In the grand scheme of world soccer, Irish football corners the most acute angle of the world sphere. Nevertheless, as the Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh presents in his poem Epic, ‘Gods make their own importance.’ No one more does this apply then to a man from the south east of Ireland that most football connoisseurs would not be able to find on a map.
Paddy Coad, often regarded as the best player who didn’t transfer to an English club from the League of Ireland, was undoubtedly one of the most well-known and revered names in Irish soccer. Comfortable and confident on the left side whether it was in the defence or attack leading him to gain eleven caps for his country. One of his finest moments for his country was his substitute appearance against Norway in Oslo in 1951, scoring the winning goal in a three-two victory.
Born in Waterford, Coad would make his debut for his local side at the age of seventeen in 1937, though he would later be transferred to Northern Irish side Glenavon due to Waterford F.C.’s financial difficulties the following season. The outbreak of the Second World War led Coad to return to his hometown club in 1939. He came to prominence in the 1940/41 season as inside forward for Waterford F.C. who were beaten by Cork United in the Free State Cup final after a replay.
The events of April and May 1941 in the League of Ireland were enthralling, intriguing and landscape changing. The two protagonists of this story are Cork United and Waterford FC. The former’s first full season coming in 1939/40 with players of the calibre of Owen Madden, Tommy Moroney and could claim to have given Frank O’Farrell (who would go on to manage Manchester United) his start in the professional game. Their establishment had come after a disastrous adventure under the name Cork City and would become the most successful Rebel County outfit in t heir nine season history. Whereas, Waterford FC having entered the League of Ireland in 1930 bore the same moniker even with a brief spell playing Munster Senior League. This was precipitated with the introduction of a new tax that effected gate receipts leading to the club resigning from the League of Ireland.
Nevertheless, good times would follow with victory in the FAI Cup in 1937 over St. James’ Gate. The progress made by both Munster clubs would culminate in the 1940/41 season; with a handful of games left just two points separated Cork United from Waterford. In fact if both sides dropped points there was still the opportunity for them both being overtaken by Shamrock Rovers of Dublin. When you throw into the mix that the top two teams in the league also made up the cup final in Dalymount Park, a mouth-watering few weeks for soccer supporters in Ireland was in prospect.
In the FAI Cup final, Waterford twice took the lead but were pegged back by Cork’s O’Reilly who even had the chance to score the winner to inexplicable hit the upright of the goalpost. In a disappointing game; the last third of the game was deemed the most entertaining. The Waterford captain Phelan kept much of the United attack at bay, and had likened his sides preparation to that needed to win the Grand National. The replay held just three days later in front of just 13,067 spectators (symptomatic of it being a Wednesday evening) saw Cork triumph by three goals to one.
The match is also notable for Cork United’s Owen Madden and Waterford’s O’Driscoll ‘ordered off the field’ for indulging in a kicking match rather than a game of soccer. It appears the strength in which the Blues had demonstrated in defence a few days early wasn’t present in the replay, again O’Reilly proved to be a thorn in their side. Surely both sides would be already sick of one another but a game to raise funds for Turner’s Cross had been set for the 6th May and entitled the Beamish Challenge Cup.
A return to league action certainly didn’t lessen the pressure on a disappointed Waterford group. Two points separated the sides going into the final round of fixtures. The Blues needed a victory over Bray Unknowns to draw level with their cup vanquishers. At half-time it looked an unlikely prospect, losing two-one. However a strong second half performance saw them score four goals and even miss a penalty to come out as winners 5-2. A play-off was needed to determine the outright winner of the League of Ireland for the 1940/41 season and was set for the Mardyke in Cork.
However there would be yet another twist. Once more, it’s worth quoting Kavanagh to understand the dispute: ‘To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin/Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind./He said: I made the Iliad from such/A local row…’
Seven players (one of whom being Paddy Coad) from the Waterford squad requested that they be paid of bonus for fulfilling the fixture, £5 for a win and £2 10s if defeated. The chairman Gerry Whelan did not yield to the players demands. Each player was interviewed by two directors and when there was no compromise in the situation an emergency meeting was held with the view of Waterford not partaking in the league decider. The Waterford board claimed they had agreed to a win bonus and to £2 10s in the event of a draw. At this stage the Blues had already lost the services of one of their players, Cameron, who out of contract had returned to his native Glasgow. Furthermore with no end to the apparent stand-off, the Waterford board placed the seven dissenting players on the transfer list.
Not even Cork United willing to pay the demands of the protesting players could lead to the game being played, due to the offer not being excepted by the Blues management. Thus with the tie not being fulfilled United were awarded the league title, with further repercussions to be felt by Waterford. The club was fined and suspended from the league by the FAI. Moreover with much bitterness festering over the debacle between club management and the players; many of the latter left to pursue their careers elsewhere.
The significance of the event is further compounded by Cork United (with their close rivals Waterford out of the way) going on to win four more titles over the next five years plus another FAI Cup in 1947 before folding the following year. It would be four years before Waterford had a League of Ireland representative again with the title taking another eleven years which was the dawn of the Blues ‘Golden Age’. One wonders if the events of 1941 had ended differently what might have been.
Moving to Shamrock Rovers after the result of Waterford going out of business, Paddy Coad would go on to win three League of Ireland titles and four FAI Cups with the Milltown club. From 1943 to 1955, Coad and Jimmy Dunne were Rovers only two full-time professionals, whose own story is similarly lesser known.
In 1937 Dunne was offered a return to his first professional team of Shamrock Rovers in Ireland as player/manager having played for Sheffield United and Arsenal. At Milltown his team’s blend of experience and youth saw league titles and cups aplenty and instigated an era of continued success. One of his key signings that was an integral part to the future of Rovers was Paddy Coad. Sadly, Dunne did not live to old age to sit back and recount his successes.
Becoming player-coach of the Hoops in 1949 after the sudden death of Dunne saw the creation of ‘Coad’s Colts’ who the Irish Independent noted brought ‘a glamour and excitement to the local game.’ In addition, he would attend coaching courses in England which was a departure in the League of Ireland at the time. His ‘Colt’s’ were a side made up of young talented players such as Liam Tuohy and Ronnie Nolan. In fact, Coad basically acquired the whole international schoolboy’s team to create a side that focused on keeping possession and progressing up the field with pace (success sounds familiar).
Under his guidance Rovers would achieve two league crowns and two FAI Cup victories. However, the most noteworthy chapter in Coad’s coaching career was that of his sides performance against the ‘Busby Babes’ of Manchester United in the European Cup in 1957 (the season of the tragic Munich Air disaster). Many would observe that Rovers were more than a match for their English opponents for skill but were unable to overcome the gap in fitness levels (the Red Devils winning 9-2 on aggregate). Coad’s own performance received numerous plaudits as he was named man of the match in the second leg at Old Trafford, not bad for a player who was then aged thirty-seven.
Perhaps the performance of Rovers not only against United but in their success in the Republic of Ireland was through the vision of Coad who would go to England to attend courses on coaching and selected the team without a committee. In turn success in the League of Ireland staved off any ambition of plying his trade in England. What was to the loss of English soccer and the detriment to Coad’s international career was to the benefit of all football fans in Ireland that were able to witness perhaps the greatest team to play on the island. In total Paddy Coad scored 126 League of Ireland goals over a twenty-five year playing career.
While his international career was partially stunted by the occurrence of the Second World War, his first cap coming against England in 1946. A year later his best game came for Ireland in a 3-2 victory over Spain, scoring one and setting up two goals for fellow Waterford man Davy Walsh (who passed away recently). As an aside Coad was born in Doyle Street which is adjacent to Barrack Street where Walsh grew up in Waterford City. By quirk of locality Coad went to rival school De La Salle while the West Brom striker attended Mount Sion. This international game probably the only incidence of cooperation between the two educational institutions. Coad went on to earn eleven international caps scoring three goals.
The fairytale that one could term Coad’s career would finish ‘happily-ever after’ when he returned to Waterford in 1960 as player/manager and lead that club to its first league victory in 1966. The bitterness of the 1941 campaign which not only cost a Waterford side silverware but hastened Coad’s departure was now a footnote in history. For don’t we all always sing when we’re winning? From this first league title Waterford United went on to win five more, their last coming in 1973, though Coad was not the spearhead in these subsequent victories he in know doubt laid the foundations.
His impact on the League of Ireland and Shamrock Rovers can be likened to that of Vic Buckingham at Ajax or Johann Cruyff at Barcelona. For ‘Gods make their own importance’, Coad deserves to share the same pantheon with such illustrious names of the European game.
Read the blog here with imagery: https://waterfordtreasures.wixsite.com/wattreasuresblog/post/paddy-coad-the-greatest-irish-player-never-to-play-in-england?fbclid=IwAR0-UgNywGl4_phCaiiACAJZqjT1z5JthUVsXIkYNLlxHvPAWKLVEd1YS14