Despite winning the championship in each of their two seasons at the venue, St. Patrick’s Athletic vacated the Chapelizod Stadium during the summer of 1956, meaning that their 4-2 defeat by Shamrock Rovers (regarded as one of the best matches of the era) ended up being the last League of Ireland game to be played at the ground. St. Pat’s would move to Dalymount Park for the new season, but in spite of adding a couple of promising young players to their squad (these players went by the names of Jimmy Dunne and Ronnie Whelan), the 1956-57 season would be something of a transitional one for them. This meant that their growing rivalry with Paddy Coad’s Shamrock Rovers was to be put on ice for now, but a club from the northside of Dublin were ready to step back into the breach.
The 1956-57 season ended up being a year-long struggle for supremacy between two clubs, taking in six different competitions. Shamrock Rovers and Drumcondra (both registering unbeaten home records in all competitions) first met in the final of the Dublin City Cup, with Rovers being awarded the trophy on corners after a 1-1 draw between the sides. Although Rovers were comfortable winners of the subsequent League of Ireland Shield (winning 10 of their 11 matches), Drumcondra were still their closest challengers, finishing four points behind the Glenmalure Park outfit. A 2-0 win for the Hoops in the final of the Leinster Senior Cup condemned Drums to a third set of runners-up medals, and then, despite dropping four of their last six points (their only league loss of the season came against Cork Athletic on the last day), Shamrock Rovers secured an eighth league championship in 1957, five points ahead of their bitter Dublin rivals. Thus, having taken three national trophies at Drumcondra’s expense, only Drums, in the F.A.I. Cup final, now stood between them and an unprecedented “quadruple”.
It was the fourth time in 12 years that the teams had met in the F.A.I. decider, and goals from Bunny Fullam and Willie Coleman were enough to level the amount of victories in these matches at two all, and shatter Rovers’ quadruple dreams in the process. Drums followed up that victory with a 3-0 win over Rovers in the semi-final of the Top Four Cup, but Evergreen United (who this season stumbled upon the lethal strike partnership of Austin Noonan and Donal Leahy, which would yield some 267 league goals over the next 11 seasons) upset the script somewhat by beating the Dubliners 2-1 to claim their first national honour.
Despite missing out on that third successive F.A.I. Cup, Paddy Coad’s charges were of course by now easily the League of Ireland’s main attraction, with crowds of up to 20,000 going to see them at every venue in the country. Backed by the cash-rich Cunninghams (legend has it that they were sometimes known to drop fistfuls of coins from their horse-drawn carriage as they made their way to Rovers matches), the club’s travel arrangements were the envy of other sides, with fancy cars, top hotels, and steak dinners being par for the course. Players like Gerry Mackey, Ronnie Nolan and Paddy Ambrose had also several international caps (eight Rovers players took to the field for an inter-league game with the Irish League in March 1957) to their names, and turning up at away grounds in a club blazer and tie, the Colts were some of Ireland’s first real football celebrities.
With a one-armed winger called Paddy Cody as their top scorer, and future Ireland international Ray Brady also a part of the side, Transport finished in fifth place this season to record what would ultimately prove to be their best ever League of Ireland performance. The Busmen’s league campaign began with high drama at Harold’s Cross, when they conceded four first-half goals to Shelbourne before scoring five of their own in the second half to register an incredible 5-4 win. They went on to record a positive goal difference this season for the first and only time, but along with league runners-up Drumcondra, were left to rue an excessive amount of draws in a season that (like the 1949-50 edition) had been impacted by a lot of bad weather and muddy pitches.
Not too many could have predicted that Cork Athletic’s last day victory over Shamrock Rovers would prove to be their last-ever League of Ireland fixture. Long-standing financial problems (although this was not explicitly stated at the time of the expulsion), not aided by their fondness for full-time footballers, saw their membership being cancelled in July of 1957, their place being taken by a new club from the southern capital, Cork Hibernians. Hibernians, like several previous Cork teams, were initially based at the Mardyke, but intended to move into a new stadium in the Ballintemple area of the city in the coming years. The ground, Flower Lodge, had already had an unofficial opening for an F.A.I. Cup first round tie between A.O.H. (an amateur Cork club whose members had helped in the creation of Cork Hibernians) and Sligo Rovers in February of 1957. The match programme for that day spoke of what was hoped would become “Munster’s Finest Sports Stadium”, with a capacity of up to 60,000 people ultimately being envisaged.
September 1956 saw goals from Shay Gibbons, Liam Tuohy and Dermot Curtis (who would soon leave Shelbourne for Bristol City for a fee of £8,000) help the League of Ireland representative side finally avoid defeat against the English League. With the Irish selection having lost the sides’ 10 previous meetings, a 3-3 draw in front of a crowd of 32,000 at Dalymount Park was therefore extremely welcome. The League of Ireland’s finest ever hour on the international stage, meanwhile, occurred in Dalymount two months later, with seven home-based players helping Ireland to a 3-0 friendly victory over world champions West Germany. The other four members of the team had played in the League of Ireland previously, and Noel Cantwell, Joe Haverty, and Shamrock Rovers’ Jimmy ‘Maxie’ McCann scored the all-important goals.
League of Ireland 1956-57
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||6||5||11||33||55||17|
* Shelbourne deducted two points
League top scorers : Tommy Hamilton Shamrock Rovers, 15 Donie Leahy Evergreen United, 15 Austin Noonan Evergreen United, 13
Representative matches : League of Ireland 3-3 Football League, Scottish League 3-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 2-2 Irish League, Irish League 1-2 League of Ireland