Shamrock S.C., the largest of the four pre-dominantly Irish clubs in the 80-year-old Cosmopolitan Soccer League, are sitting pretty in the First Division, undefeated since last October and in strong contention for their first-ever championship.
The Queens side is also two victories away from bagging the League Cup for the third time in four years, while the Shamrock second team has a better than even chance of capturing the reserve title.
Club secretary John Guildea, who as a member of the coaching staff helped lead the Rocks to League Cup victories in 1999 and 2000, attributes the Irishmen’s brilliant form this year to the talent on the roster.
“When they have all the players out, they’re the best team in the league,” he said.
It’s an array of skillful, determined footballers who have won the unabashed admiration of some of the league’s top managers with their free-flowing passing game.
The Billy Henderson-coached squad, which is second on the table (7-2-1, 22 points) a point behind Pancyprian Freedoms, oozes talent in many positions.
You can start in goal, where Jim Keady, the former St. John’s University assistant coach and anti-sweatshop crusader, rules.
“A very safe man in the nets,” Guildea touts Big Jim, who has played his part in helping Shamrock eke out the second-best defensive record in the First Division.
The Rocks have conceded just 12 goals in 10 games, a stat better than all the clubs in the top flight apart from Pancyprian’s rumored semi-pros.
Along with Keady, credit for this should go to a backline in which the ageless Paul Wilson, a 42-year-old sweeper who has been with the club for two decades, and Bingo O’Driscoll have been pillars of strength.
Guildea raves over O’Driscoll, a Kerry Gaelic star in his other athletic pursuit. “He’s an outstanding defender.”
The Shamrock midfield and attack is dominated by sharpshooters like Paddy Gerathy, Anton McKeon, David Fitzgerald, and Tim Cummings, who returned before the winter break from a potentially season-ending ankle injury suffered early in the fall.
Then there’s Jamaican-born marksman Hughie Daly, whose 11 goals from 12 starts in league and cup football is surpassed only by veteran Albanian marksman Tony Camaj’s 12 strikes for Pancyprian.
By Guildea’s estimation, Shamrock’s depth is such that the only challenge to greatness for the club this season is getting a full team out every Sunday.
Dave “Scotty” Shevlin, a Shamrock fringe player in the 1960s and club president for the last 12 years, says the Rocks are enjoying their best season ever.
“We’ve been very competitive and it’s given us a chance to become the first Shamrock side to top the Cosmopolitan League,” he said.
It’s also given the club added importance, notes Shevlin, and helped lift spirits after the loss of thousands of dollars worth of equipment as well as invaluable trophies, record books and mementos in the fire that gutted Shamrock’s old clubhouse at J.J. Gilligan’s in Sunnyside, Queens, two years ago.
“We’ve come through some trials and tribulations but somehow have managed to survive,” the 68-year-old president added, while thanking his executive and the coaching staff for the recent success.
The club has since set up home at, and come under the support of, another Sunnyside establishment, The Voyage.
Shamrock started off in 1960 as a rugby club. They played their first game in Central Park but quickly switched to soccer.
Among the old Shamrock favorites are Hughie O’Malley, an assistant trainer with the 1994 U.S. World Cup team; former Irish youth internationals Robbie Kilbane, Kevin Daly and Tom McPhillips; one-time European Cup vets Frank Campbell, Paul Whelan, Richie Blackmore, and the enduring Paul Wilson.
Before the current campaign, the Queens outfit enjoyed its most successful run in the league in 1998-99, when it finished fourth in its rookie season in the First Division. At the end of that season, Shamrock edged New York Albanians, 4-3 on penalties, to lift the League Cup for the first time. They then became the first club in the CSL history to successfully defend the League Cup when they pipped Koha, 1-0, in Woodbridge, N.J., in June 2000.
The Rocks’ other major highlights include hosting the Irish Olympic team in 1989.
Now fielding four teams in the Cosmopolitan League, the level of organization at the club is such that its boasts of some 250 members. They are enthusiastic supporters who are lauded by Shevlin as being the cornerstone of the club. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to have up to 100 people watching the first team in action or for the club to charter a bus for big away matches.
More than 100 fans watched the Rocks beat New York Dinamo, 4-1, at Downing Stadium to clinch the Second Division title in the last game of the 1997-98 season.
Shamrock’s relatively large following can probably be attributed in part to the fact that they can claim to have long established the model, at least in New York, for the Irish soccer/social club.
There’s a Shamrock network for finding people work, an annual summer family day in Sunnyside Gardens with such attractions as children’s races and a 5-a-side soccer tournaments, a Christmas party for kids where presents are donated for charity, and a picnic.
“We’re not just a football club,” said Shevlin, a retired physical education teacher who taught both in London and New York. “Shamrock is a social club where people from back home can come together and call it a home from home.”