Drogheda United was founded as a junior club in 1919. The club entered the Dundalk and District League for the 1919/1920 season, and within two years were champions.
Moves to the Leinster Senior League and Sunday Alliance League helped the club challenge for the major junior football trophies. Initially playing their games in Magdalene Park, they moved to the Showgrounds and then on to United Park in 1927. In 1933 a Drogheda United minor team was formed before evolving into the seniors. The squad included future Drogs legends Danny O’Neill, Joe Mulally, brothers Tom and Sean Munster, and Dessie Fagan.
In 1953 the town became the new home of Father Kevin Connolly, a native of Ravensdale, Dundalk. His arrival was to be a significant turning point in the future development of sport in Drogheda, with Fr Connolly being best remembered amongst Drogheda United supporters today due to his direct involvement in the setting up of Drogheda FC in 1962. Fr Connolly’s infectious enthusiasm was a key factor, and without it, arguably there would be no senior soccer club in the town, with the building of the Lourdes Stadium owing a lot of its development to him.
On Saturday June 1963, Drogheda FC were elected to the League of Ireland, finishing in the bottom three in their first four competitive league seasons. Progress was slow in those initial years, with 5th, 6th and 9th place finishes following, but in June 1969 Mick Meagan signed on as player-manager. At the beginning of 1971 Drogheda lay bottom of the table. In mid-January the ‘Halifax Four’ signed on loan from Halifax Town; Dave Shawcross, Pat Cullen, Dave Verrity and Dick Jacenuik, primarily to play a role in that year’s FAI Cup. On the way to the final Drogheda FC knocked out cup favourites Shamrock Rovers, before eventually being beaten 3-0 in the Cup Final replay by Limerick.
In May 1973 Meagan chose to leave the club (John Cowan replaced him) along with another great servant in Ronnie Whelan. In Meagan’s three seasons in charge the team had finished 13th, 11th, and bottom of the league table (in a 14-team league). Even though league form had never been great Meagan’s sides performed admirably in cup competitions.
At the end of the 1974/1975 season John Cowan left the club by ‘mutual consent’. In his two years in charge he had reached the semi-final of the Leinster Senior Cup two years running, finished 11th and 9th in the league, as well as getting to the semi-final of the FAI Cup, before suffering a shattering loss to Munster Senior League side Cobh Ramblers the following year in the cup.
1975 saw the amalgamation of Drogheda United and Drogheda FC, leading to the formation of Drogheda United FC. Drogheda’s 1976 cup performances that year set them up for their second cup final appearance, this time against Bohemians, but unfortunately another final appearance was to lead to heartache for Jimmy McAlinden’s men.
On August 12th, 1979, United Park was officially opened, and Drogheda United FC had their new home, leaving their spiritual home of ‘The Lourdes Stadium’. An inconsistent 1981/1982 season saw Ray Treacy’s team finish in 11th place. The following year Treacy was piecing together a squad of players who many felt could achieve great things. However, on Sunday 19th December Treacy resigned following a 0-0 draw with Shamrock Rovers which had been billed as a ‘six-pointer’ as both teams were in the title hunt, with Treacy becoming increasingly disillusioned with happenings within United Park’s corridors. 32-year old Tony Macken agreed to replace Treacy as manager and a run of just 1 defeat in the remaining 12 league games left Drogheda with a real chance of achieving European qualification for the first time in the club’s history. The ‘Drogheda Independent’ summed the season up perfectly, “A season littered with controversy and frustration ended gloriously”. Drogheda United were heading to Europe! Drogheda truly were in the big-time, having been drawn against Tottenham Hotspur. Alas, a 14-0 aggregate score brought everyone back down to earth.
The 1982/1983 league season was nothing short of a disaster but a league cup run saw them face Athlone Town, the reigning league champions, in the final at Tolka Park. Many expected a tough encounter but those at the game remember that Drogheda were convincing winners. After twenty-one years in League Of Ireland football captain Matt Bradley raised aloft Drogheda’s first piece of silverware.
The LOI was a changing league in 1984, with it being announced that for the 1985/1986 season a second tier (or a Division Two league) would be created. In late May Tony Reilly was announced as Tony Macken’s successor. Drogheda failed to win promotion in the 1985/1986 season, finishing in a mid-table position. Reilly was sacked, with Mick Lawlor appointed as the fourth manager in as many years. Shortly after his appointment the then relatively unknown Brian Kerr became Lawlor’s assistant. It was to prove an ill-fated spell for both. By the end of the 1986/1987 season, with Ciaran Maher as player-manager, the team was only just pipped for promotion and consolidated 3rd place in the league. The following year Arthur Brady was appointed manager, but the season never panned out the way that Brady wanted, with his side finishing 5th from bottom. The 1988/1989 season saw 30-year old Synan Braddish coming in as manager following Brady’s decision to step down.
1989 was to the beginning of a strange phenomenon for the club known as ‘yo-yoing’. From 1989 until 2002, the club was known as a ‘yo-yo’ club simply meaning that from when it got promoted in 1989, it began a cycle of relegation followed by promotion, although this cycle was briefly broken at times throughout this period. Thankfully, Drogheda United do not hold the world record for this ‘yo-yoing’, as Cyrpiot side Aris of Lemesos hold that distinction with a run of ten consecutive moves between its league’s top two divisions.
Drogheda’s promotion led to immediate relegation, although the following year the side went on an unbeaten league promotion run that only ended with two minutes of the league season to go. Manager Liam Brien was an individual who divided opinion amongst fans and he was to be replaced by an equally divisive figure in Pat Devlin. In mid-November 1993 (following an appalling run of results) Devlin resigned as manager, following a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Dundalk, which came off the back of a 4-1 drubbing from St Pats.
1919 - 2019
In November 1993 the legendary 53-year old Jim McLaughlin became the new Drogheda United manager. One of McLaughlin’s aims when he took over was to avoid relegation, but another was to strengthen a squad lacking confidence and a cutting edge in front of goal. Like the three previous seasons Drogheda’s fate was decided on the final day of the season, as they faced Cobh Ramblers at home. They lost 1-0 and were relegated. In early 1995 promotion was once against secured. The next few years would see a huge turnover of managers with Anto Whelan, Martin Lawlor and Eddie May all trying (and failing) to bring success to the club. However, Lawlor’s decision to appoint Harry McCue as his assistant was to be a major turning point in the club’s history.
In 2000 Drogheda United went back to their roots in their search for a new manager following the departure of Eddie May, promoting from within. Harry McCue, assistant to both May and Lawlor, was given the role. McCue, without much option as a result of the club tightening their purse strings, was forced to rely largely on young local talent.
The history books will show that the 2000/2001 season was the worst in Drogheda United’s history. It took the team until November to record their first win while finding themselves bottom of the table at the end of January. The penultimate game was against St Francis (who they were battling with to finish 2nd bottom) at United Park. Drogheda won, surviving the indignity of seeking re-election to the league as officially the worst team in the LOI.
After relying largely on local talent for the 2000/2001 season McCue strengthened his squad considerably for the forthcoming 2001/2002 season, bringing in no less than twelve new players. Three teams stood in the way of McHue’s ambitions to get promoted; Finn Harps, Waterford United and the recently-formed Dublin City. However, despite the odds seemingly being against them, McCue’s side went up as champions.
The 2002/2003 season saw highs (going top of the Premier Division for the first time since 1984) and many lows. Undoubtedly two of the lows were being sucked into the relegation/promotion play-off, and the departure of a number of full-time professionals before the play-offs. Drogheda had to play First Division Cobh Ramblers in a two-legged semi-final, with the Drogs running out 4-2 aggregate winners. Drogheda were to find out quickly that Galway United were a completely different kind of opposition, losing 2-0 in the 1st Leg.
Even the most biased of supporters couldn’t have predicted what was to happen on Saturday 8th February in the return leg, a 3-0 extra-time win for McCue’s men, a match that lives on in the memories of all supporters there that day.
Unfortunately for Harry McCue matters on the pitch didn’t improve enough the following season for the Board and he was sacked. A truly enjoyable, yet slightly frustrating, period in Drogheda United’s history had come to an end. The decision to sack McCue surprised few, but no matter how anyone felt about him in the weeks leading up to his dismissal, there was little ill-feeling towards him following his departure. Who could forget all that Harry had done for the club?
UCD manager Paul Doolin replaced McCue as manager and immediately set about bringing professional standards to all aspects of the club. Doolin’s near-5 year tenure in charge was to lead to unprecedented success for the club, with an FAI Cup win in 2005, followed by two Setanta Cup wins and then the Holy Grail, delivering the club’s first league championship in 2007. European campaigns became the norm, the standout games being an 11-10 penalty shoot-out defeat against IK Start and coming within a whisker of knocking the mighty Dynamo Kiev out of the Champions League.
The darkest period of the club’s history was to occur in October 2008 when examinership hit. The club’s plans for a new state-of-the art stadium fell through, leading to unprecedented financial difficulties. However, like before, the club survived, primarily due to its supporters, the life-blood of the club, who raised vast amounts of money to stave off the threat of extinction.
The club was forced to change from a full-time set-up to a part-time one, leading to increasing difficulties. Alan Mathews took over the management reins, and after an incredibly difficult league campaign, a 2-0 relegation play-off over Bray Wanderers secured the team’s place in the Premier Division for another season. However, the 2010 season was to prove disastrous, and following a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Sligo Rovers, Mathews resigned. Darius Kierans, Paul Lumsden, Brian Donnelly and Bobby Browne were all individually technically ‘manager’ at one stage over the course of the next few months (don’t ask), but regardless, the team was relegated, only to earn a reprieve due to Sporting Fingal withdrawing from the league.
Mick Cooke took over as manager in February 2011, becoming the sixth manager in nine months. Robbie Horgan, like Cooke an ex-Drogheda player, came in as assistant manager. Despite having the lowest budget in the league, Cooke produced a miracle by keeping the club in the Premier Division, leading to him signing a three-year deal to stay on as manager. On 23 September 2012, Drogheda won the League Cup, beating Shamrock Rovers 3–1, their first trophy since the league championship win of 2007. A 2–1 victory over Sligo Rovers at the end of the season saw Drogheda United qualify for the Europa League, a mere 4 years after nearly going out of extinction.
2013 saw Drogheda reach three domestic finals…unfortunately losing all three, with Shamrock Rovers beating them in both the Setanta and League Cup finals, while losing to Sligo Rovers 3-2 in the FAI Cup Final. Unfortunately a breakdown in the relationship between Mick Cooke and the club’s board led to his departure at the end of that season.
Following Cooke’s departure Robbie Horgan, Darius Kierans, Damien Richardson, John McDonnell, Pete Mahon and current manager Tim Clancy have all had spells in the dugout. Who knows where the club will be in another 100 years from now, but one thing is for sure, if it’s anything like the last 100 years, it’s going to be very interesting.