Irish Cup history will be made at Solitude tomorrow night when Cliftonville step out to face Portstewart in their long-awaited first round tie.
For the Reds will become the only Club to have featured in all 141 seasons of the competition’s existence, with fellow record holders Lisburn Distillery not involved in this season’s 32-team tournament.
Cliftonville’s first ever Irish Cup fixture was a 2-0 victory over near neighbours Oldpark on February 5, 1881 – Hannay and Davison the scorers – ahead of two games being required to see off Knock at the semi-final stage; a 2-1 success following an initial 2-2 draw.
That booked the Reds’ place in the inaugural Irish Cup Final, where a 1-0 loss to Moyola Park proved the first of two successive setbacks at the competition’s decisive stage.
Though Queen’s Island would also bank a 1-0 win in the 1882 decider, Cliftonville’s route through that year’s tournament was perhaps most notable for a frankly absurd sequence of meetings with Avoniel, which arguably kick-started the Club’s propensity for the bizarre where the Cup is concerned.
After drawing 2-2 in the first round, the sides convened for a replay at Cliftonville Cricket Ground. 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could progress to the next round to ensure a full quota of participants at the quarter-final stage after Strabane had withdrawn by virtue of a no-show for their scheduled replay against Castlederg.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 – lifted the trophy.
The Reds finally got their hands on the silverware at the third time of asking thanks to a comprehensive 5-0 defeat of Ulster in the 1883 Final – the first of eight triumphs in the competition (main image).
Tomorrow’s clash with Portstewart will be Cliftonville’s 350th fixture in the Irish Cup, with 81 different opponents faced across a 140 year run that has seen the Club reach the Final on 20 occasions, with the most recent victory coming in the 1979 decider against Portadown, which came 42 years ago this Wednesday.
Cliftonville’s Irish Cup Record
P165 W93 D28 L44 F389 A214
P184 W60 D34 L90 F237 A311
P349 W153 D62 L134 F626 A525