Jack Kirwan’s Dutch Adventure by Dylan O’Connell
Before Cruyff, before total football, and before the glory of the Champions League, there was Jack Kirwan.
The Dublin GAA star, who originally born in Dunlavin in County Wicklow, got his first taste of sporting success when he won the All Ireland Senior Football Championship in 1894. In a rather unusual set of circumstances, the Dubs had drawn with Cork 1-2 to 0-5 in a replay, and the GAA decided to award the cup to the capital.
Soccer was his passion and this is what he pursued when he went to England just a few weeks after his All Ireland success. Playing as an outside left, he joined Southport Central in the Lancashire Combination (a football league based in the north-west of England) and his abilities quickly caught of the attention of Everton and Blackburn Rovers.
Kirwan joined the Toffees for one season before moving south to sign for Tottenham Hotspur in the Southern League. He scored 97 goals in 347 games for the Spurs in a run of form which saw him win the Southern League in 1900 and the FA Cup in 1901. Spurs’ cup triumph made history all across the country, as they became the first club outside the English League to win the competition.
Perhaps his experiences in the green jersey were what he was best known for. In 1903 he was part of the Ireland team which clinched a share of the British Home Championship after they finished level on points with Scotland and England.
He floated around various clubs in England including Chelsea, Clyde, and Leyton before hanging up his boots in 1910.
Shortly after returning, he moved to Amsterdam to take up a coaching position at Ajax. He was the first official coach of the club since they were formed in 1900. After just a year in the job, he led Ajax to the Dutch Second Class title and victory in a promotion play-off, thus guiding the club into the Dutch top flight for the first time.
Kirwan left the Netherlands in 1914 following the outbreak of the First World War. He was replaced at Ajax by Englishman Jack Reynolds. Using the squad that the Irishman build, Reynolds pioneered total football at the club, in a period where they won eight league titles and one cup.
Kirwan himself had a brief spell at Bohemians in Dublin followed by a short stay with Livorno in Italy. He eventually settled in London and passed away in 1959.