Having defeated Waterford 2-1 to land a second Dublin City Cup in three seasons, a third league success for St. Patrick’s Athletic followed in 1956, with Shay Gibbons’ 21 league goals being complemented by 17 from Paddy ‘Ginger’ O’Rourke. St. Pat’s rode their luck at times this season, winning several games where their opponents had played as well if not better, and they also had third-placed Waterford to thank for doing a “double” over runners-up Shamrock Rovers, with both of these wins coming at very important points in the league race. Rovers had beaten Pats 4-2 in a thriller at Chapelizod in the closing stages to place control of the league title’s destiny in their own hands (and to deprive their rivals of a clean sweep of points from their home matches), but a 3-1 loss at Kilcohan Park in their next outing combined with a St. Pat’s win in Sligo meant that the league trophy would be retained by Alec Stevenson’s side.
Paddy Coad’s side (or “Coad’s Colts” as they had now come to be known by fans and the media, a moniker to rival that of the “Busby Babes” of Manchester United) met with Cork Athletic in the F.A.I. Cup final, a game that gave rise to what was perhaps the finest ever example of League of Ireland / F.A.I. Cup folklore. The Leesiders’ team featured one Jimmy Delaney, a Scottish international who had already pocketed F.A. Cup, Scottish Cup and I.F.A. Cup medals in a glittering 20-year career, and with Athletic leading 2-0 (Delaney, who was in receipt of a salary similar to that of Raich Carter in ’53, netted the first) with just 12 minutes remaining, Cork Athletic Secretary Donie Forde left the ground to fetch champagne for the celebrations. Forde was unnerved by the sound of three loud cheers coming from the Dalymount stadium, however, and when he saw the ecstatic Rovers fans walking out as he returned, he knew that Coad’s side had done the unthinkable. Their 3-2 win meant a thirteenth cup success for the Hoops, and ensured that Delaney missed out on that historic quadruple of cup winner’s medals.
An unbeaten Rovers had secured an equally incredible eleventh League of Ireland Shield (Shelbourne, with seven, were the Hoops’ nearest challengers in that roll of honour) earlier in the campaign, following a 2-1 win at leaders Waterford on the last day, and also defeated the Suirsiders (who registered an unbeaten league record at Kilcohan Park) to capture the inaugural Top Four Cup, a new end-of-season competition for the league’s four highest-placed sides. Officially titled the ‘Independent Cup’ (after the Irish newspaper group), the tournament ran on a straightforward semi-final and final format, with a draw determining who would meet who. With the aim of reducing the amount of meaningless end-of-season games, it seemed to pay dividends straight away, with Sligo Rovers going on a six-game winning run (during which their prolific Scottish winger Johnny Armstrong scored nine goals) to move from 10th place to 4th with just one match to play. Evergreen United (who had been in the top four for most of the season) pipped them on goal average, however, and after Shamrock Rovers had beaten St. Pat’s 9-8 on corners in the competition’s very first match (following a thrilling 3-3 draw), a James ‘Maxie’ McCann goal eight minutes from the end ensured not just a win over Waterford in the final, but also that Rovers had scored in every match of the 1955-56 season.
In what was a fairly turbulent year for Shelbourne, a number of the club’s more established players had been released during the close season, and a slightly more youthful side was assembled under the tutelage of returning former player Eddie Gannon (who had spent some time in England’s top division with Sheffield Wednesday and also won 14 international caps). The club had been hoping to free up some funds in advance of moving into their new (but still quite incomplete) stadium in Irishtown, but mediocre league form and a lack of spectator facilities at the ground had a significant impact on their attendances. With the financial situation not looking too favourable, Shels took the difficult decision to vacate the ground after just one season. Signing off with an impressive 7-1 win over Limerick in their last Irishtown match, the Reds returned to being tenants at Tolka Park, and apart from a spell at Harold’s Cross in the ’80s, have played at the northside venue ever since.
League of Ireland 1955-56
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League top scorers : Shay Gibbons St. Patrick’s Athletic, 21 Paddy Ambrose Shamrock Rovers, 20 Paddy ‘Ginger’ O’Rourke St. Patrick’s Athletic, 17
Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-4 Scottish League, English League 5-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 4-1 Hessen League, League of Ireland 1-0 Irish League, Irish League 6-0 League of Ireland