Munster Football Association
On August 24, 1901, a successful meeting of interested Association football clubs was held at the Referees Hall, Marlboro Street, Cork at which the Munster Football Association was formed. For twenty years prior to that the emergence of soccer was noted in the press and accounts of games played throughout the province in places as far apart as Cork City, Lismore, Mallow, Fermoy, Buttevant, Carrick on Suir and Waterville were published. However, the vast majority of matches went unreported and there were sufficient numbers playing the foreign game to be considered a threat to national games.
The Munster Football Association affiliated to the IFA (Irish Football Association) based in Belfast. Three divisions operated in Munster with the top grade being dominated by British Army Regiments stationed in the ports and towns of Cork. Civilian teams greatly outnumbered the Army and Navy regiments but apart from Cork Celtic FC (winners of the Munster Cup in 1903) never threatened their dominance. After the outbreak of World War 1 the administrators of the MFA, mistakenly, felt that soccer would not survive without the departing servicemen and brought the game to a halt between 1914-18. Just like the teams which predated the birth of the Association many others emerged to participate in unregulated football throughout the hiatus which was prolonged by another four years because of the civil unrest.
In 1922 a split between the IFA and the LFA (Leinster FA) eventually led to the founding of the FAIFS (Football Association of the Irish Free State). Understandably, Munster terminated their relationship to the parent body and affiliated to the new Free State organisation. The reformed MFA was founded on 19 March 1922 and its first season was of brief duration. Nine teams, Tipperary Town, Tipperary Wanderers, Cahir, Clonmel, Barrackton, Fordsons, Clifton, YMCA and Limerick, competed in two sections. Barrackton won the Going and Smith Cup (Southern section) and Cahir the Elvery Cup (Northern section). The resultant play-off between Barrackton and Cahir resulted in the Cork team taking the Chirnside Charity Shield. Reinvigorated, the Munster Senior League began its first full season with ten teams in the southern section and eight in the northern. Also a new Munster Junior League attracted eleven entrants. The Waterford District League was formed in 1924. Soccer blossomed in Limerick as well in the mid-twenties and linked with Tipperary based teams to form the North Munster League which included teams from Clare. Throughout the following decades leagues changed their titles and borders and jurisdictions were extended to cater for the development of the game in the province.
There was no shortage of quality and intermediate side; Fordsons were finalists in the 1924 Free State Senior Cup and, two years later (1926), as a League of Ireland team defeated Shamrock Rovers to bring the trophy to Munster for the first time. Bohs (Cork) won the FAI intermediate Cup in 1928, a feat equalled by Cahir Park in 1930. Expansion continued into the thirties with large numbers of new affiliations, particularly in rural areas, adding spice to all competitions. The Free State Minor (FAI Youth) Cup was inaugurated in 1935 and the honour of being its first winner was Cork side Greenmount Rangers. Waterford soccer enjoyed a purple patch in the late thirties with Tramore Rookies winning the FAI Intermediate Cup in ‘35, Waterford the Senior Cup (‘37) and Evergreen Minor Cup (‘39).
At the AGM of the MFA in 1934 the secretary reported that despite having record affiliations of 103 teams only six competed in the Munster Senior League. Consequently, the MFA requested permission from the FAI to impose their own grading on teams. After approval was received, they then put the gun to the heads of the five top junior teams who were instructed to upgrade or stand suspended. Reluctantly, the chosen five “walked the plank” but within five years the situation became more perilous as the 1939-40 season ended with just four teams playing senior football. Another remedy to save the ailing league was the decision to include the Inter-house teams in the senior grade and it was accomplished by abandoning the senior and junior leagues which were replaced by Regional Leagues Section A (senior) and B. Unfortunately, the Munster Senior League continued to be provincial in name only and it would be the early seventies before the perseverance of their ambitious administration managed to attract a constant stream of new entrants. However, it was far from ideal that senior status became achievable by application or invitation rather than promotion. Travelling to Cork every other week was a mitigating factor in the failure of the top teams in the province upgrading. Most of those from outside the “Pale” who had brief flirtations with the senior league went on to become champions including Waterford Celtic, Waterford, Tramore Rookies, Pike Rovers, Tycor Athletic (x 3) and Limerick FC B.
In the early forties, thousands left our country to fight in World War 2 and a feature of war time soccer was that in Munster prominent teams disappeared overnight and returned within a few years. Travel restrictions resulted in the Munster Junior Cup competition being suspended for three years while the Minor equivalent was restricted to Cork teams.
In 1947 the fourteen team Cork AUL, which went on to become the second biggest league in the county, was founded to cater for the huge appetite for the game on Leeside. It was a similar story in Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary and Clare where the return to normality and the improving economic conditions resulted in a great demand for sport.
Continued progress was reported throughout the fifties and sixties. Inter-firm soccer was very popular in all counties during the summer season. While in Cork the Shipping League (now the Business League) catered throughout the regular season for firms who wanted to play soccer on a regular basis. An indication of the strength of soccer in Munster was that when the National Junior Inter League competition (Oscar Traynor Trophy) was inaugurated in 1964 it was won by the Waterford District League who retained the trophy in 1965. Cork AUL won it in 1966 and the Limerick District League in 1968. The Shannonsiders had reason to celebrate on the double as their youths became the first winners of the National Inter League Trophy. There was reason for the MFA to rejoice in 1971 as the Kerry District League began with eight teams. Prior to that Kerry teams played in the Desmond League. The league grew and by the early eighties the number of teams had trebled, and Kerry began to make an impression in outside competitions like the Oscar Traynor Cup, FAI Junior Cup and Munster Junior Cups. The arrival of Jack Charlton and the success of the Irish team led to unprecedented growth with the league expanding to four divisions of twelve teams and also a very successful Schoolboys League was set up. That ensured the future of the game in the Kingdom was secured. Lismore, where soccer was played as early as 1877, was the base where the West Waterford and East Cork League began in 1971 and affiliated in 1999 after which it went from strength to strength.
The old Tipperary League was disbanded in 1977 to make way for the North Tipperary & District League and the Tipperary Southern and District League. While in West Cork, the home of Gaelic football, a bunch of enthusiasts had the audacity to launch the West Cork League in 1978. At last, there was good news for the Munster Senior League with entries reaching the high teens.
Since the founding of the association in 1922 hardly a year has gone by without a Munster team contesting a national final. The FAI intermediate Cup has been won by Munster teams 23 times. Avondale, with seven wins, have been the most successful while Cahir Park 1930 and Tramore Rookies (1935) are the only non-Cork sides to win it. The FAI Youth Cup has been won by Munster sides on 25 occasions and the most significant victory has to be that of Tralee Dynamos in 1928. Undoubtedly, the toughest of all national competitions is the FAI Junior Cup. It has come to the province on twenty-one occasions. In 1936 Evergreen (Cork) became the first from the province to win the Blue Riband of Amateur Football and Fairview Rangers (Limerick) are the record holders with an amazing eight triumphs. Sadly, seventy-one years have passed since a Cork team secured the elusive trophy.
Soccer is the biggest participation sport in the country and the Munster Football Association plays a huge role in promoting and helping the growth of the game. There are currently 13 leagues and over 800 teams affiliated to the Association…,
The MFA headquarters is at Turners Cross, Cork which is a modern 7,000 capacity stadium with seating on the four sides of the ground and floodlight facilities.
Written by Plunkett Carter (July 2016)