On 20 February 1897, Ireland made history by becoming the first national team in modern history to compete under the guidance of an official coach, as Billy Crone took charge for their opening match against England in that year’s British Home Championship. Unfortunately for the Irish, it didn’t help, and England defeated them 6-0.
Prior to Crone’s appointment, national team players were selected by their respective football associations, then coached by the team captain. Before overseeing the national team, Crone – himself a former Irish international with 12 caps – had established himself as the manager of his hometown club, Belfast’s Distillery FC, where he played his club ball until his retirement as a player in 1893. He remained the manager of Distillery (now known as Lisburn Distillery) during and after his time in charge of Ireland, leading them to five Irish League titles between 1895 and 1906.
For the remainder of the tournament, Ireland won their next match against Wales, 4-3, but lost their final match against Scotland, 5-1, to finish third out of the four teams.
In hiring Crone, Ireland were well ahead of their competition. For comparison, England hired their first manager in 1946, while Wales and Scotland hired their first managers in 1954.
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