ON THIS DAY: 20th April 1895 LETTERKENNY FOOTBALL TEAM IN FIRST CUP FINAL
The first record of a football match in Letterkenny took place on 30th January 1882 when the owners of Hegarty’s Hotel granted “Letterkenny Athletic Club” the use of their field at the Isles for a 9-a side match, played between the “Friendly Club” and the “Town Club”.
By the early 1890s, the first official competitive team in the town, “Letterkenny F.C.”, was competing in the North West Football Association against teams from Donegal and Derry. The team held their meetings in the rooms of Michael Doherty’s Hotel (now the Central Bar) on the Main Street and received subscriptions from W.H. Boyd and Major Doyne while Town Commissioner, Mr. P. Doherty, let them use his field at the Isles to play in. By 1894, a new team, “St. Adaman’s Swifts” had joined Letterkenny F.C. in competing in the North West Football Association competition.
The County Donegal Football Association was founded in Boyle’s Hotel, Ramelton on the 24th March 1894 with both Letterkenny F.C. and a new team from the town, “Letterkenny Celtic”, having representatives.
One year later, on 20th April 1895, a team from Letterkenny made it to their fist ever cup final with Letterkenny F.C. competing in the County Donegal FA Challenge Cup Final against Derrybeg Celtic in Kerrykeel (having qualified in controversial circumstances from the semi final against Ramelton). However, after twenty minutes of the second half, and trailing 1-0, the ball was accidentally burst. The players from Letterkenny FC left the field and refused to play the remainder of the game with the new ball. This led to a concession of the game and Derrybeg were awarded the cup.
Letterkenny F.C. dropped out of the league the following year and were replaced by Letterkenny Celtic who competed against Swilly Rangers, Cresslough, Cranford and Milford Swifts in the County Donegal Senior League. On 29th Feb 1896, Letterkenny Celtic made it to the cup final themselves to face Derrybeg Celtic but were soundly defeated 5-1.
By the end of the 1890s, the County Donegal Football Association gradually faded away with less teams competing in the competition while in 1905, a ban was placed on Irish men participating in playing the so-called ‘English’ sports of rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket.
However, despite the ban, in the first three decades of the new century, several small clubs participated in occasional friendly matches. “Bonagee F.C.”, “Letterkenny Hearts” and “Letterkenny United” are three such local teams said to have been in existence immediately prior to World War I, while the 1920s saw the “Lily Whites” and the St. Conal’s Hospital Staff teams compete regularly in Summer Cup competitions.
Following the demise of the Letterkenny Rovers Gaelic Football team in August 1927, a “Letterkenny Rovers Association Football Club” played several games at Ballymacool while in January 1938, “Letterkenny Crusaders” were formed, playing their home matches on the ground of Patrick Doherty at the Cricket Meadow, even erecting a pavilion there for spectators, and competing in the Connaught Football Association, which was the controlling body for football in Donegal at this time, but they gradually faded out in the early 1940s.
In November 1947, following a meeting in the Devlin Hall, a new team based at the bottom of the town took the name of “West End United” while in November 1951, “Letterkenny Crusaders” were re-formed and in 1953, they finished runners up to Swilly Rovers in the Donegal League. By 1955 they had their first cup success, winning the Letterkenny Summer Cup and finishing runners up in the Donegal League to Arranmore Hibs. The following year, they won the Lifford Cup defeating their town neighbours West End United 3-2 and once again finished runners up in the Donegal League.
The club name of “Letterkenny Rovers” was revived in May 1957 with the intention of confining membership only to players residing in the town and district, making their debut in the Convoy Summer Cup of 1957 against Drumoghill Hibernians. The Crusaders club officially amalgamated with this new Letterkenny Rovers club with former Crusaders players such as brothers, Eunan and Liam Blake, Charlie ‘Bovril’ Collins and Alphonsus Gallagher helping Rovers win the Letterkenny Summer Cup in 1959. The club purchased land in the Isles from the Crumlish family in the early 1960s, and officially opened their new ground, “Leckview Park”, in 1965. Six years later, the team joined the new Donegal League, founded by Letterkenny man Dick Duffy, and won the league for the first time in 1979/80 and again in 1980/81. Since the formation of the Ulster Senior League in 1986, both Letterkenny Rovers and neighbours Bonagee United (formed in 1970 as Arcade Athletic) have been involved with Letterkenny Rovers winning the league in 2005 and again in 2009.