One hundred years ago to the day, one of the most consequential goalless draws in the history of football was played out at Windsor Park.
The match was an Irish Cup semi-final between Glenavon and Dublin-based Shelbourne. The tie set in train the sequence of events which led six months later to the inauguration of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the division of administrative responsibilities for the sport on the island of Ireland that persists to this day.
The political situation on the island at the time was, of course, far from conducive to the problem-free staging of any sports encounter. The Anglo-Irish War had broken out in 1919 and continued to sputter. Shelbourne's home city of Dublin was under curfew; Belfast was every bit as tense.
As the Northern Whig noted on March 5, 1921, the day of the match, for "the first time this season a Dublin club will make the journey north of the Boyne".
The paper also explained how the Dublin curfew had influenced kick-off time.
"It was originally intended that this game should start at three o'clock," it noted. However, "owing to the fact that curfew now comes into operation in Dublin at nine o'clock, the Shels are forced to remain overnight in the city, and so the kick-off has been fixed for 3.30".
Shelbourne travelled north as Cup holders, having won the 1920 competition in unusual circumstances, beating Glenavon en route, after two semi-finalists were ejected in the wake of a riot. A year on, though, the Dublin side were the underdogs, with Glenavon favoured to progress to the final to play either Glentoran or Brantwood.
In the event, the Dubliners parked the bus, and their determined rearguard action was enough to earn a replay.
Under the headline "Shelbourne create a surprise in Irish Cup semi-final", the Athletic News reporter called 'Scribe' described how "it was a case of Shelbourne defence against the Glenavon forwards".
However, "the Lurgan forwards never really settled down to their usual game, and though Jack Brown (who was to make his international debut in a hailstorm at Swansea a month later) went up forward in the second half, replacing Cochrane, they simply could not get through".
'Scribe' also commented on a "remarkable display" by Paddy Walsh, the Shelbourne goalkeeper. This, he wrote, was "really the outstanding feature of the game".
Through this man-of-the-match performance, it might be argued that Walsh - soon to depart with several team-mates for an unlikely (and short-lived) football revolution in Pontypridd, Wales - unknowingly played a key part in the sport's Irish partition. It was, after all, with the replay earned by his saves that the path towards a schism gathered decisive momentum.
With the tie having been played in the north (albeit not Lurgan), one might, under normal circumstances, have expected the replay to be assigned to Dublin, where Shelbourne had triumphed 3-0 over the same opponents the previous year. However, the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA), then the ultimate authority for the sport throughout Ireland, decided in their wisdom to summon the two teams once again to Belfast for the game on March 16.
In their defence, these were not normal circumstances. As Neal Garnham wrote in his book, Association Football and Society in pre-Partition Ireland, Dublin was "in turmoil… Six Republican prisoners were to be executed two days before the intended replay. An identical set of executions in Cork the previous month had led to the killing of six soldiers in the city in retaliation."
Then again, there was a widespread perception in the south that the IFA had tended to favour northern clubs in various ways, such as international selection and financial assistance, over a prolonged period. Seen in this context, it was scarcely a surprise that Dublin-based administrators should take a dim view of the replay decision.
Shelbourne refused to travel north again, resulting in the tie being awarded to Glenavon (the Lurgan club went on to lose the final 2-0 to Glentoran, who beat Brantwood 4-3 in the other semi-final clash).
For their part, the Leinster Football Association (LFA) passed a resolution condemning the "unsportsmanlike action of the… IFA in ordering Shelbourne to replay in Belfast their drawn Cup tie with Glenavon," adding, "We regard the decision to be against the best interests of the game".
A report of this meeting from a journalist known as 'Viator' in the Dublin newspaper Sport was followed by a warning that "the Dublin clubs will seriously consider the question of the advisability of severing their connection with the Belfast Association at the end of the present season".
On June 8, the LFA duly voted to disaffiliate from the IFA. On September 2, the FAI held their inaugural meeting.
In light of the political partition of the island, and consequent creation of Northern Ireland, with which the football split closely coincided, it is interesting to note that the two football bodies, the IFA and the new FAI, were not at first differentiated along strictly geographical lines.
In July, a competition called the Falls League, based in west Belfast, decided to affiliate with the Dublin body. Sport viewed this as a "bombshell", observing, moreover, that "the IFA has taken this badly, and not surprising".
Two years after the fateful Irish Cup semi-final, on March 17, 1923, a Falls League side called Alton United travelled to a still tense Dublin and won the newly-minted FAI Cup final at Dalymount Park, upsetting Shelbourne 1-0 in front of 14,000.
Paddy Walsh, back from Pontypridd, lined up once again in the Shels' goal. This time he was not the star. The Dublin Evening Telegraph reported that "the ball entered an empty net with Walsh and (defender Paddy) Kavanagh in collision, due to a stupid piece of misunderstanding".
In September 1923, the FAI were granted membership of Fifa, effectively setting the split in concrete.