An eighth consecutive Dublin league championship success arrived in 1959, with Shamrock Rovers’ ninth League of Ireland title being secured with five points to spare over Evergreen United (who claimed the runners-up position on goal average) and Alec Stevenson’s Waterford. Rovers managed to play some good football in spite of some very muddy and sometimes frozen pitches, and while their league rivals definitely caused them a lot of headaches, none of the rest of the top four were able to find any real consistency. Waterford were possibly the most guilty of this, especially after coming out the right side of a 6-5 thriller at Kilcohan Park in early March that seemed to have thrown the race wide open, but the Blues lost two of their next three league games to allow Rovers to pull away.
Of the Suirsiders’ 58 league goals, some 56 were scored by members of two famous Waterford footballing families, the Hales and the Fitzgeralds (Peter Fitzgerald would depart for Sparta of Rotterdam during the summer, later to play for Leeds United and Ireland). Indeed, the loss of goalscoring prodigy Alfie Hale through injury in an F.A.I. Cup final dress rehearsal against St. Patrick’s Athletic helped the Blues to assume the mantle of this season’s nearly men, as goals from Johnny McGeehan (a recent signing from Transport) and Willie Peyton in a cup final replay (each side had an own goal in the first match) between the sides saw the Inchicore club record their first senior F.A.I. Cup success. Waterford did at least collect a fourth League of Ireland Shield a point ahead of Shamrock Rovers (following a poor start, they won their last eight games and amassed a total of 40 goals), to ensure that they now accounted for four of the seven non-Dublin victories in that competition. Former Aston Villa and Ireland star Con Martin had pulled many of the strings for the Blues this season, and the shield win gave him just his second medal in a career that had begun at Drumcondra in the early 1940s.
1958-59 was probably the most eventful and most impressive season to date for Limerick F.C. At the beginning of the season, a 4-3 semi-final victory over Shamrock Rovers had sent them into their first Dublin City Cup final, and they proceeded to beat Drumcondra (who had recently sold their Irish international goalkeeper Alan Kelly to Preston North End) by the same scoreline to join Sligo Rovers, Cork United and Dundalk on the list of non-Dublin winners of that trophy. Limerick registered a 4-3 win at Kilcohan Park to hand shield-winners Waterford one of just two defeats (Limerick won their last five games to finish third), so it looked like something positive was brewing for the club from the mid-west. They continued to show good form in the league, and in addition to enjoying two thrilling 3-2 wins over Waterford (the Kilcohan Park meeting was a superb match that had also seen a special train being laid on for Dublin-based supporters), they also held Shamrock Rovers to two 1-1 draws, each of which they were unfortunate not to have won. They won the Munster Senior Cup, and in spite of a gruelling four-match saga against Drumcondra, made it to the semi-finals of the F.A.I. Cup, where Waterford gained a measure of revenge thanks to a goal by Tommy Coady. Limerick also pipped Drumcondra to a place in the Top Four Cup, but after another 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers in the semi-final, were defeated 18-6 on corners.
Evergreen United were Rovers’ opponents in the Top Four final, and a Donal Leahy goal gave them a 1-0 win in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Dalymount Park. The turnout was very satisfactory for a competition that many had felt would not generate much interest, but the ‘Independent Cup’ had already succeeded in adding bite to what might otherwise have been meaningless end-of-season league games (clubs were also mindful of the extra revenue that would accrue). Leahy also scored both in the 2-0 semi-final win over Waterford (he had almost single-handedly dragged his team into contention for honours this season), and Rovers’ loss in the final meant that although they had regained the league title, they had surrendered possession of all five of the trophies that they had won in 1957-58.
A twelfth place league showing for Bohemians this year meant that the once-mighty Phibsboro club had achieved just one top-half league finish (fifth in 1951) since 1941. This could largely be attributed to the amateur status (in line with the principles enacted at the club’s foundation) that the club had so doggedly adhered to as the decades had passed, refusing to sign professional players, or even those that they felt harboured intentions of becoming full-time footballers. Bohemians recorded a surprise league double over old rivals Shelbourne this season, however, and shocked champions-elect Shamrock Rovers by knocking them out of the F.A.I. Cup, so it seemed that, in spite of their difficulties, the Gypsies might still have the ability to add some value to the league.
In a first for the League of Ireland (the practice was common for Ireland’s rugby and hockey teams at the time), a “trial” game was held in late January between a ‘Dublin XI’ and a ‘Provincial XI’ to aid with the task of selecting a team to play against the English League at Dalymount Park on St. Patrick’s Day. A large Tolka Park crowd was present to see a thrilling match finish 4-4, and Shelbourne centre-forward Christy Doyle (a cousin of St Patrick’s Athletic’s Dunne brothers) netted all four for the metropolitans. Doyle not only played against the English League (a very exciting scoreless draw that the home team were unlucky not to win), but also won a full international cap in a European Nations Cup game against Czechoslovakia a few weeks later. The 21-year old had also appeared in two ‘B’ internationals earlier in the season, scoring in both, including the only goal in a 1-0 win over South Africa’s ‘A’ team.
Although the 1950s had seen League of Ireland aggregate attendances rise to unprecedented levels, and crowds of up to 1,000 people often gathering outside newspaper offices on Sunday evenings to await the posting of the afternoon’s results, there was a noticeable dip during the 1958-59 season, with many clubs towards the middle and lower reaches of the league suddenly finding themselves in financial difficulty. While bad weather might have been a possible factor, heavy defeats for both Shamrock Rovers and Drumcondra in the European Cup, and reduced representation for League of Ireland players in the Irish national team did seem to have robbed the league of some of its gravitas. The 1950s had been a very difficult decade for Ireland that saw rising unemployment and emigration, but the league had been something of a success story. With a new decade on the horizon, it seemed that there might be some challenging times ahead.
League of Ireland 1958-59
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||9||0||13||45||59||18|
European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round (second leg at Dalymount Park), Atlético Madrid 8-0 Drumcondra, Drumcondra 1-5 Atlético Madrid
League top scorers : Donal Leahy Evergreen United, 22 Alfie Hale Waterford, 18 Peter Fitzgerald Waterford, 17
Representative matches : Scottish League 1-0 League of Ireland, Irish League 2-3 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 0-0 English League