A cap won by Denis Hannon during the 1924 Olympics.

Athlone quintet’s place in history moves closer to official recognition

Five Athlone Town players could soon be officially confirmed as being part of Ireland’s first senior international football team.

The FAI has said it is considering formally recognising the Irish football team in the Paris Olympics of 1924 as full internationals.

It would mean that Athlone man Denis Hannon would be in the record books as Ireland’s first captain, alongside team mates Tommy Muldoon, from Athlone; John Joe Dykes, from Sligo and Paddy O’Reilly, from Dublin. A fifth Athlone Town player, Frank Ghent, another Athlonian, lined out with the other four in the second game of the Olympic tournament.

In a statement to the Westmeath Independent, the FAI said: “This is something the FAI will consider and we will raise it with our centenary committee.”

Ireland played two games in the football tournament at the 1924 Olympics (a 1-0 defeat of Bulgaria) and a 2-1 defeat (after extra time) to the Netherlands. A friendly in Paris against Estonia followed as did another in Dublin against USA, on the latter’s return from the Olympics.

The games were regarded at the time by both FIFA and the Football Association of the Free State (FAIFS – the then name of the FAI) as full internationals, but over the years they slipped from the record books, with most sources citing Ireland’s game away to Italy in March 1926 as the first international.

In 1999, FIFA ruled that all Olympic Games football matches between 1908 and 1940 were regarded as full internationals but the FAI has yet to formally acknowledge the games.

A decision do so would confirm that Ireland’s first two international captains were Athlone Town players, that four Athlone players were part of the first international team and that five players from the club lined out together in Ireland’s second official international.

For the Olympics, a squad of 16 players, including five players from each of Athlone Town, Bohemians and St James’s Gate, as well as a lone representative from Brooklyn, a then League of Ireland club, travelled to France in late May for the tournament.

Disagreements over the definition of amateurism had meant that the UK football associations did not participate in the Olympic Games. Nonetheless, the football tournament, comprising 22 teams, was a major event in the history of the sport.

On May 28, Ireland went into action against Bulgaria. Both sides had received a bye in the opening round and the winner of the second-round clash was guaranteed a quarter-final spot. Ireland lined up in blue jerseys with white shorts and black stockings with blue tops.

Captaining the side was 36-year-old Athlone solicitor Denis Hannon, a vastly experienced inside-forward who had spent most of his career with Bohemians. Just two months previously he had scored the winning goal as his hometown club Athlone Town secured the Free State Cup (now the FAI Cup).

Paddy Duncan registered the game’s only goal on 75 minutes to qualify Ireland for a quarter-final against Holland. In the only change to the side that defeated Bulgaria, Frank Ghent replaced Joe Kendrick at inside-left, bringing Athlone’s representation to five players, with Hannon again captain.

The Dutch raced into an early lead through Feyenoord striker Formenoy on seven minutes, but Ireland equalised when Ghent netted following a Murray corner. In the first period of extra-time, Formenoy struck again for what transpired to be the winner.

Out of the tournament, the Irish lined out for a friendly against Estonia the following day. The four players from the original squad of 16 who had yet to feature were all included. Goals from Muldoon, Duncan and Robinson ensured a 3–1 victory for a side captained by Athlone player John Joe Dykes.

The USA team stopped off in Dublin on their return from Paris to take part in an international friendly. The game on June 14 resulted in a number of changes of personnel, with players who did not make the Paris trip added to the team. Muldoon, who was born in Longford, but moved to Athlone as a child, was the sole Athlone Town player in that game, in which Ireland triumphed 3-1.