Hibernians challenge the local player recruitment rules imposed by the Edinburgh Football Association after the Club fail to field eleven fit players in the 1982/83 Edinburgh Association Shield Final. The rules are resultantly abolished in 1884.
Player selection became an even more serious problem for Hibernian at the start of the 1882 season, when again they lost players that they simply could not replace. There were plenty willing recruits in the various nursery sides that played under the Hibernians banner, but few of these were of sufficient quality for the first eleven. One of their number around this time however was clearly of a high quality, as Patrick Cavenagh was selected by the SFA to play for a Scottish Counties side against Birmingham and District Select. Unfortunately, Patrick had to withdraw from the side due to injury, but he had all the same become the first Hibernians player to attract an international call-up.
Patrick Cavenagh however went on to make his mark in Edinburgh, and not through his football associations! He was a builder who worked on laying cement and granite flooring, and his work can to this day be seen on the streets for Edinburgh in brass embedded in the pavements. He went on to local politics and became a Justice of the Peace.
The Hibernian player crisis came to a head when they felt forced to give up their Edinburgh F.A. Shield title. Having made it once again to the final where they were to face Edinburgh University, Hibs found they could not field eleven fit players, so asked the Edinburgh F.A. for a postponement. This was denied, so Hibernians promptly scratched and the Shield was awarded to the University side. This was the final straw for Michael Whelahan, and with the Hibernian committee he took the decision to challenge once and for all the Association's local player rule.
Scrapping the local player rules
James McGhee, who had already played for Hibernian in their tour of England, Peter McGinn and James McLaren all joined Hibernian from Ayrshire side Lugar Boswell. All three played in a friendly against Queens Park, a match Hibernians lost 10-2 after receiving a lesson on just how far they had to go before they could match the best side in the country at that time. This made Michael Whelahan all the more determined that changes just had to be made to the player recruitment rules imposed by the Edinburgh Football Association, in that all players with member clubs had to live and work in the local area.
All three of Michael Whelahan's Ayrshire recruits again played in a 3-0 win over St Bernard's. That was at the end of the 1882/1883 season, and by the start of the following season all three were established in the Hibernians side who managed a great single goal win over Renton in front of a large crowd at Edinburgh Park.
Renton were a side from the top-drawer of Scottish football, and Hibernian were now convinced that their stand on player eligibility was the right one. Given their own rules, it seemed then a little strange when two of the new players were selected by the Edinburgh F.A. to play for an Edinburgh Select against a London Select.
Meanwhile however, the Club had progressed to a Scottish Cup Semi-Final for the first time, and 9,000 supporters packed into Edinburgh Park as Hibs took on the mighty Queen's Park, losing 5-1 but pleased all the same that they had at least made some progress from their previous hammering at the hands of the Glasgow side.
Another Edinburgh F.A. Shield Final beckoned for Hibernians. However, other member Clubs and notably Hearts who continued to vote against the greens at just about every opportunity wanted Hibernians banned from the competition as they continued to flaunt the local player rule. Hibernians were now without support in the matter, but it was a shrewd piece of brinkmanship by Michael Whelahan that won the day for the club. After putting forward a passionate plea on behalf of those clubs who sought a change to the rules, Michael noted during the meeting on a hot evening that many of the delegates had left for some refreshment in a local bar, including the Heart of Midlothian delegation.
Michael cut his talking short, gauging that the majority of those present at that point supported his case he called for an immediate vote on the matter. The vote was carried by a large majority in favour of the Hibernians proposal to scrap the local player rule, and by the time the Hearts delegation had returned the deed was done.
The Hibernian team of 1884
Hibernians celebrated their victory in the Edinburgh F.A. committee room a few days later by running out 7-0 winners in the Shield Final over St Bernard's, with one of the Ayrshire players, Peter McGinn, scoring a hat-trick.
Reaching out to the West
Hibernian had come a long way in just eight years and had largely conquered Edinburgh football. In present day, that might appear to be no big deal, but in 1883 it was a very big deal indeed, the Edinburgh F.A. at that time consisted of 40 clubs and 2,000 members. The standard was high, but for all that as Hibernians' encounters with Queen's Park had already shown, there remained a gap in quality between the best in Edinburgh and the best on a national level. It was a gap however that was closing fast and at the very front of those closing that gap where the Irishmen of Hibernian Football Club.
Now that they had removed the restriction that limited their ability to choose players only to those who lived in Edinburgh, the Club could set about the job of raising even more money for charitable causes through raising their own standards on a national level. Already with a fanatical following in Little Ireland, the Hibernians had now attained a similar following among the Catholic population around the country, and in particular in the West of Scotland. Whenever Hibernians played in Glasgow, the Irish immigrants turned out in high numbers, making the men from little Ireland a very popular choice for treasurers seeking a means of raising funds for their cause.
The St Patrick's CYMS had a hand in helping the formation of dozens of new football clubs around the country, the inspiration clear in the names of sides sprouting in Glasgow at the time - Glasgow, Paisley, Cambuslang and Springburn all had their own 'Hibernian' sides, and the story was much the same everywhere in Scotland where groups of immigrant Irish had settled. All of these clubs were formed on the same principles fostered by Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan at Hibernians; these were strictly amateur clubs aimed at helping their communities survive through very difficult times.
The Club fail to field eleven fit players in the 1982/83 Edinburgh Association Shield Final. As a result, the Shield is awarded to Edinburgh University.
Keen to abolish the Edinburgh Association local player rules, the greens continue to field ineligible players in friendly matches.
Hibernians progress to a Scottish Cup Semi-Final for the first time, losing the tie at Hibernian Park to Queen's Park 5-1.
A vote is carried by a large majority in favour of the Hibernian proposal to scrap the local player rule. The rules are lifted.
Hibernians win the 1983/84 Edinburgh F.A. Shield by beating St Bernard's 7-0 in the final.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series