Ards 6 v 0 Coleraine - Ulster Cup
at Castlereagh Park, Newtownards - Saturday, 8th September, 1973
By Adrian Monaghan
If there was one match that encapsulated the great Ards side of 1973/74, then this was surely it.
The swagger, the flair, the slick passing that we associate with that team were all on show in
abundance. The display of the team in this particular game is considered by many to be the most
complete performance ever of that great side.
What made the result all the more remarkable was that opponents Coleraine were one of the top sides in Irish football at the time and actually went on to become league champions at the end of the season. They had, in manager Bertie Peacock, one of the shrewdest tacticians in the game. Bertie was an articulate and intelligent manager, but at 4.45pm he was left speechless and totally bewildered after witnessing his star turns being absolutely destroyed, in what could be best described as a masterclass in the art of football.
The normally placid Peacock was seen by supporters pacing up and down the unreserved terracing at the end of the game. His brain must have been mush as it tried to compute the goings-on of the previous couple of hours. Maybe he could not see it back then, but in the cold light of day what he had witnessed was, in fact, an exhibition of the ‘total football’ style of play that the great Ajax and Dutch national side had pioneered at this time.
Castlereagh Park was bathed in glorious sunshine as the team emerged from the pavilion. Amazingly the first forty five minutes of this game gave no indication of how the final score would pan out. The talented Coleraine side probably gave as good as they got in the first period and were a little unlucky to go in at the interval 1-0 down. Industrious midfielder Lee Clarke and right winger Sean Mullan were just off target with a couple of decent efforts early on, while goalkeeper Eddie Crossan had to be alert to save a fine attempt from Billy McAvoy.
Ards had a scare when goalkeeper Dennis Matthews collided with Dessie Dickson and was left
writhing in pain on the floor, but after some treatment he was able to resume his duties in nets. The patched up Matthews hobbled back to his goals, but showed no ill effects as he made a fine save from an Ivan Murray free kick soon after. The game was still fairly even as we approached the half-time break, when the elusive and brilliant Dessie Cathcart put McAvoy away in the forty third minute. McAvoy fired past Murray but his effort hit the post and came back into play. The ever alert Denis Guy, sharp as a tack, was on to the rebound like a flash though to put Ards 1-0 up at the break.
With manager Peacock’s pep talk still ringing in their ears, Coleraine emerged from the break as a side full of grand ideas, but whatever those were we will never know, as they were shot to pieces within thirty seconds as Ards doubled their lead through Ronnie McAteer.
With his right foot Ronnie took control of a forward lob from Ray Mowat, juggled the ball on to his left, and while Crossan in the Coleraine goals was wondering what he was going to do next, McAteer let fly with a shot that the goalkeeper only glimpsed as it came past him on the way out of the net again.
This fine piece of individual skill inspired the Ards forward line and they all decided then that they wanted in on the action. Ards began to bombard the visitors’ goal. Coleraine, whose defence was normally rock solid, were all over the place as they tried to cope with the rapid, interlinking play of the home side. Main architect of the Ards onslaught was wing wizard Dessie Cathcart who completely bamboozled the opposition with his close control and ball artistry; he was going around Coleraine defenders as if they were not there.
Cathcart’s inspirational approach play was creating numerous chances that had to lead to further goals, and the third strike of the afternoon duly arrived on sixty seven minutes. This time the marksman was Billy McAvoy, who scrambled in his effort after the Coleraine defenders struggled to clear their lines.
A minute later and Ards were denied what looked like a stonewall penalty when Denis Guy was
pushed inside the penalty box. Referee Tom Perry was perhaps taking pity on the visitors, but he
just had to award a penalty a few seconds later when teenage full back Ronnie Cromie was
unceremoniously dumped inside the box by a clearly frustrated Johnny McCurdy. McAvoy drilled
home the spot kick to put Ards 4-0 up.
The fans were drooling at this exhibition of possession football, the team were caressing the ball as if it were a loved one, and Coleraine could not get anywhere near it. The Bannsiders were camped well inside their own half, with no sign of any respite. They just could not get hold of the ball as the skilful Ards side switched play from right to left then from left to right again. This was an Ards side at the height of their game and on this sort of form there was not a team in the whole of Ireland that could touch them.
Goal number five arrived on sixty eight minutes when player-manager Billy Humphries, who by his own high standards was having a fairly quiet day, finished off a neat move which saw McAteer and Guy ghost through the visitors’ rear-guard with an exquisite exhibition of passing football.
Coleraine’s agony was not over yet as Ards added a sixth with nine minutes remaining. It was fitting that it should come from the boot of the brilliantly talented Dessie Cathcart, who had done much to bring about Coleraine’s downfall. From its inception to its execution, the goal epitomised everything that was good in Cathcart’s game. The fleet of foot winger took a touch just inside the Coleraine half, then proceeded to run at the Bannsiders’ defence. Feigning to cut inside he instead found Humphries with a short pass; Billy instinctively returned the ball to Cathcart who immediately whipped in an unstoppable left foot shot from twenty yards that ripped past Crossan.
‘Slaughter in the sun’ was how Bill Ireland put it in the Ireland’s Saturday Night, adding: ‘It was an
afternoon of torture and torment for Coleraine who just did not belong on the same park as Ards.’ Ronnie McAteer agreed that this performance was one of the finest of that era:
“Coleraine were a very, very good side but they could not live with us that day. We were a very
attack minded side with Dennis Guy up front, Billy McAvoy just off him and me on the right with
Dessie Cathcart on the left, we always played with four up front, not forgetting Humphries
prompting behind us.
A lot of players just hit form at the right time, everybody seemed to be peaking together, well maybe Nicky (Billy Nixon) and the gaffer (Billy Humphries) had peaked a few years before! We liked
knocking the ball around and we didn’t mind conceding because we knew we had lots of goals in us. Everything came together at the one time and maybe it was just meant to be for that one season.”
Ards- D.Matthews, D.Johnston, R.Cromie, R.Mowat, D.McCoy, S.Patterson, R.McAteer, B.McAvoy,
D.Guy, B.Humphries, D.Cathcart. Sub-M.Patton for Johnston.
Coleraine- E.Crossan, J.McCurdy, E.McNutt, L.Clarke, A.Campbell, I.Murray, S.Mullan, B.Jennings,
R.Peacock, D.Dickson, L.Butcher. Sub K.McCandless.
Referee- Mr. Tom Perry (Newtownabbey).