The fact that there were now only ten clubs allowed the league race to again take place between September and December, and following their second and third-placed finishes in the previous two seasons, Bohemians captured their first league championship this time around. They won each of their first 15 games to all but assure themselves of the title, with nearest challengers Shelbourne six points adrift with just three matches remaining. Shels then defeated their title rivals 5-2 to keep the race alive for at least one more week (they also ended the Bohemians winning streak; that run of 15 consecutive victories has yet to be equalled in the League of Ireland), but a 4-1 win for Bohs over St. James’s Gate in the next round of matches finally confirmed the Dalymount Park (they finished with maximum points from their home games, and went unbeaten at home in all three competitions) club as champions.
Bohemians defeat Shelbourne 2-0 at Dalymount Park in October 1923
It was a little harder to separate Bohemians and Shelbourne (who also went unbeaten at home, bar a 2-0 Free State Cup quarter-final defeat to Athlone Town) in the subsequent Free State Shield competition, competed for this year (from January to May) on a “round robin” basis, with each league side facing each other once. After both Bohs and Shels had remained unbeaten in their nine games, the Gypsies won through in a Dalymount Park play-off, with an extra-time winner from Ned Brooks (against his former club) preventing the Reds from performing a shield “three-in-a-row”.
Athlone Town combined a fourth place finish in the league with victory in the Free State Cup, defeating non-league Fordsons of Cork 1-0 in the decider. Dinny Hannon’s (who had previously won an I.F.A. Cup medal with Bohemians) goal was the only one that either of the clubs had conceded during the entire cup campaign. The Cork side, formed in 1922, had strong links to the Ford Motor Factory in the city, and took their name from the Fordson tractor that many of the club’s members had a hand in producing. The Ballinlough-based outfit, along with Bray Unknowns, would be incorporated into the Free State League for 1924-25, at the expense of Midland Athletic and Shelbourne United.
December of 1923 saw the first signs of reconciliation between football clubs from north and south of the border, with Bohemians traveling to Belfast to play Linfield, and Shelbourne hosting Glentoran at Shelbourne Park. Although relations between the two football associations remained frosty, one-off “friendly” matches between Dublin and Belfast clubs continued for the rest of the 1920s, with Bohemians and Linfield deciding to meet every year to contest the ‘Condor Cup’ (north-south matches were always well-attended and were a welcome boost to clubs’ finances). Meanwhile, February 1924 saw the first ever “inter-league” match involving a Free State League representative side (the team had made its unofficial debut against French club Gallia in Dublin in April 1923), with Welsh football relaxing its previously held stance by sending a team to Dalymount Park. 15,000 people turned out to watch the two sides play out an entertaining 3-3 draw, with the home goals coming from St. James’s Gate’s Ernie McKay, and Bohemians’ in-form English centre-forward, Dave Roberts (who scored twice).
A newsreel from early 1924 shows Bohemians in action against Linfield at Windsor Park
Then, a couple of months later, a squad of 20 home-based players travelled to Paris to represent the Irish Free State at the 1924 Olympic Games. While the competition (the most prestigious in the world at the time, in the absence of World Cups, European Championships etc.) was limited to amateur players, it would serve as an international swansong for I.F.A. international veteran Dinny Hannon, and an early introduction to international football for the likes of Tommy Muldoon (Athlone Town, and later Aston Villa), Jack McCarthy (Bohemians), and Joe Kendrick (Brooklyn, and later Everton and Dolphin). A goal from St. James’s Gate’s Paddy Duncan against Bulgaria set up a quarter-final tie against Holland, but a 2-1 extra-time defeat in this match ended the Irish involvement in the competition.
Free State League 1923-24
|St. James’s Gate||18||9||2||7||38||27||20|
League top scorers : Dave Roberts Bohemians, 20 Christy Robinson Bohemians, 12 Frank Rushe Shelbourne, 12
Representative match : Free State League 3-3 Welsh League
(Note: Representative matches refer only to games against other league selections, or international sides – fixtures against clubs etc. are not included)