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18th March 1968  Shamrock Rovers v  Celtic – Friendly

17th March

This match had been organised some weeks previously and the Celtic party left for Dublin on the morning after the Falkirk game. The squad comprised the 12 players who been listed for the match against Falkirk plus John Fallon, George Connelly, Davie Hay, Joe McBride and Jimmy Quinn.

It was a lazy day for the most part. We did make a trip out to Dalymount Park, the venue for the match, for a little loosener but apart from that, we spent the time round the hotel, with fans coming in and out all the time.

 

Morning of the Match

Chairman Bob Kelly, Jock Stein and Billy McNeill paid a visit to the Presidential Palace to show the Irish Premier Eamonn de Valera the European Cup and receive a Waterford cut-crystal chalice from the Irish League.

For the rest of us, it was a question of Mass then just resting about the hotel, a light lunch then a bus trip to the stadium.

There was a crowd of 35,000 there for the occasion – including the Irish Premier – and Jock Stein put out a team of Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Gallagher and Hughes.

The match finished in a 2-2 draw, with three of the goals coming in the first half . Wispy got us off to a good start in 6 mins and Rovers equalized in the 21st minute. A free-kick awarded for a Billy McNeill foul in the middle of the park was hoisted into the box and centre-forward Gilbert got there first to head the ball home.

Ten minutes from the interval, Wispy gave us a 2-1 lead with another good strike and from that point on, it was a pretty competitive encounter but I felt that we were holding them comfortably, without exactly starring! However, just four minutes from time, inside-left Kinsella ran on to a pass from Gilbert and slid the ball home, sending the home supporters into a frenzy.

As soon as the final whistle was blown, hundreds of Shamrock Rovers’ supporters jumped over the barriers round the pitch and raced on to the field. It took the efforts of about two dozen policemen to form a guard so that the players could make it back to the dressing-rooms, where we were given a volley by the Boss.

He accused of not treating the opposition seriously enough and even worse, of not trying hard enough. Players can never win at a time like that and we all knew it, so nobody said anything although the feeling was mutinous. The bus trip to the airport was memorable for its quietness and we were soon on the plane heading for Glasgow.

 

When we got back to our native city, we were firstly appalled by the headline in one of the evening papers –

Stein Slams ‘Too Casual’ Celts

 

– and then disappointed by quotes in the press from both the manager and the chairman which did little for our mood –

Jock Stein – “We were most disappointed with the result and the display of our team. Hundreds of spectators had travelled long distances from far-off points in both Scotland and Ireland to see the game. They were expecting to see European Cup-type football. What they got was far from that”

Bob Kelly – “The Shamrock Rovers team which held us to a draw was not nearly as good as the Shamrock Rovers side we beat 7-0 in Dublin in 1965. I am most disappointed”.

 

I will take this opportunity to give another side to the story. This was Celtic’s 6th match in 16th days; some of the players were feeling it, others, like myself, were coming back from injury and frankly, the fact that we played two games – Falkirk and Shamrock Rovers – 24 hours apart, was not helpful to recovery. Then, there was the circumstance of the match. A team which had won the European Cup the previous year and was now being told to play a ‘friendly’ match it could well do without was up against a side which probably saw an opportunity to make a name for itself. No wonder they played like heroes!

I totally refute the accusations that we were ‘casual’. We were certainly off form but I think the number of matches had a lot to do with that and I was surprised that nobody at the top of the club seems to have thought of that. Whatever the reasons for making those statements, they did not do much for players’ morale and on my way back home from Parkhead by car that afternoon, I was thinking that the atmosphere at training on the following morning could be very interesting!