Having finished in eighth place the season before, the influx of several cross-channel players helped Sligo Rovers march to a first league title in 1937, a full 10 points clear of their three nearest challengers. The north-western club (who had only finished tenth in the shield) won their first 11 league games in a row, and became the first team to bring the title outside the province of Leinster. In fact, the top four clubs were all from outside Dublin – Dundalk (playing their first season at their new Oriel Park home) claimed the runners-up position on goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded) ahead of Waterford, and also Bray Unknowns (just three points separated the teams from second to eighth), whose fourth-placed finish would ultimately represent their best ever league performance.
Waterford, however, with a largely full-time professional side, could claim to have been the most consistent team of the season. Defeating Bohemians in a play-off for the Free State Shield (Bohs had needed just a point from their last match against Cork, only to lose 4-1 at the Mardyke), goals from Corkmen Eugene Noonan and Timothy Jim O’Keeffe (who repeated his 1934 display by scoring in every round) saw them overcome St. James’s Gate 2-1 to win their first Free State Cup. Both clubs had faced non-league opposition in the semi-finals, in the shape of Longford Town and Fearon Athletic, and the Gate’s promising youngster Jackie Carey left for Manchester United (for a transfer fee of £250) at the end of the season.
St. James’s Gate beat Sligo Rovers 6-2 in the second round of the Cup
The Free State League, Free State Cup and Free State Shield monikers would be dropped in 1937 in line with De Valera’s “Bunreacht na hÉireann” constitution, with the F.A.I.F.S. also reverting to their original “F.A.I.” title. Sligo Rovers topped up their league success with victory in the Dublin City Cup, handing Dundalk a second successive defeat in that competition’s final, and ensuring that each of the four trophies would spend the year outside Dublin. Meanwhile, in March, the last ever outing for the “Free State League XI” saw goals from Waterford’s Tom Arrigan, Dundalk’s Joey Donnelly and St. James’s Gate’s Billy Kennedy procure a good 3-2 win over their Yugoslavian counterparts at Dalymount Park.
Free State League 1936-37
|St. James’s Gate||22||9||5||8||63||43||23|
League top scorers : Bob Slater Shelbourne, 20 (including 1 for Waterford) Harry Litherland Sligo Rovers, 19 Hugh O’Donnell Bray Unknowns, 16 Tim O’Keeffe Waterford, 16
Representative match : Free State League 3-2 Yugoslavian League