Thirty years ago today, while the country was giddily anticipating the national football team taking its opening bow on the world stage, the public's attention was briefly diverted by matters domestic as the FAI Cup produced the most novel final pairing in its then 68-year history.

Little St Francis, based in the Liberties, and then competing in the Leinster Senior League, embarked on a spectacular 10-game run to the decider, becoming the first – and only – non-league club to reach the FAI Cup showpiece game.

Qualifying for the First Round proper through their efforts in the longstanding FAI Intermediate Cup, Pete Mahon's team disposed of four League of Ireland outfits, culminating in a sensational upset of Bohemians in the Tolka Park semi-final.

En route, they caught the attention of Rupert Murdoch's new Sky News channel and formally ended the relatively short domestic career of one Roy Keane. (Though Roy was later anxious to deny any memory of the occasion.)

In the final, the first ever to be held at Lansdowne Road, they faced First Division side Bray Wanderers, themselves not long out of junior football.

Bray were a surprise package in the competition and in a normal year might have been cast as romantic outsiders but, next to St Francis, they were cool and experienced aristocrats.

While St Francis were the media darlings and the major story, among the hard-bitten LOI stalwarts, already forced to endure a weekly stream of Eamon Dunphy articles castigating their product, there was considerable anxiety at the prospect of a Leinster Senior League team winning the Cup. 

Bray Wanderers captain Dermot Judge, father of future Ireland international Alan, said that in advance of the big day, rival League of Ireland managers were telling him that he and his team needed to win, for the sake of the league's image. 

Manager Pat Devlin has similar memories. 

 "The last thing the League of Ireland would want is for a non-League side to win the Cup," the former Bray boss told RTÉ Sunday Sport. 

"And we're now representing the whole league because we're a First Division team. But people forgot that five years prior to that, we were a Leinster Senior League team as well." 

Pat Devlin

Bray were odd candidates for the role of evil empire in this match-up.

The Wicklow club had only been elected to the League of Ireland in 1985, winning the First Division in their first season in the senior ranks. Indeed, winning the first First Division ever played, the league having been a one-tier affair until '85.

They were relegated in 1988 and have spent much of the past three decades bobbing up and down between the first and second tiers.

They remained in the First Division in 1989 and 1990, two years when they embarked on big Cup runs.

In '89, an extra train was needed to bring 2,000 Bray supporters down to south to face Cork City in Turner's Cross.. 

Devlin's ultimately lost convincingly after a second replay but they re-focused for another big tilt at the Cup in 1990.

Roy Keane – Irish football A-lister and behemoth - left his imprint on the 1990 FAI Cup competition.

The 18-year old scored his final goal in his penultimate game in domestic football against St Francis in the Second Round and then played his last game in a 3-0 loss in the replay in Baldonnel, an inauspicious farewell to the Irish club game.

Roy would go a bit better and reach the Cup final the following year, albeit sadly for him, this time the decider was staged in Wembley rather than Lansdowne Road.


It wasn’t just St Francis whose Cup run boasted a Roy Keane angle. In their First Round game, Bray Wanderers saw off a little club called Rockmount, the Cork amateur outfit for whom Keane began his underage career.

Amid the blizzard of novel storylines to emerge from the 1990 Cup competition, one which has gotten lost is Bray’s Second Round win over Shelbourne, the first FAI Cup game ever decided on penalties.

Bray edged Galway United – the 1991 winners – thanks to a solitary John Ryan goal in the quarter-final. This teed up a dramatic semi-final against reigning Treble winners Derry City in the Carlisle Grounds.

The hosts went behind early but equalised soon after through Kevin Reynolds and then Alan Smith powered home a header to topple the reigning champions. 

In the other semi, the cameras were on hand to see John Murphy force home a winner for St Francis against stunned favourites Bohemians. 

Given the fairly obscure nature of the participants, the FAI were worried this first ever Lansdowne final would produce a tiny crowd.

As it was, interest in the Liberties and among the junior football fraternity swelled to such an extent that the 1990 match produced the biggest FAI Cup final crowd since 1968.

The 33,000 crowd remained a Lansdowne Road record until it was broken in 2010 when Sligo Rovers triumphed in the newly developed stadium.

The scene after Ryan's second goal

The first sign that the crowd was out of all proportion to what was expected was down on Francis St – the spiritual home of St Francis and the location from which they were to set sail.

The street was wedged and the club had to call for a police escort to help them reach Dublin 4.

Perhaps they all should have been more alert to the possibility of a giant crowd. After all, the media had made St Francis, in particular, a cause celebre in the lead-up.

Both team captains appeared on the Late Late Show that Friday night. One Bray native tells us that Dustin the Turkey had spent the week trumpeting the importance of the game on 'Dempsey’s Den’, though he wore a St Francis rosette all week (the bitterness hasn’t abated yet from our source).  

It wasn't just in inner-city Dublin that interest was intense. Pat Devlin sensed from early on that this novel Cup final had captured the public’s attention.  

"We were looking forward to the game against St Francis and we were looking forward to playing in Lansdowne. Did we think there’d be 33,000 there? No.

"But we did think there was going to be a big crowd. We left from Bray and the amount of people, not just in Bray but all the way out in county Dublin and the southside, it was just unbelievable. And when we got into Ballsbridge, you could see the atmosphere was incredible and the amount of bodies around the place.

"But we still didn’t quite comprehend how big it was when we got into the dressing room. We just wanted to get out and do our warm-up.

"Tony O’Neill came in and he said 'Pat, can I have a word?’ I went outside and he said, 'look, we’re going to have to put off the kick-off time here’. And he showed me up to the monitor and there were thousands of people queuing outside (laughs).

"I said this is unbelievable and said 'Do what you have to do Tony, and I’ll do what I have to do'."

"I have a photograph and we're being introduced to Bertie Ahern before the game and you can see the fear and surprise in our players’ faces"

The 1990 final had been billed as the first all-seater Cup final but they’d had to abandon that ambition, albeit for happy reasons.

The Lansdowne Road terraces were opened to accommodate those thronging outside the ground.

Pete Mahon admits the occasion probably got to his players – who were more used to playing in front of crowds in and around the 100-mark.

"I have a photograph and we’re being introduced to Bertie Ahern before the game and you can see the fear and surprise in our players’ faces. They were absolutely petrified."

The game itself was not close.

John Ryan, "the man who works as a waiter in the Berkeley Court Hotel", scored only the second hat-trick in the history of the Cup final as the League of Ireland club ran out 3-0 winners.

The 22-year old slotted home two penalties either side of a 25-yard screamer in the second half and Bray ran out easy winners.

As Gabriel Egan described the hat-trick hero - "John Ryan, the man who is a waiter in the Berkeley Court Hotel"

"We didn’t start the game too well," remembers Mahon. "The first goal really settled Bray. And then John Ryan got a brilliant second goal. And the penalty then, and sure we were dead, we were flat on our feet at that stage.

"Bray fully deserved to win in the end. And we could identify with Bray. We had good rapport with them. It was great that they beat us if anybody was going to beat us."

How did the landmark victory change Bray Wanderers?

Devlin, who has managed Bray, on and off, for the majority of the past three decades (though more recently he’s become the supremo behind fellow Dart line outfit Cabinteely) says the success didn’t initially change the club as much as they might have thought – or might have hoped.  

"We were thrilled with winning but didn’t realise how the win was going to have affect us. Financially, everybody thought we got a windfall. The windfall was not anywhere near what we thought we were getting.

"Players’ expectations grew. Did the club grow with it? It didn’t really at the time. We got somewhere before our time and we felt could we build on it and make the club a better club. It certainly didn’t happen unfortunately. There was different disagreements and things like that. These things happen in football.

"But it was a fantastic achievement for Bray as a club. To come up from the First Division and win a Cup was unreal. The two questions I was asked many years ago, what I would I like to see Bray? To win one of the major competitions and qualify for Europe. Then, we went on to play Trabzonspor in Turkey and that cost a lot of money at the time."

And what of the subsequent years?

St Francis won a few more Leinster Senior League titles before making, in Mahon’s eyes, a very ill-advised foray into the League of Ireland in the late 1990s, replacing St James’s Gate. This didn't work out and the club returned to the junior ranks in the early noughties, where the silverware dried up. 

Bray, meanwhile, continued to yo-yo between the divisions with bewildering regularity, before book-ending the 1990s with another Cup success, pipping favourites Finn Harps in a three-game saga, with future goal-machine and Ireland international Jason Byrne grabbing the winner in the second replay.

But that first FAI Cup success - in a decider with the most novel and romantic of opponents - is the one which is most lodged in the public mind.