Frank O’Rourke and the Mighty Quinn battle for supremacy

Another Celtic rite of passage…Frank, Dan and Maura

Part 2: Frank O’Rourke and the Mighty Quinn battle for supremacy

Former Celtic Park Head Tour Guide Maura McColgan’s grandfather Frank O’Rourke was born Francis Rourke at Omoa Square, a group of houses attached to the Omoa Iron Works just north-west of Cleland, on 5 December 1876. Frank was raised in the Coatbridge area and as the end of the century approached, he was combining his work as a Coal Miner Hewer by playing football for the local Kirkwood Juniors.

Frank then commenced his senior career by signing for Second Division Airdrieonians on 6 January 1899, the club narrowly missing out on promotion to the top-flight in the spring of 1901 by finishing second behind champions St Bernard’s, by which time he had been joined at Broomfield by younger brother Harry. The O’Rourke brothers and Airdrie would finally take the step up two years later by topping the table ahead of local rivals Motherwell, both Lanarkshire sides then joining an extended 14-team First Division for the 1903/04 campaign.

That summer would also see a cause for personal celebration, as 26-year-old Frank O’Rourke married Catherine Pryce at St Brigid’s RC Church in Baillieston on 5 June 1903. Both bride and groom’s families resided in nearby miners’ accommodation at Longmuir Square, Bargeddie, and Harry O’Rourke was his brother’s Best Man.

Frank would line up in the Airdrieonians team which made its first-ever visit to Celtic Park, on Saturday, 12 December 1903. The match was goalless at the break but a free-kick from Hoops captain Willie Orr, sandwiched between strikes from wingers Bobby Muir and Davie Hamilton, enabled Celtic to enjoy a comfortable 3-0 victory. That win came at a cost though, Willie Maley’s side now having to make do without the injured Jimmy Quinn until mid-February.

Airdrieonians would have their revenge within a month of that Parkhead defeat, as Celtic travelled to Broomfield for their first competitive match there on Saturday, 9 January 1904. Right-back Hugh Watson broke his leg after just five minutes, leaving Celts to play the vast majority of the game with 10 men, but even so it looked good for another Hoops victory as they went into the dressing-room 3-1 ahead at the break, Frank O’Rourke’s 20th minute equaliser cancelled out by goals from Davie Hamilton, Jimmy McMenemy and a Jimmy Hay penalty kick.

Airdrieonians then produced a storming second-half fightback to ruin what was an historic occasion for Celtic – the first appearance of that iconic Young, Loney and Hay half-back line. The match was tied at 3-3 with just four minutes remaining when Frank netted his second goal of the afternoon to give the Broomfield men a first-ever victory over Celtic.

There would be another celebration of a more personal nature to follow. Frank became a father for the first time on 22 March 1904, his wife Catherine giving birth to a son at Longmuir Square. He would be named Edward, after Frank’s late father, a bittersweet moment perhaps for the new parent as his own dad had passed away just after Frank’s fifth birthday.

Having scored the winning goal at Broomfield in January 1904, Frank would again cause some damage in the corresponding fixture at Celtic Park 12 months later, after the Hoops had enjoyed a comfortable 3-1 win at Broomfield in late November 1904. O’Rourke opened the scoring in the second minute of the match played on Tuesday, 3 January 1905, and his team were 2-0 up before goals from Peter Somers and Willie Loney levelled matters before the break, Celtic skipper Jimmy Hay hitting the crossbar with a penalty.

But the fifth and decisive strike would go the way of the visitors with five minutes remaining, a second defeat of the campaign putting a dent in Celtic’s bid for a first League title since the Invincible side of 1897/98. Willie Maley’s men would eventually succeed in claiming the flag, but only after a dramatic 2-1 play-off victory over Rangers at Hampden in May 1905.

Both Airdrieonians and Celtic had reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup that season, the Hoops suffering a disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Rangers whilst the Broomfield club would lose to eventual winners Third Lanark at Cathkin, in a game abandoned due to crowd trouble with 10 minutes remaining, the 2-1 lead held by Thirds at that point standing as the result.

Photo of Airdrieonians 1904/05, courtesy of John Henderson. Frank is seated third from right in front row but there is no sign of brother Harry. Note that Airdrieonians at that time wore red and white hooped shirts. According to club historian John Henderson, the Diamond design (and subsequent nickname) did not come to pass until 1912.

Wing-half/inside-forward Harry O’Rourke had been a regular in the Airdrieonians side for the past three seasons but had not featured in that campaign, having been placed on the Open to Transfer list. In fact, on Saturday, 11 February 1905, as a Celtic side – in mourning following the death of former star Barney Battles at 30 from influenza – was beating Lochgelly United 3-0 in the second round of the Scottish Cup, with goals from Peter Somers, a Willie Orr penalty and Jimmy Quinn, Harry made his debut for Port Glasgow Athletic against Airdrieonians (and presumably his brother) in a 3-0 defeat at Broomfield.

Harry would spend the 1905/06 campaign on loan at Port Glasgow, scoring the winner against his parent club in Airdrie on 14 October 1905 then another in the 2-2 draw at Clune Park on 21 April 1906. In all, he scored six goals in 21 appearances for Port Glasgow Athletic as they followed Frank’s Airdrieonians by going all the way to the Scottish Cup semi-final, famously beating Rangers 1-0 at Clune Park in the February quarter-final before losing 2-0 to eventual winners Hearts in the last four.

By that time, another link in the O’Rourke/McColgan family story was in place.

Daniel McColgan was born at 22 Boghall, Old Monkland at 7.30pm on the evening of Saturday, 28 February 1903. The housing blocks at Boghall were built for workers at the Daldowie Mine at Broomhouse Colliery, not far from the present Baillieston railway station.

Earlier that day, a few miles away in Glasgow’s east end, a Celtic side wearing vertical stripes and featuring Sandy McMahon at centre-forward and Jimmy Quinn on the left wing were knocked out of the Scottish Cup at the quarter-final stage by Rangers.

The Ibrox club would return to Celtic Park to lift the cup that season with victory over Hearts, whilst Hibernian won the League, as Celtic’s disappointing start to the new century continued. But all of that was about to change. Within 12 months, the Mighty Quinn, now leading Celtic’s attack in their new hooped kit, was blasting in a hat-trick to defeat Rangers in the first Scottish Cup final played at the new Hampden Park.

Third Lanark won their only Scottish League Championship that spring but the following season Willie Maley’s men embarked on a run which would bring Celtic a world record of six consecutive national League titles, as the club founded little more than two decades earlier laid claim to the accolade of the best football team on the planet.

The six-in-a-row commemorative shield, presented to Celtic by the Scottish League in 1910

Within that record-breaking run was the League game against Airdrieonians at Celtic Park in 1906, which Thomas Dobson referred to in his 1966 letter as the first-ever football match he attended. The clubs met three times on League business that year, with Frank O’Rourke part of the Airdrieonians attack on each occasion, as he had been in the opening clash of the teams in season 1905/06.

That match took place at a packed Celtic Park on Saturday, 30 September 1905, with both sides unbeaten at the upper end of the table. With Peter Somers injured, a rejigged Hoops forward line enabled winger Willie McNair – no relation to Alec – to continue a rare run in the team, but it would be a more familiar name who would separate the sides by the finish, Jimmy McMenemy’s late winner seeing Celts through by the odd goal in three after Willie Orr had opened the scoring with yet another penalty kick conversion.

Celtic squad of 1905/06

Within one month of that Celtic Park defeat, Frank would become a father for the second time. Catherine presented him with a baby girl on 28 October 1905 at Longmuir, a daughter to be named Mary-Ann after her maternal grandmother.

Back with the football, the first of those 1906 fixtures took place on Saturday, 13 January, 12,000 spectators at Broomfield seeing Jimmy Quinn add another hat-trick to his growing collection in a 5-2 win, Davie Hamilton and – yes, you guessed it – Willie Orr from the spot the other Celts on target.

That classic Celtic forward line of Bennett, McMenemy, Quinn, Somers and Hamilton were back in place and would prove too strong for the hosts, as Maley’s stars maintained their four-point lead at the top of the table for what would eventually be a second successive League title. Hearts beat Celtic 2-1 at Parkhead the following month, en route to winning the Scottish Cup, and they also ended that season as League runner’s-up, with Frank’s Airdrieonians finishing behind the leading duo in a very respectable third place.

Jimmy Quinn was again at his supreme best as Celts returned to Broomfield for a League clash eight months later, on Saturday, 29 September 1906, before a record Lanarkshire crowd of 25,000, with spectators ‘squatted all around the touch.’

At kick-off, the sides were locked on 10 points at the top of the table following an unbeaten start to the season, Celts having played one game less at that stage due to a Glasgow Cup commitment with Partick Thistle. The Croy Bhoy struck a first-half double, taking his tally to 12 goals in eight games, as Celtic won 2-0 to move two points clear of Airdrieonians at the summit.

The final match-up of 1906 between the clubs took place on Hogmanay, a Monday, and was the only one to be held at Celtic Park that year, and thus is most probably the game referred to by Thomas Dobson in his letter to The Celtic View 60 years later, which triggered this article.

Article provided by Pat Woods containing Thomas Dobson’s letter

At that time, Celtic were leading the title race, with Airdrieonians tucked in behind Dundee in third place. The Celtic Park pitch had to be cleared of snow and first blood went to the visitors when Alex Graham scored in the fourth minute.

But Hoops skipper Willie Orr equalised from the penalty spot after Frank O’Rourke was penalised for a challenge on Jimmy McMenemy to send the teams in level at the break. The third and winning goal arrived 10 minutes into the second half, and no prizes for guessing that yet again Jimmy Quinn was the man on target with a solo strike to secure both points for Celtic and send young Master Dobson home happy.

As an aside, the best part of two decades later, that same Willie Orr who seemed to be building a career around scoring goals against Airdrieonians would be the manager of their greatest-ever side, three successive second positions in the First Division and the club’s only Scottish Cup success on his CV before he headed south to take over at Leicester City. Club historian John Henderson advises that Willie actually began his senior career at Airdrie in 1893, when he signed from local junior side Airdriehill. He would then be one of two players from Broomfield who left to join English First Division outfit Preston North End the following year.

A bit of further digging identifies Willie’s teammate as outside-left Adam Henderson, who had also joined Airdrieonians from that same junior club (I have the source club recorded as Airdrie Fruitfield but I assume it is the same club.) in 1891/92. Both Willie and Adam would move to Deepdale in October 1894 and spend more than two seasons at Preston before joining Celtic together on 1 May 1897, making their debuts that same day in a home Glasgow League fixture with Rangers. Adam scored Celtic’s goal in a 1-1 draw but whilst he would play his part the following campaign – with five goals from 10 games as Willie Maley won the League title in his first season as Celtic manager – Adam joined English non-League side Bristol St George the following summer. By the end of the century, though, he was back at Deepdale scoring goals for Preston North End in the English top-flight.

Willie Orr would enjoy a long and successful career at Celtic Park, team captain for half of his trophy-laden decade in Glasgow’s east end. He retired in September 1907, midway through the club’s record-breaking run of six consecutive League Championships.

Airdrieonians’ 1924 Scottish Cup-winning team, which included Scotland centre-forwards Hughie Gallacher and Bob McPhail, contemporaries and rivals of Jimmy McGrory.

To be continued.

Hail, hail!

Matt Corr

With grateful thanks to John Henderson, Airdrieonians FC Historian

Follow Matt on Twitter/X @Boola_vogue

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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