seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Death of Tom Aherne, Irish Footballer & Hurler

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Thomas Aherne, Irish footballer and hurler also referred to as Bud Aherne, dies on December 30, 1999. He plays football for Belfast Celtic F.C. and Luton Town F.C. and is a dual internationalist, playing for both Ireland teams – the IFA XI and the FAI XI. In 1949 he is a member of the FAI XI that defeats England 2–0 at Goodison Park, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home. As a hurler he also plays one game for Limerick.

Aherne is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on January 26, 1919. As a youth, he initially emerges as a prominent hurler with Treaty Sarsfields and also plays one game for Limerick. However he subsequently decides to concentrate on football and begins his senior career with Limerick United where his teammates include Davy Walsh. During World War II, he serves in the Irish Army and is stationed at Crosshaven. His impressive performances in the League of Ireland attract attention and in 1946 he is signed by Belfast Celtic.

While at Belfast Celtic, Aherne plays alongside Jackie Vernon, Billy McMillan, Robin Lawler and Johnny Campbell and helps them win the Irish Cup in 1947 and an Irish League title in 1948. He is also at Celtic during the infamous Boxing Day riot which breaks out during a game against local rivals Linfield F.C. In March 1949, he leaves Celtic and signs for Luton Town. However, in May 1949, he temporarily rejoins Celtic for their final tour before the club disbands. Together with McMillan, Campbell, Lawlor, guest player Mick O’Flanagan and manager Elisha Scott, he goes on the Celtic tour of North America. The highlight of the 10-game tour comes on May 29 when Celtic beats the reigning British champions, Scotland, 2–0.

Aherne signed for Luton Town for a fee of £6,000 and makes his English Football League debut on March 19 in a 2–1 away defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Despite the fact he is over 30 when he joins Luton, he quickly establishes himself as a regular. He plays competitive football into his late thirties and is ever-present during the 1954–55 season when Luton wins promotion to Division One. After playing 288 games for Luton, including 267 in the league, he retires after a hairline fracture of the ankle ends his career. Even then he continues to play for a local league team, Luton Celtic, into his forties.

When Aherne begins his international career in 1946 there are in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations. Both associations, the Belfast-based Irish Football Association and the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland, claim jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and select players from the whole island. As a result, several notable Irish players from this era, including Aherne play for both teams.

Between 1946 and 1953 Aherne makes 16 appearances for the FAI XI. He makes his FAI debut in June 1946 during an Iberian tour, playing in both the 3–1 defeat to Portugal on June 16 and then helping the FAI XI gain a surprise 1–0 victory against Spain on June 23. He remains a regular in the FAI XI throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s and is featured prominently in the qualifying rounds for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. He is also a member of the FAI XI team that defeats England 2–0 at Goodison Park, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home.

On November 16, 1953, during a 1–1 draw with France, Aherne briefly becomes involved in controversy. Although only a friendly, the game quickly becomes heated and at one point, with Aherne chasing Raymond Kopa down the tunnel after play had been stopped for a foul. Kopa allegedly runs for his life after upsetting Aherne once too often. The FAI selectors are not impressed and Aherne is told a repeat will end his international career. As it turns out, he makes only one more appearance for the FAI XI. That comes on October 4, 1953, in 5–3 defeat against France during a qualifier for the 1954 FIFA World Cup.

Between 1946 and 1950, Aherne also makes six appearances for the IFA XI. These include two Victory Internationals played in early 1946. On February 2 at Windsor Park, he makes his debut for the IFA XI in a 3–2 defeat to Scotland. Then on May 4 he helps the IFA XI defeat Wales 1–0 at Ninian Park. On September 28, 1946, he also plays for the IFA XI in a heavy defeat to England. The highlight of his career with the IFA XI comes on October 4, 1947 when he helps them gain a 2–0 win against Scotland.

Ahern makes his last appearance for the IFA XI in a 0–0 draw with Wales on March 8, 1950. As well as being part of the 1950 British Home Championship, the game also doubles up as a qualifier for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Aherne, together with Con Martin, Reg Ryan and Davy Walsh, is one of four players from the Republic, included in the IFA XI that day and as a result he plays for two different associations in the same FIFA World Cup tournament. This situation eventually leads to intervention by FIFA and as a result Aherne becomes one of the last four Republic-born players to play for the IFA XI.

After retiring as a player Aherne settles in Luton where he coaches the Luton Town youth team, works in the local car industry and runs a very successful licensed premises. He also continues to visit Limerick regularly and remains healthy and active until he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-1990s. He dies on December 30, 1999 at the age of 80 and is survived by his wife, Eileen, two sons, Pat and Brian, and three daughters, Maura, Trisha and Catherine.

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Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017) and a commissioner on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, 2021-Present, Chairman 2017-2018).

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