Cliftonville’s Irish Cup history carries no shortage of unorthodox, often laughable twists and turns – and it could just be that the Club’s propensity for the bizarre in the famous competition can be traced back to this very day 139 years ago.
For it was on January 14, 1882 that the Reds locked horns with Avoniel in a first round tie that finished 2-2 and set up a replay at Cliftonville Cricket Ground the following month.
When that encounter ended 0-0, a third meeting appeared on the cards until the Irish Football Association decreed that both teams could progress to the next round to ensure a full quota of participants at the quarter-final stage after Strabane had withdrawn from the tournament by virtue of a no-show for their scheduled replay against Castlederg.
Cliftonville duly recorded a comfortable 2-0 win over Knock to reach the semi-finals – where they were almost inevitably paired with Avoniel again.
The east Belfast side had negotiated some minor controversy to qualify for the last-four when, following a goalless draw with Distillery, they overcame the Whites 3-1 in a replay only to be ordered to contest a re-match due to that game only lasting 86 minutes.
It was at the third time of asking, therefore, that Avoniel – who had by this stage played five games over just two rounds of Irish Cup action – won 1-0 to book a semi-final against a Cliftonville side with whom they had already drawn twice in previous rounds.
It goes without saying that the game finished level, 1-1 on this occasion, meaning that the Reds and Avoniel would reconvene for their FOURTH meeting of the competition… only for that, too, to end in a draw. 0-0 this time.
A second replay eventually yielded a winner at the fifth time of asking as Cliftonville recorded a 2-0 success to end the run of stalemates and qualify for the Final, where Queen’s Island – given a bye to the decider when Castlederg (whose first round cancellation had started the fixture chaos in the first place) failed to report for semi-final duty – won 1-0 to condemn the Reds to a second consecutive Final defeat.
An addendum to this particular quirk of Club history is that, having grown familiar with one another throughout the 1882 Irish Cup, Cliftonville and Avoniel would never meet again; these five fixtures (four of which finished all-square) being the only times the Reds would ever cross paths with the Mountpottinger Road outfit.
Cliftonville and Avoniel’s 1882 Irish Cup Runs
First Round: Cliftonville 2-2 Avoniel
First Round Replay: Cliftonville 0-0 Avoniel (IFA allows both Clubs into next round)
Quarter-Final: Knock 0-2 Cliftonville
Quarter-Final: Avoniel 1-1 Distillery
Quarter-Final Replay: Avoniel 3-1 Distillery (Result voided due to game only lasting 86 minutes)
Second Quarter-Final Replay: Avoniel 1-0 Distillery
Semi-Final: Cliftonville 1-1 Avoniel
Semi-Final Replay: Cliftonville 0-0 Avoniel
Second Semi-Final Replay: Cliftonville 2-0 Avoniel
Final: Queen’s Island 1-0 Cliftonville