Founded in 1919, the original Drogheda United was a non-league club for all of the early years of its existence, but in 1963 another Drogheda Club, Drogheda FC (founded in 1962) was elected to the League of Ireland when the league was expanded to include twelve teams rather than ten. In its first season, the club finished tenth and in each of the next three seasons it also finished in the bottom three. In the 1967-68 season Drogheda FC achieved a respectable fifth place finish and the following season finished in sixth place. When the league expanded to include fourteen teams, the club dropped down the table again, finishing in the bottom five in each of the next six seasons. It did, however, get to FAI Cup Final that season where it was beaten 3-0 by Limerick FC.
In 1975 Drogheda FC amalgamated with Drogheda United to form Drogheda United FC and the 1975-76 season saw an improvement in fortunes on the field as the club finished sixth in the league and also reached the FAI Cup Final for the second time, this time losing 1-0 to Bohemians.
The 1982/83 season saw Drogheda achieving their highest ever league placing as runners-up to Athlone Town and securing European football for the first time ever. The club came up against English giants Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Cup First Round. The eventual champions went on to beat Drogheda United 14-0 on aggregate.
The 1984-85 season saw the introduction of the FAI First Division to begin the following season with Drogheda United among the four clubs that were relegated from the Premier Division.
In the early 1990s the club were very much a yo-yo club, swapping divisions every season between the 1993-94 and 2000-01 seasons. In 2000-01 the club reached an all-time low, finishing a disappointing ninth in the ten-team First Division. The following season it achieved promotion back to the Premier Division and has remained there ever since.
In recent years, success has become the norm, with the FAI Cup of 2005 becoming the club’s first major trophy win in decades. On top of this, the club went on to win the Setanta Sports Cup (becoming the first League of Ireland side to do so) just a few months later. The 2006/2007 UEFA Cup marked the cub’s return to European competition and beating HJK Helsinki 4-2 on aggregate was Drogheda United’s first ever win in the competition. Unfortunately, the club went out to IK Start of Norway in the next round.
The 2007 Setanta Sports Cup was the next major trophy to be picked up by The Drogs, beating Linfield in their home, Windsor Park. UEFA Cup football continued on Boyneside in 2007, with a win over AC Libertas of San Marino, followed by another narrow loss to Scandinavian opposition, this time to Helsingborgs of Sweden.
Despite the disappointment of being knocked out of the UEFA Cup, ‘the Drogs’ held their nerve, and their lead at the top of the eircom League of Ireland Premier Division table, to take the first ever Premier Division title in the club’s history. As reigning champions, United took their place in the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever in 2008.
The club drew an unknown team hailing from Estonia and going by the name of FC Levadia. It was a glorious start to the Champions League campaign with a 0-1 victory in Estonia. With the tie in favour of the Paul Doolins’ men, United again won out as 2-1 victors at Dalymount Park. United won the two legged affair clinically (agg. 3-1). Progressing to the next round to face the infamous Dynamo Kiev, whilst daunting was nonetheless an exciting prospect. Drawing 1-1 at home in the first leg, the mighty Drogs went to the Ukraine full of hope and belief. They were unlucky to lose out in the second match between the sides; with Kiev winning by a 2-1 margin and the mantra “we lost by the width of a goalpost” in now common parlance in any Drog-related conversation. While devastated at such a loss, there was an overwhelming feeling of pride and passion for the claret and blue.
After the heroics in Europe it was back to the bread and butter of the League and things were not going according to plan. With off the field matters to the forefront of everyone’s minds, on the field form inevitably suffered. We finished sixth in the table for the 2008 season. Examinership dominated the season’s end, and indeed the Christmas period. Fans rowed together in order to raise much needed funds to “save the Drogs.” After months of uncertainty, justice prevailed and Drogheda United rose phoenix-like from the ashes under the stewardship of Alan Mathews. The former Cork City manager had a matter of weeks to assemble a team and shepherd it through the season. He did so with aplomb.
The cynics predicted relegation in 2009 but Drogheda United defied the odds and survived a relegation play-off against Bray Wanderers.
In a town hit particularly hard by recession, Drogheda United struggled financially in the close season of 2009 but weathered the storm and was back in fighting spirits to embrace the 2010 season.
The 2010 season started badly for the Drogs and manager, Alan Mathews, finally handed in his resignation following a 6-0 defeat away to Sligo Rovers on the 15th May. Sitting just above Bray Wanderers at the foot of the league table, Drogs appointed local Darius Kierans as caretaker manager and Director of Football. Darius brought with him great credentials. He along with Rory Kerr built up Drogheda United’s youth set-up into one of the most respected in the country over the last number of years. Indeed, upon taking over as Director of Football, Darius showcased some of his younger charges on the 1st team. Having started his tenure off in style with several home wins and with the character of the team transformed, things started looking more positive on the Boyneside.
Unfortunately, things took another turn for the worse when it was confirmed by the FAI that Darius was unable to remain as Manager of the First team due to not having yet finished the mandatory UEFA A Licence. Darius was replaced by Paul Lumsden who took just one game before resigning. Brian Donnelly was then appointed as the second Interim Manager of the season but he handed in his resignation in September. Darius Kierans stepped back into the breech for the final time in a 4-0 home defeat to Sporting Fingal before the club appointed former player Bobby Browne as manager. Despite finishing bottom of the table in 2010 and being automatically relegated, Drogheda United were given a late reprieve just weeks before the new season when Sporting Fingal were wound up. Finding themselves back in the Premier Division, Bobby Browne was replaced by Monaghan United manager Mick Cooke on the 27th February 2011, a week ahead of the first game of the 2011 season.
Despite inheriting an amateur squad just a week before the beginning of the season and with the lowest playing budget in the league, Mick Cooke galvanised matters on the pitch and the Drogheda United fans were rewarded with some great football as the season played out. The Drogs ended the 2011 season in 9th position and Mick Cooke accomplished the task he was set by avoiding relegation.
Off the pitch, a new board of management had been appointed to run the club for the 2011 season with Jim Agnew taking over as Chairman of the club. Towards the end of the season, it was announced that a new company would be formed to take over the club for 2012. This company comprised a group of supporters who had committed one thousand euro each at the beginning of 2011 to save the club. This effectively meant that Drogheda United became a members-owned club.
2012 saw Drogheda United have arguably their finest ever season when they surprised everyone by producing stunning performances and finishing the season as runners-up to Sligo Rovers. 2012 also saw them romp through the League Cup campaign to eventually beat Shamrock Rovers 3-1 in the final in Tallaght Stadium in September. This win completed Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien’s domestic competition honours as he became the only League of Ireland player to have won all domestic competitions. It was a great year generally for Fabio as he broke through the 100 goal mark in two cases, goals scored for Drogheda United and goals scored in the League of Ireland. Drogheda United also progressed to the quarter-finals of the FAI Ford Cup where they were inched out on penalties by St. Patrick’s Athletic in a replay in Hunky Dorys Park.
With a European adventure and the Setanta Cup to look forward to, and with the majority of the 2012 squad retained, 2013 looked set to be another good year for the Drogs and in some respects it didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, the sheer number of games coupled with injuries and suspensions took its toll on the squad and the lofty league position of the previous year could not be replicated. Instead 2013 was Drogheda’s cup year and the team qualified for three cup finals – the Setanta Sports Cup, the EA Sports Cup (League of Ireland Cup) and the holy grail, the FAI Ford Cup.
In the first of these finals, Drogheda came up against the club that they had beaten in the League Cup Shamrock Rovers. The game took place on the 11th May in Tallaght Stadium. Unfortunately, Rovers weren’t about to be beaten twice in a cup final on home turf and easily dismissed a lacklustre Drogheda side 7-1.
With European football and two further cup runs still ahead of them, Drogheda re-grouped and prepared for the arrival of Swedish side Malmö in July for the first leg of the Europa League first qualifying round. United Park being deemed unsuitable for European football, the game was moved to Tallaght Stadium.
This time Tallaght proved to be lucky for the Drogs and an impressive performance saw them holding Malmö to a 0-0 draw. This meant that Drogheda had the upper hand going to Malmö where a draw, so long as they scored, would guarantee them progression to the next round thanks to the away goal rule.
Unfortunately, despite putting in a very credible performance, Malmö scored twice, although hopes remained alive up until the 87th minute of the game when their second goal eluded keeper Gabriel Sava. The European adventure was over.
However, with two cup runs still very much alive, it was back to business and September saw a return to Tallaght as Drogheda faced their nemesis Shamrock Rovers in the final of the EA Sports Cup. Tallaght may have been lucky for the Drogs in July but it wasn’t this time out and Drogheda suffered their second cup defeat of the season at the hands of Rovers whom they had beaten in the same final one year previously.
With an inglorious league campaign behind them and now two cup final defeats, all attention turned to the FAI Ford Cup. The semi-final was a dream draw with Drogheda facing rivals Dundalk at home. And it didn’t disappoint with Dundalk being handed two red cards by referee Anthony Buttimer. The second resulted in a penalty which Gavin Brennan put easily past Dundalk keeper Peter Cherrie and try as they might, Dundalk’s nine men could not break down Drogheda’s eleven. For the third time in their history Drogheda United were in the final of the FAI Cup.
The stars seemed to be aligning themselves in Drogheda but there weren’t too many people who would have given Drogheda a chance against 2012’s league champions Sligo Rovers. However, it will go into the history books as one of the greatest FAI Cup finals of all time.
Paul O’Conor put Drogheda United in front fourteen minutes in and the Drogs retained their one goal lead until the 78 minute when Danny North equalised for Sligo. Drogheda hopes were shattered when he got his second on 85 minutes and it looked to be all over as the clock showed 90 minutes. With four minutes added on, local lad Ryan Brennan astounded everyone in the Aviva Stadium by bagging a 92 minute goal and the game looked set to go to extra time. Incredibly it never got that far as Anthony Elding crushed Drogheda hopes by delivering a shot high into the back of the Drogheda goal. And so ended a year of promises that never came true.
But whatever about what was happening on the football pitch, off the pitch matters had reached an impasse as Mick Cooke’s contract was not renewed at the end of the season and Drogheda found themselves yet again enmeshed in controversy.
Cooke’s assistant, Robbie Horgan, was appointed manager in mid-November and he set about preparing for the 2014 season with a very much reduced budget and consequently a smaller squad.
2014 began positively for Drogheda and Horgan with Drogheda hopes given a boost in the opening game of the season as the team annihilated Dundalk 4-1 in United Park. Subsequent wins over Limerick and Athlone raised the Drogs to top of the league table. Unfortunately, matters took a turn for the worse and results nose-dived. Unprecedented losses to Dundalk (7-0), St. Pat’s (6-0) and Athlone (6-0) meant that there was no way back for Robbie Horgan and he and the board parted ways on the 16th June.
Darius Kierans took over as caretaker manager assisted by Neale Fenn and made an immediate impact with a 3-1 defeat of Bray Wanderers in his second game in charge. The team went on to lose narrowly to Cork City in their next league game and then faced Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght where they astonished everyone by beating the Hoops 1-0. The following day, 26th July, Drogheda appointed Damien Richardson as the new first team manager assisted by Darius Kierans.
For the remaining weeks of the season the Drogs valiantly clung to a comfortable mid-table position, slipping to 8th position by the final game against the plucky students of UCD. UCD triumphed against a jaded Drogs side who seemed content to have avoided a relegation battle.
With three key board members including Chairman Jim Agnew stepping down (as they had indicated their intention months previously) at the end of the season, the rumour-mill cranked up amid speculation of whether anyone would be willing to take over the reins of chairman. Former volunteer Ben Clarke assumed the role only to resign a week later for personal reasons and the club was left Chairmanless again. Further speculation arose in relation to Damien Richardson’s position and he finally signalled his intention not to return for the 2015 season on the 13th November.
With most clubs immersed in the business of signing players, Drogheda United now found itself with neither Chairman nor manager and the weakened board set about the task of filling both roles.
Member of a well-known Drogheda business family, Fiachra Kierans, was announced as Chairman on the 25th November. Kierans father had been a director of the club in the 1970s and he himself had experience on the boards of management of several local schools and as a coach with Boyneside Rovers.
Just days after the new Chairman’s arrival on the 28th December, Johnny McDonnell joined Drogheda as first team manager, after an unexpected exit from Shelbourne. His assistant was unveiled as ex-Republic of Ireland international Mark Kinsella.