The 1963-64 season was all about Shamrock Rovers. Under the management of Sean Thomas (who had been with the club since 1961), and boosted by the return of Liam Tuohy from Newcastle, they made up for the disappointment of the 1956-57 season by achieving an incredible domestic quadruple / grand slam. They brought their league championship haul into double figures, finishing five points clear of both Dundalk and Limerick, and overcame Cork Celtic in a replayed final (Eddie Bailham scored both in a 2-1 mid-week win under the Dalymount lights) to achieve their first league and F.A.I. Cup double since 1932. With half-backs Ronnie Nolan and Johnny Fullam pulling the strings, Rovers had already secured a fifteenth League of Ireland Shield (six home wins helping them finish three points ahead of Dundalk) and an eighth Dublin City Cup (two Liam Tuohy goals helped them get the better of Drumcondra in the final for a sixth time) in the first half of the season, and added the Leinster Senior Cup for good measure.
The Milltown club complemented their domestic achievements by pushing Valencia (winners of the tournament for the last two seasons) all the way in the first round of the Fairs Cup. Goals from Liam Tuohy and Jackie Mooney put Rovers 2-0 up in the second leg in Spain, before the Spaniards, albeit with the help of a disputed goal, brought the match level to progress 3-2 on aggregate. Controversy reigned at Milltown towards the end of the campaign, however, when the Cunningham family once again became embroiled in a team selection scandal. Star winger and Republic of Ireland international Frank O’Neill was left out of the Rovers side for the F.A.I. Cup final replay, prompting Sean Thomas to resign as Rovers manager, and move across the city to Bohemians. Club captain Liam Tuohy stepped into the managerial breach (one of his first tasks would be to replace goalkeeper Pat Dunne, sold to Manchester United for £10,500), but Thomas’s acrimonious departure had unquestionably taken some of the shine off the club’s remarkable achievements this season.
Although the scoring rate was slightly up from the previous season, match reports for this campaign were often dominated by tales of profligate forward lines and wasted goalscoring opportunities. Bohemians’ struggles in front of goal continued, Limerick failed to properly capitalise on the excellent half-back play of Ewan Fenton and Al Finucane, and it was left to Ronnie Whelan to score almost half of St. Patrick’s Athletic’s league goals. Even Shamrock Rovers were not immune from the criticism, despite recording an 8-1 win away to Waterford and a 4-0 win over Shelbourne at Tolka Park. Some League of Ireland supporters would, however, have been happy to see players like Eric Barber, Jimmy Hasty and Donal Leahy (none of whom had reached double figures the previous season) back among the goals.
Shamrock Rovers had also defeated Dundalk 7-0 in the first round of the F.A.I. Cup (the two sides had been level on points at the top of the league at the time of this result), but it was the Lilywhites (under the management of Joey Donnelly) who handed the Hoops their only two domestic defeats of the season. A 2-1 win at Oriel Park represented Rovers’ only league loss, and a Top Four Cup semi-final between the sides was said to be the most keenly contested Independent Cup match ever. Two goals from the Lilywhites’ legendary one-armed centre-forward Jimmy Hasty helped them to a 3-2 win, and Dundalk’s meeting with Limerick in the final (the teams had drawn 2-2 at the Market’s Field on the last day of the league season) took on added significance because of Rovers’ dominance. After Limerick had missed a host of chances in both games, Dundalk prevailed after a replay, with Hasty again on the mark.
One of the league’s top three goalscorers this season (he had been Dundalk’s top marksman for each of the previous three), Hasty’s disability did not seem to affect his play at all, and the Belfastman had been attracting huge crowds to League of Ireland grounds since signing for Dundalk in 1960. Word of him had also spread to Switzerland in advance of Dundalk’s European Cup second leg game against FC Zürich, and with the outcome of the tie seemingly a foregone conclusion after Dundalk’s 3-0 Dalymount Park defeat (the visitors had scored with virtually all of their chances), Hasty made a goal, scored a goal, and hit the crossbar before the Swiss scored again to put the issue beyond doubt. After a couple of more seasons with Dundalk and a short spell with Drogheda, Hasty returned to the north in the late 1960s, but unfortunately, would lose his life in a sectarian attack in Belfast in 1974.
Despite the great showing by Hasty and his teammates in Zürich (and their status as current league champions), it was something of a shock that not a single Dundalk player was selected for the League of Ireland’s match against the English League at Dalymount Park in October of 1963. As it turned out, five Shamrock Rovers players helped the Irish selection to their first and only ever win over their English counterparts, with Eddie Bailham and Ronnie Whelan scoring the goals in a historic 2-1 victory. The visitors’ line-up had included names like Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Roger Hunt, but there had been some Irish optimism due to the recent European performances and also a depleted Republic of Ireland team (one that included Liam Tuohy, Willie Browne and Ronnie Whelan) holding Austria to a goalless draw in Vienna on the same night that Dundalk had been in action in Zürich. The English League had a penalty saved by Drumcondra’s Eamonn Darcy (a standout performer this season) before taking a half-time lead, but Bailham’s 25-yard drive set the home team on their way to success.
With Irish football’s stock having fallen somewhat in recent years, the respectable performances that had been put in against overseas opposition seemed to restore the pride of Irish football supporters, but better was to come, as the national team followed up the away draw with a 3-2 home win over Austria in the second leg of their European Nations Cup tie. The Dalymount crowd was at fever pitch and there were several pitch invasions, but in spite of a possible objection by the Austrians, the result was allowed to stand. Spain were to end Ireland’s interest in the competition at the quarter-final stage, but a 4-2 win for the League of Ireland against the Irish League along with a 2-2 draw in a return game in Belfast meant the representative team (coached by Sean Thomas) had gone through their three matches unbeaten.
A few months after their visit to Valencia, Shamrock Rovers had found themselves back in Spain, after being invited to play a February friendly against a Spanish international ‘B’ team, with the hosts recording a fairly straightforward 7-2 win. The Hoops’ trophy-winning exploits this season were also, slightly peculiarly, bookended by two friendly matches against English second division club Sunderland. It ended up being a notable / historic season for both clubs, with Sunderland winning promotion to the top flight after a six-year absence (Derryman Johnny Crossan was their top scorer), but it was a run to the quarter-finals of the F.A. Cup that saw them make headlines in England and beyond. A three-match tussle with a star-studded Manchester United was eventually lost (had the Black Cats won there would have been three second division clubs in the last four) but the huge demand for entry to the first replay led to an extremely dangerous case of overcrowding at Roker Park. Two Sunderland fans lost their lives and it was only because of good fortune that a more serious disaster was averted. Rovers had won 2-1 on their visit to Roker Park in August, but Sunderland made amends by winning 3-1 at Dalymount Park in early May.
Drogheda‘s first season as a League of Ireland club ended up as a bit of a mixed bag, but they could ultimately be quite satisfied that they managed to avoid having to seek re-election. Their first match of the season was a 4-3 Dublin City Cup defeat by neighbours Dundalk at Oriel Park, but they struggled to attract crowds to their matches early on as they found wins hard to come by. The players had to take a pay cut, but with Dan McCaffrey leading the line the Boynesiders managed to find a little bit of form, and the crowds also started to come through the turnstiles. Although they were heavily beaten in both league matches against Dundalk, a 5-5 draw away to champions Shamrock Rovers was a definite high point of this debut season.
Sligo Rovers had returned after their one-season absence from the league, and although this was the last season for club legend (and all-time top scorer) Johnny Armstrong, another Bit O’ Red great appeared on the scene this year. A local 20-year old centre-half called David Pugh made a big impact and received much praise for his performances, drawing favourable comparisons to the likes of Shelbourne’s Freddie Strahan. By 1966, the well-built defender would be captaining Ireland’s under-23 team, and as well as serving Sligo Rovers with distinction, Pugh would go on to appear for Sligo G.A.A. in a Connacht final against Galway. Several other newcomers to the league this season were destined to make big names for themselves, with Shamrock Rovers handing a debut to 16-year old Damien Richardson, and a 17-year old Turlough O’Connor scoring on his first appearance for Limerick. A young Paddy Mulligan also made his debut for Bohemians before leaving to join Home Farm, but then signed a professional contract with Shamrock Rovers a short time later.
League of Ireland 1963-64
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||8||9||5||41||29||25|
* Sligo Rovers deducted two points
European Competition (all home legs at Dalymount Park) : European Cup Preliminary Round, Dundalk 0-3 FC Zürich, FC Zürich 1-2 Dundalk European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round, Shelbourne 0-2 Barcelona, Barcelona 3-1 Shelbourne Inter Cities Fairs Cup First Round, Shamrock Rovers 0-1 Valencia, Valencia 2-2 Shamrock Rovers
League top scorers : Eddie Bailham Shamrock Rovers, 18 Jimmy Hasty Dundalk, 18 Johnny Kingston Cork Hibernians, 18
S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Joe Wickham, F.A.I. Secretary
Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-1 English League, League of Ireland 4-2 Irish League, Irish League 2-2 League of Ireland