else.

Not only had they a squad to build, they also had a management team to find – and furthermore a ground capable of hosting matches to source prior to their big night under the lights, all inside a mere 38 days.

While the frantic sense of preparations was there for all to see inside those 38 days, it was the spirit of achieving this that lives long in the memory.

The bitterly cold March evening was always going to defined by the sense of community that got the very game played, especially involving a club that rarely harboured any hopes of playing in a senior setting in its earlier history.

Confirmation

Cabo learned of their acceptance into the National League structure on January 28th, 2015, but much of the groundwork was already put into place prior to news of their confirmed spot in the First Division.

After the Shamrock Rovers B venture of 2014 and their subsequent drop-out, there were inklings of an opening that could see another club join the League of Ireland.

Just a month after the conclusion of the Hoops’ project, Cabo began to make serious headway on preparing their proposal to join the senior ranks ahead of the 2015 campaign.

Rob Maloney, who would captain Cabinteely on their League of Ireland debut, learned of the proposal in November when he was asked if he would play for them.

“I think it was November when I was told this might get over the line and we needed a few quid to get it done,” the former Liverpool and Fulham trainee told extratime.ie.

“A good friend of mine who has recently passed called Andy Rice, and Mark Smith put in a lot of the groundwork to get it to the stage it was at.

“We then just went about getting players together. It was all hands-on deck for a while to get players in.”

Also heavily involved in the early stages of the was current chairman Larry Bass, who initially joined as a board member.

“I only got involved on the Christmas Eve beforehand,” he explains. “I live next door to Kilbogget Park - my son and two of my daughters played on junior teams with Cabinteely.

“I met my son’s manager in the local pub, and he said, look, we're putting together an application to go into the League of Ireland. And my first reaction was ‘how many drinks have you had there’.

“When the guys put the application in, I have to say they put together a strong one. In fact, the license that they were awarded and have been ever since is a Premier Division license.

“Everything bar the seating facilities are at Premier status. It's a very robust and strong license that has a thankfully been successful for five years in a row now.”

After putting together, the application, the club were however left in limbo as they were unsure if they were going to be admitted into the League of Ireland.

Frantic efforts were made to secure a ground that they could call home, and a venue in the name of Stradbrook became available after a local GAA club were unable to secure the facility with Blackrock RFC.

“Blackrock had been in negotiations with Cuala,” Bass explains. “The idea was to bring Cuala down to share the facilities but that didn't work out.

“So, it was the fact that it didn't work out for Cuala was to our advantage and that’s how we are able to get access.”  

Reaction

Safe to say, the reaction to Cabinteely joining the League of Ireland’s ranks was far from positive.

“There was bad publicity at the time for the club,” Maloney continues. “People were asking why we were there, but the fact was there was nobody out there who wanted it.”

However, it appeared that the Green and Whites were keen on being able to support a player pathway that was previously unseen at the club.

“When I was asked, I first thought they had a screw loose,” Bass notes. “But when they sat me down a couple of days later just after Christmas, they explained the strategy to me and what the vision behind the application was.

“(Cabinteely) had always been a club that tried to compete at the highest level and if they were not in the League of Ireland, the best players were obviously just going to disappear and go to one of the clubs around that had got league status.

“When we joined the league, we had one sole ambition and that was to create a player pathway to keep the best players with Cabinteely playing at the very highest level possible.”

The Rise of Cabinteely

Cabinteely FC have served the 330,000 strong population of the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown borough with distinction since the early 20th century.

The club has its roots from the late 1920s to the early 1930s, being initially known as the Blues from Cabinteely.

That Blues from Cabinteely side brought through a certain Peter Farrell – the same Farrell who went on to captain Ireland and score in a 1-0 defeat of England in 1949.

The club however renamed themselves to Cabinteely Boys in the later years of the 1930s it seems and, despite the name changes, their crowds for underage football were quite strong.

Often for cup finals and big occasions, there would be in excess of 5,000 patrons watching underage club games – not a bad turnout (although this was in the pre-television era).

A further name changes to Cabinteely United was noted and spells in the Wicklow League and AUL followed before the club once again renamed itself, this time to Auburn FC in 1967.

Auburn FC’s name was soon altered in 1973 to Cabinteely Boys, but the name ‘Boys’ was dropped in more recent years to accommodate a growing women’s and girls’ interest in the club.

From then, the club enjoyed a spell of relative success in the 2000s in the Leinster Senior League on a senior front.

And despite being far from a significant Leinster Senior League side, they decided to make the seismic decision to move to League of Ireland football in late 2014.

Management team

Amid all of the madness that was ongoing in terms of making sure the club was ready to compete in the First Division, there was also the matter of trying to nail down a management team for the year ahead.

Eddie Gormley – former Bray Wanderers boss and then Director of Coaching at Cabo’s schoolboy section – was approached to take the reins of the side.

“I had the qualifications to look after the team so they asked me on a couple of occasions if I would be interested in taking it up,” Gormley said.

“I knocked them back a few times because I didn’t particularly want to get back involved with League of Ireland football as I was enjoying my role with the junior club.

“I was then asked a third time if I wanted it on a temporary basis until they found someone – so we agreed to do it that way and two years later I was still there.”

Gormley continued: “I’ve been involved with the league for so long, and I knew it was going to be a tough ask.

“People probably thought we were going to be the whipping boys when we went in, but we managed to put together a young side with a little bit of experience dotted around.

“I knew we’d be alright and compete at that level. Although it would be difficult, we put together a squad that would compete in each game.”

Pre-season

As the squad began taking shape during the transfer window, a number of trialists came in and out of the door at Stradbrook.

One of the more notable trialists who never signed in the end was Brazilian midfielder Raphael Rossi Branco. He has since gone on to play for Swindon Town and FC Sion in the Swiss top-flight.

“It was difficult (in pre-season),” Gormley said. “We found out at the eleventh hour that we were in and we only had a couple of weeks to put a squad together.

“We were scrambling to get players. We had one or two players who were involved with Cabinteely such as Kevin Knight and one or two others as young lads.

 “We got a squad together in the end, but the difficult part was getting things ready for the first game in such a short space of time.”

Looking back on the ramshackle nature of preparing for their first year in senior football, Maloney added: “We were thrown together at the last minute and we were doing pre-season in Stradbrook itself.

“Whatever about the pitch there, the training facility was even worse. It was dangerous at times, but we got players together through people you knew.

“We were asked to call a few players and a few others were asked to do the same.”

Wexford

While Cabo’s first pre-season was far from a smooth sailing, they also had the added difficulty of hosting an emerging Wexford Youths side led by Shane Keegan.

Youths would go on to win the First Division that season, despite being rank outsiders to do so.

“I wouldn’t say there was a huge amount of expectation on us (to go up that year),” Keegan told extratime.ie.

“Maybe those keeping a close eye on us would have said we would have had a chance of making the playoffs but even our most optimistic selves could not have expected us to win the league.”

In terms of Wexford’s preparation for their trip to Stradbrook, it was only after the League of Ireland launch for 2015 that Keegan learned of the wretched conditions that his players would face underfoot.

“We went up in separate cars (to the launch) and I wanted to head over (after the launch) and see what Stradbrook was like – I had never seen it before, so I just wanted to check it out.

“I went across and I couldn’t believe it. I thought I must have had the wrong place. It was not conducive to the safety of the players.

“Mick (Wallace) was then onto the FAI within 24 hours that the game needed to be called off. It became quite clear that the FAI were adamant that the game must go ahead.

“We then went into training the Monday of the week of the game and I just told the players out straight what they were going into.”

While it was a free shot of sorts for Cabo – for Youths, it was an exercise that had the feel of a no-win scenario.

“I was worried going into the game given the style of play we had been trying to use and knowing that the pitch would be completely unsuitable to that.

“It was worrying, and Cabo were an unknown quantity. I still expected us to win the game, and we should have had enough about us to win it.”

The countdown

As the days counted down to the big kick-off, the excitement levels were naturally racing at the club – especially for those like Maloney who had begun his days with the club at just four years of age.

“We wanted to show that we weren’t bad players and naturally enough we wanted to shove it up people’s arses,” he says.

“When people are telling you that you’re not going to win a game you want to prove them wrong.

“We had a lot of support from the schoolboy section and people would be telling you that they would be backing you – we were a big price.

“I’m from Cabinteely myself and I’d know a lot of people in the area in football. You had people telling you it was a disgrace and you had others wishing you well. They were exciting times,” he adds.

After a pre-season that was far from ideal, Gormley’s charges were not only an unknown quantity to the opposition, but they were also that to themselves.

“I remember going in with Dave Mackey who was my assistant at the time – we were having chats on who we would be playing the week before,” Gormley said.

“We had 25 players in the squad and there were people joking that we would put the names into a sombrero hat and pick them that way.

“We obviously hadn’t seen enough of them play to know what they were like, but we had the nucleus of a good side.

“It was only just one or two positions that we weren’t sure of, but Dave and I got there eventually.”

The pitch

Despite the build-up that seemed like it would never end, there were genuine concerns that the game would not go ahead, as Bass explains.

“On the day of the game and we had a real fear that potentially the referee may decide the pitch was not playable.

“Thankfully, he deemed it playable and I think that was probably the worst the pitch ever was.  

“We were able to work on it from that day on and every other season, we've tried to make sure in pre-season that we minimise any games from the rugby side in conjunction with the rugby club.”  

After the all-clear was granted to the Green and Whites to go ahead with their opening night bow, the scene was set for Cabo to shine on their biggest day yet.

“We literally had to start from scratch, there was nothing organised. We had never housed anything of that level.

“We knew there would be a lot of interest, so we were preparing for a reasonable crowd. We were trying to get our stewarding right, our health and safety right, our public address right and making sure that the flood lights were up to spec,” he adds.

And that interest was most certainly there…

The fireworks and the bagpipes

Large crowds are rare in the First Division, and with clubs like Cabinteely – they are even more so.

Crowd numbers generally hover in and around the 300 mark at Stradbrook on a regular match-night, but this one was far from a normal matchday.

Reports from the time had 350 tickets pre-sold for their National League bow, a figure that is rarely surpassed for a typical game.

By the 7.45pm kick-off time, over 1600 patrons squeezed their way into the ground to witness Cabo’s first ever League of Ireland clash.

“It was bitterly cold that night,” Bass looks back. “It was great to see so many kids there with their parents and that’s exactly what you want to see.

“That game was fantastic, and it gave everyone a pep in their step. We did have a few trouncing’s that year things that year, but we learned a lot and we've been building ever since.”

Leading the side out was captain Maloney, the defender who began his schoolboy career with the club before making the switch across the water to England at the age of 16.

“It was amazing walking out that night,” the now 26-year-old said. “The potential was there for all to see that night.”

Not only was Maloney leading out his teammates, he was bizarrely walking behind a bag-piper who led both sides out to action on that fateful night.

“There were great people behind the scenes involved there and the whole club was backing us at that stage.

“It was amazing walking out with the flames and all after seeing what everyone had been doing at the club to get it together. They were exciting times.”

The goal

After the bagpipes, and the flames that welcomed both sides onto the pitch – it was the rank outsiders Cabinteely who started better.

Midfielder Jordan Buckley went close, as did Kevin Knight and Maloney as Wexford Youths shot-stopper Graham Doyle was forced into some unexpected early saves.

Remaining tight and compact, and giving Wexford little chance to open up and impose their style of play – Cabo proved a potent threat from set-pieces.

And that threat was soon rewarded as the Green and White’s took a 43rd minute lead through John McKeown who joined the club after prior unsuccessful spells in the league with UCD and Dundalk.

“The only reason I remember the goal is because all my friends were down the other end and they backed me to score first,” Maloney reflects.

“I got the flick on (from a Shane O’Neill corner) and they thought I scored but John (McKeown) got on the end of it.

“The place erupted,” he adds. “It was quality. From my point of view, it was where I started as a four-year-old, so it was really special.”

Holding out

Keegan’s Youths soon brought on the mercurial Danny Furlong, and from there – Cabo were forced to defend resolutely.

“They were a lot fitter than us and I know from my point of view I was out on my feet,” he adds.

“It (the pitch) probably suited us seeing we hadn’t really been with each other much, but it was the same for both teams at the end of the day.”

And Cabo then held out – leaving the home crowd leaving the Stradbrook Road venue with more than their pride intact.

“The result was the cherry on top,” Bass explains. “It was not the greatest game in the world, but Eddie literally had weeks to pull together a whole squad.

“To get a team out there on the pitch and perform like that was outstanding. I remember going to see a pre-season friendly that year against St Patrick’ Athletic.

“We were destroyed that night. I just thought, ‘Oh my God this is this what it’s going to be like every week?’.

“There was quite a few baptisms of fire and pre-season friendlies, but that game was fantastic, and it gave everyone a boost.”

The Wexford reaction

While the lifted spirits around Cabinteely was apparent, the same could not be same for the mood of the Slaneysiders who ended up on the other side of the outcome.

“It was quite possibly the most testing 24 hours of my time as the Wexford (Youths) manager,” Keegan reflects.

“I was only home late the next day and one of our best players phoned me saying that they were looking to pack it in.

“They were only willing to put so much time and commitment into it if they felt we were moving in the right direction.

“No disrespect to Cabinteely at the time but they were tipped to finish bottom and if we couldn’t beat them what aspirations had we to do well?

“I think it was a completely fair assessment, I was thinking the same myself. I don’t think I have ever questioned anything in my life so much after a game.”  

However, despite the initial wave of disappointment, Wexford would then go on to secure the First Division crown just seven months later.

“It’s ridiculous looking back on it now to be so low and then go so high at the end of the season.”  

Looking back

Since then, and despite a turbulent opening two years in the League of Ireland – Cabinteely have been motoring on in the right direction on the pitch since.

Ahead of the 2017 season, veteran manager Pat Devlin took charge of the club as Director of Football and first-team manager.

The progress has been evident, culminating in last season’s fairy-tale promotion hunt that brought them to the brink of top-flight football.

“I’ve known Pat Devlin since my playing days,” Bass concludes. “Bizarrely we worked together many, many years ago in Loughlinstown Hospital.

“I approached Pat and he was very happy in UCD. He was content, and it was all working really well for him, but I knew bringing in someone like him would be big.

“He has that courage of his own convictions to give guys who have the talent the chance, to throw them in if they're good enough not if they’re old enough.

“The initial ambition wasn't necessarily to be a key competing League of Ireland team; the main objective was to create a player pathway.

“Our aim and objective now five years on is now being able to compete and challenge.

“We want to be a Premier Division team and, and we want to become the top-flight team for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.”

Also remaining at the club is Eddie Gormley who has since stepped back into the role as first-team coach.

“It’s all about building and putting the correct structures in place,” Gormley notes on the progress at the club.

“The first two years were particularly challenging and then Pat kicked it on another level. It’s a different cub that I came into really.

“It’s not having a pop at anybody but it’s more professional, it’s better run and the football side of things are going exceptionally well.

“We have a good staff involved with the club, and the rapport between the players and staff is there. It is really good here at the moment, but we operate off the basis that hard work is your starting point.

“To be fair to the players this year and last year the work they get through is incredible. As a coach and as a management team when you have that it’s great.”

 

With thanks to Larry Bass, Eddie Gormley, Rob Maloney, Shane Keegan, Dave Donnelly and Tom O’Connor for their help and time in compiling this article.