Down Memory Lane: A very sweet time for Derry City team of 1954
Newspaper headlines recently revealed Derry City had struck a bad patch - a club which has experienced and overcome much adversity as well as achieving commendable success since its formation in 1928.
They have reached the heights, languished in the doldrums and even had a depressing spell in the wilderness.
As the latest dark clouds, now apparently disappearing, hovered over the Brandywell my thoughts inevitably turned to those great days of yesteryear when I covered the Candystripes at home and abroad, particularly 1954 when, after three games — the Final and two replays — they defeated Glentoran 1-0 to collect the Irish Cup watched by an aggregate crowd of 91,000.
They called them the Jimmy Delaney Finals as the famous Scotland, Celtic and Manchester United winger stamped his authority and influence on them. He was a superstar in every sense of the word — an iconic figure known as the Bald Buccaneer, who possessed immense crowd-pulling appeal.
Unquestionably, this was the golden chapter in the Derry City story and the club’s departure from the Irish League in 1975 during the civil unrest and admittance to the League of Ireland 10 years later, left a void in local domestic football never adequately filled.
How appropriate, therefore, that long-time colleague Denis O’Hara, former sports journalist on the Irish News and News Letter, has just published a fascinating book on that famous Irish Cup run entitled “The Candy Men of 54”.
It is a tome with a difference, told in the words of the four surviving members of the Derry City Cup Final squad who took part in the eight matches — Harry Smyth, goalkeeper Charlie Heffron, centre-half Willie Curran and the inimitable winger Arthur Bartholomew Brady, affectionately known as Mousey.
Delaney, born in Cleland, the Lanarkshire mining village, played 15 times for Scotland between 1935 and ‘48 — a career fractured by the Second World War. Like Charlie Tully in a later era he became a cult figure at Parkhead. When Derry signed him for £1,500 from Falkirk, at the age of 39, his impact was instant and decisive, similar to that of Jackie Milburn with Linfield at Windsor Park in the late Fifties. They each had charisma, dignity and class.
On April 24, 1937 Jimmy got his first Scottish medal after Celtic had defeated Aberdeen 2-1 at Hampden Park watched by a crowd of 146,433; April 24 also saw him collect the English medal when Manchester United triumphed 4-2 over Blackpool at Wembley in 1948. Amazingly it was also on April 24 when Derry drew 2-2 with Glentoran in the first match of the fabled Irish Cup Final.
I remember Delaney’s disappointment and those of his many followers, including boxing champion Billy Spider Kelly, when Cork Athletic, inspired by the Scot and appearing certain winners, lost 3-2 to Shamrock Rovers in the 1956 FAI Cup Final at Dalymount Park, Dublin. Nobody has ever achieved that four medal feat.
Brady, now 82, still hale and hearty, was at 5ft 3ins, the smallest player in the Irish League. To this day he remains steeped in football, scouting for clubs around the country. Where there is a match you will find Arthur. He signed for Belfast Celtic, never got selected, moved to Crusaders and joined Derry City in 1953 shortly before Delaney’s arrival. He showed an impudent skill, floated, chipped and sprayed passes into the centre for Clifford Forsythe to get the goals.
Charlie Heffron, from west Belfast, was a member of the renowned Brantwood side that included Martin Murphy and Denis Maloney, tragically killed in the 1988 Kegworth air crash. He spent many happy years with Bradford Park Avenue before returning to Derry — and glory. His display in the third match can only be described as phenomenal — a real hero.
Teak-tough Harry (Digger) Smyth, was a Linfield stalwart before a move to Derry which lasted nine incredible seasons.
Willie Curran, lone Derry-born player in the 1954 team, underwent intensive treatment for pleurisy a week before the Final. “I was fortunate to make it and the two replays,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the services of a doctor in a nearby American Forces base I’d never have made it. He was magic.”
Curran got an injection in his hip before kick-off and he was having a tough time with the opposition winger Hugh Cunningham. Gradually, however, everything settled and he had a major role in the epic draw. The Final ended 2-2, the first replay 0-0, Derry winning the second |1-0 thanks to Con O’Neill’s 43rd minute goal. History was made with Delaney and team-mates established as immortals of the club. Delaney was mobbed but typical of the man, he sprinted immediately to Heffron whom he considered the real hero.
Candy Men Of 54 (Denis O’Hara) £12, €13