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In 1878 John M. McAlery, saw a game of football while he was on honeymoon in Scotland. Later that year he arranged for two Scottish teams, Queen's Park and Caledonians, to travel to Ireland to take part in an exhibition match to publicise the game. The following year, McAlery formed Ireland's first football club, Cliftonville.

The Irish Football Association was formed in 1880. They played their first game in 1882 when they were beaten 13-0 by England. The following year the British International Championship was established. Each country met the other three over the course of the season. Scotland won the initial championship by beating England (1-0), Wales (4-1) and Ireland (5-0). The following season Scotland scored 8 against both Wales and Ireland. However, they could only manage a 1-1 draw against England.

Over the next few years, Scotland and England dominated the British International Championship. It was not until Ireland was involved in a three-way tie in 1902-03 that there were signs of a shift in power. Wales won the title in 1906-07 and Ireland did it in 1913-14.

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