1945-46 League of Ireland season

In the space of just six years, Cork United had joined Bohemian F.C. on a total of five League of Ireland titles, after winning yet another league trophy in 1946, to go with the Dublin City Cup that they had won at the beginning of the season. Drumcondra led the league’s chasing pack on this occasion, two points behind the Leesiders, and also won their third F.A.I. Cup, defeating Shamrock Rovers 2-1 in the final (like Rovers the year before, Drums had lost two games on their way to the decider). It was the first real breakthrough season for the club from the north side of Dublin, who would play such a huge part in the League of Ireland story over the next quarter of a century or so. 1945-46 saw them capture their first League of Ireland Shield, thanks to a 4-1 “away” win over second-placed Shelbourne (Shels had switched the eagerly-anticipated match to Dalymount Park and the attendance ended up being around 23,000) on the last day of the competition, and Drums also took part in what proved to be the best attended fixture in League of Ireland history this season, with some 31,000 people present at Dalymount Park to watch their 1-1 draw with Cork United. Drums therefore failed to gain revenge for their 9-1 drubbing at the Mardyke earlier in the season, in which Cork’s Paddy O’Leary had scored an incredible six goals (the Drumcondra goal was scored by future Leeds, Aston Villa and Ireland star Con Martin).

Shamrock Rovers, with Davy Cochrane back in their side (he had spent the last three seasons with Linfield), replicated Bohemians’ 3-2 aggregate win over Belfast Celtic in the previous season’s final to capture their second Intercity Cup. Having first come up against a Glentoran side that featured future Northern Ireland and Tottenham Hotspur great Danny Blanchflower (the young wing-half scored twice in his side’s 4-3 aggregate defeat), Rovers were then the only League of Ireland team in the semi-finals, as Linfield, Belfast Celtic and Distillery all accounted for their southern opponents. Former Belfast Celtic player Jimmy McAlinden had been with Rovers for the main season, but had left for Portsmouth by the time they came up against his old teammates in the final in early June. A 3-1 win at Windsor Park meant a 1-0 loss in the second leg at Dalymount Park was not enough to deprive the Hoops of the trophy.

Davy Cochrane left Shamrock Rovers soon afterwards, and the club would also sell Peter Farrell and Tommy Eglington (the Hoops’ top scorer this season) to Everton for a combined fee of £9,000, with the twosome becoming key players for the Merseysiders and for Ireland over the coming decade. Shelbourne defender Eddie Gannon joined Notts County, and a number of League of Ireland players would be lured north of the border. Despite the war having ended and many of the Emergency’s worst restrictions having been relaxed, only the same eight teams made themselves available for the beginning of the 1946-47 season (it was unusual to see Shelbourne and Bohemians occupying this year’s re-election positions). The effects of the post-war economy were continuing to make life difficult for League of Ireland clubs.

League of Ireland 1945-46

PWDLFAPts
Cork United14932462021
Drumcondra14833373419
Waterford14725292816
Shamrock Rovers14626403114
Dundalk14455363713
Limerick14518252811
Bohemians14428193610
Shelbourne1432926448

League top scorers : Paddy O’Leary Cork United, 15 Tommy Eglington Shamrock Rovers, 11 Tommy McCormack Drumcondra, 11 Mick O’Flanagan Bohemians, 11

Representative matches : League of Ireland 1-2 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 3-0 League of Ireland

1944-45 League of Ireland season

The 1944-45 season opened with Shamrock Rovers winning all seven of their matches (and scoring 28 goals) on their way to a first Dublin City Cup success, and Shelbourne recording their sixth victory in the League of Ireland Shield. By going unbeaten through the first six games of the league, Rovers looked a good bet as possible title contenders, but a 6-0 victory for Cork United over the Hoops at the Mardyke saw the Leesiders assume control of the championship race. With seven wins from their seven home games, and scoring an incredible 59 goals in just 14 games (a new, and existing, league record), they eventually enjoyed a five-point advantage over both Limerick (who, like Cork, now had a largely full-time set-up) and Shamrock Rovers. It was the Cork club’s fourth league title in five years, but an improved away record for either of their title rivals would doubtless have made the race much closer, with neither Limerick (the Shannonsiders also had a 100% home record, with the Market’s Field quickly gaining a reputation as a notoriously bad playing surface) or the Hoops managing a single league win on their travels.

Rovers had the consolation of capturing their tenth F.A.I. Cup, in what was just their twelfth cup final appearance, following a 1-0 win over Jimmy Dunne’s Bohemians. The attendance for the Dalymount fixture was a new record for an F.A.I. Cup final, with some 41,238 (although whether it was advisable or safe to admit such a crowd was extremely debatable) witnessing Podge Gregg’s late winning goal. The Hoops had actually lost two F.A.I. Cup matches on their way to glory, with Limerick and Dundalk winning first round and semi-final legs, but bowing out to Rovers on aggregate.

Bohemians did manage to capture this season’s Intercity Cup some weeks later, following a 3-2 aggregate win over Belfast Celtic. That particular Ulster club would soon add the talents of Cork United’s Seanie McCarthy to their squad, the centre-forward having just completed a season that saw him score an incredible 26 goals in his side’s 14 league outings (United would replace McCarthy with Paddy O’Leary, a Corkman who had been a key part of the Limerick squad for a number of years, having been based in the city as a member of the army). Having had a total of four separate spells in the League of Ireland, 1944-45 was alas to be the final league season for Brideville F.C., the Dublin club’s place being taken by Waterford, themselves returning for a third spell, following a four-year period of League of Ireland non-involvement.

League of Ireland 1944-45

PWDLFAPts
Cork United141103592422
Limerick14734382517
Shamrock Rovers14653202017
Drumcondra14554323215
Shelbourne14536212113
Dundalk14437223311
Brideville1425720449
Bohemians1424817308

League top scorers : Seanie McCarthy Cork United, 26 Noel Dunne Limerick, 15 Seamus Darcy Limerick, 10 Jackie O’Driscoll Cork United, 10

Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-1 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 3-5 League of Ireland

1943-44 League of Ireland season

Given that there were now just eight sides in the League of Ireland, the Dublin City Cup reverted to a round robin format at the start of the 1943-44 season. The race for that competition boiled down to a match between Cork United and Drumcondra (who were tied on nine points after six games), with a 4-1 Mardyke victory ensuring that the cup came to Leeside for the very first time. The win appeared to augur well for United’s chances of a fourth successive league title, but having capitalised on a last day slip-up by Shamrock Rovers (who had scored twice as many goals as Shels had) to win their first League of Ireland Shield since 1930, Shelbourne went on to capture their first league championship in 13 years (their fourth in all) in 1944.

Reaching only their second cup final in 20 years, Shels were denied a domestic treble in a thrilling game by local rivals Shamrock Rovers, who eventually triumphed on a scoreline of 3-2. Shels were controversially awarded a penalty late on when a Rovers defender handled a ball that already appeared to have crossed the line, but with the subsequent spot-kick being missed, Rovers held out to record an incredible ninth cup success. The competition was notable this year for the absence of any non-league teams due to the suspension of the F.A.I. Intermediate Cup, resulting in the first round, and subsequent semi-final ties, all being contested over two legs.

A change of club colours from red-and-white to blue-and-white seemed to be advantageous, as having failed to finish above fifth in any of their six previous league seasons, Limerick (both they and Shels had remained unbeaten at home, albeit through just seven league games) claimed the runners-up position in 1944, with the title only being clinched after Shelbourne’s 5-3 victory in their delayed last fixture against Shamrock Rovers. St. James’s Gate finished bottom of the table this year, and with the league refusing to grant their application for re-election, Brideville returned to the league fray after their one-year absence. The club who had won the inaugural League of Ireland would not compete in the league again for another 46 years.

League of Ireland 1943-44

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne14932322221
Limerick14842341920
Shamrock Rovers14554382715
Dundalk14635211915
Cork United14626362814
Drumcondra14626242814
Bohemians14428253210
St. James’s Gate14111212473

League top scorers : Seanie McCarthy Cork United, 16 Paddy Coad Shamrock Rovers, 15 Paddy O’Leary Limerick, 15

Representative matches : League of Ireland 3-4 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 2-2 League of Ireland

1942-43 League of Ireland season

A Paddy Barlow hat-trick in Dundalk’s 4-2 Dublin City Cup final victory over Drumcondra began the distribution of trophies for the 1942-43 season, but Cork United decided to set their stall out relatively early this year, with five wins from five at the Mardyke (they would remain unbeaten at home through all four competitions) helping them to a first League of Ireland Shield, despite strong challenges from Shelbourne, Bohemians and Dundalk. United would go on to become the first club to win three consecutive League of Ireland championships, this time claiming the title with a point to spare over Dundalk, a last-minute goal for St. James’s Gate against the Louth club preventing the league from going to a play-off. Although beaten by underdogs Drumcondra in the F.A.I. Cup final (this year, the six F.A.I. Cup first round matches were contested over two legs, with two teams then receiving a bye into the semi-finals), the fact that it was Cork United’s third consecutive appearance in the decider only served to cement their position as the dominant League of Ireland force in the early 1940s. Meanwhile, Drumcondra (who had been investing heavily in their Tolka Park home in recent years) combined their F.A.I. Cup success with a top three finish in the league, their best league showing in their 15 seasons so far.

Action from the 1943 cup final between Drumcondra and Cork United

The Intercity Cup final was an all-southern affair for the second season in a row, Shamrock Rovers taking the trophy on corners after drawing 2-2 with Bohemians over two legs. Having finished well adrift at the bottom of the table for the previous three campaigns (winning just four games during those three league seasons), Bray Unknowns failed to attain re-election, and 1942-43 would prove to be their last-ever League of Ireland involvement. With Brideville also absent for the start of the new season, the 1943-44 title race would be contested by just eight sides.

1943 would unfortunately see the premature deaths of two of the most prominent league players of the last decade or so. In March, Bohemians utility player (he played in every position except goalkeeper for the club) and seven-time Irish international Fred Horlacher passed away after a short illness, and in September, former Cork, Waterford, Hibernian and Ireland winger Tim O’Keeffe lost his battle with cancer. Both players were just 33 years old at the time of their deaths.

League of Ireland 1942-43

PWDLFAPts
Cork United181233421427
Dundalk181143402226
Drumcondra18954473423
Shamrock Rovers18846362820
Shelbourne18756352819
St. James’s Gate18747313018
Limerick18819413817
Bohemians18648283416
Brideville183510253911
Bray Unknowns18111614723

League top scorers : Seanie McCarthy Cork United, 16 Davy Walsh Limerick, 13 Paddy Coad Shamrock Rovers, 12 Don McDonald Dundalk, 12 Tommy McNamara Drumcondra, 12

Representative matches : League of Ireland 0-1 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 2-2 League of Ireland

1941-42 League of Ireland season

Trophy wins for Shelbourne (with two Paddy Bradshaw goals helping them to a 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in the Dublin City Cup final) and Shamrock Rovers (shield) in the opening months of the season hinted at the league title’s possible return to Dublin this year, but Cork United did enough to retain the league championship in 1942, finishing two points ahead of Shamrock Rovers. A late December meeting between the two title rivals at Milltown came to be regarded as a League of Ireland classic, with a crowd of 25,000 being treated to an epic 4-4 draw. With a side that included I.F.A. international captain Davy Cochrane (the club’s top scorer this year; F.A.I. and future Manchester United skipper Jackie Carey also featured for Rovers in one match), the Hoops handed Cork their only league defeat of the season, 3-2 at the Mardyke, and themselves remained unbeaten at Milltown through all four national competitions.

Dundalk (who had adopted their now famous white and black kit the previous season, after a temporary flirtation with maroon and light blue) prevented Cork from claiming a second consecutive double, by winning the F.A.I. Cup decider 3-1. In doing so they got their own hands on the trophy for the first time, after three previous final defeats, and nine previous progressions to the semi-final stages. Club legend and 10-time Irish international Joey Donnelly (considered the best player that the club has ever produced), a survivor of all three of those beaten Dundalk sides, had the honour of lifting the elusive trophy for the Oriel Park outfit.

Dundalk were also the inaugural winners of the new Dublin and Belfast Intercity Cup, a cross-border competition (contested at the very end of the season) introduced to increase the amount of football for both northern and southern teams during the war years, and having the added bonus of generating much needed revenue for the competing clubs. Six teams from each league (there were now just six teams competing in the unofficial “Northern Regional League”) took part, with the victors and two strongest losers from a two-legged first round moving on to two-legged quarter and semi-final stages. The first final, where an Artie Kelly goal (Kelly had scored twice in the F.A.I. Cup final just a few weeks earlier) gave Dundalk a 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers, took place over 90 minutes, but the next five Intercity Cup finals were two-legged affairs. All six southern clubs played their “home” games at Dalymount Park, and attendances were considerable.

Despite the relatively successful year at Glenmalure Park, controversy would reign at Shamrock Rovers towards the end of the season, with Jimmy Dunne’s omission from the team line-up for an F.A.I. Cup semi-final match with Dundalk prompting a protest march by Hoops fans to the home of the Rovers’ owners, the Cunningham family. Joe Cunningham (with occasional input from his wife Mary-Jane) had enjoyed control of Rovers team selection for years, and the incident would be one of several selection scandals that the family would become embroiled in over the coming decades. With matters not resolved to his satisfaction, Dunne would leave to take the post of player-coach of Bohemians in time for the beginning of the new league campaign.

Despite the war impacting heavily upon Ireland’s economy, attendances at League of Ireland matches showed no sign of waning, and all 10 clubs made themselves available for the beginning of the 1942-43 season. The league’s fortunes were aided by an influx of players from the other “home” leagues in the early 1940s, due to the suspension / downgrading of their own domestic competitions because of the war (it was also an opportunity to avoid national service). As well as players like Cochrane, Carey, and Derry City star Jimmy Kelly, many Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen were happy to ply their trade (or at least have brief stints) in the League of Ireland during this time. Although a number of the league’s better players were also lured north of the border by favourable contract offers, there would be a noticeable increase in the amount of full-time footballers in the League of Ireland as the 1940s progressed.

League of Ireland 1941-42


PWDLFAPts

Cork United181341542030

Shamrock Rovers181242522328

Shelbourne18855382921

Dundalk18837453619

St. James’s Gate18657413519*

Brideville18576294417

Limerick18738323315*

Bohemians18468293614

Drumcondra18468294914

Bray Unknowns18031517613

* St. James’s Gate awarded two points from Limerick

League top scorers : Tommy Byrne Limerick, 20 (includes 3 goals from a 3-1 win over St. James’s Gate, where the points were awarded to the Dublin club after Limerick fielded an ineligible player; the four goals scored in the match were removed from the league table) Artie Kelly Dundalk, 15 Owen Madden Cork United, 14

Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-2 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 5-2 League of Ireland

1940-41 League of Ireland season

The season began with Drumcondra winning a second consecutive Dublin City Cup after a 3-0 win over Dundalk, and St. James’s Gate cruising (they won nine and drew one of their 10 matches) to their second League of Ireland Shield. The league title was destined for Leeside, however, with Cork United succeeding where previous incarnations Fordsons, Cork F.C. and Cork City had failed. United could count themselves lucky to have got their hands on the trophy this time, though, with Waterford (who had a potent attack that featured Johnny Johnstone, Tim O’Keeffe and a young Waterford native called Paddy Coad) having finished on the same amount of points, and also having done the double over the Corkmen during the course of the league season. League rules dictated that a play-off be held, but due to a dispute regarding payments to the club’s players, Waterford failed to participate in the championship decider. The league title was thus awarded to Cork United.

Action from the first cup final match between Cork United and Waterford

Waterford had earlier lost the F.A.I. Cup to their southern rivals, United winning 3-1 in a replay, following a 2-2 draw first time out. The second match saw Cork captain Owen Madden and Waterford’s Jackie O’Driscoll (who himself was a Corkman) becoming the first players to be sent off in an F.A.I. Cup final. The Kilcohan Park outfit’s disappointing season was compounded by a heavy fine for their non-appearance in the league decider, and also the club being suspended from the League of Ireland before the onset of the 1941-42 campaign. Leinster Senior League side Distillery F.C. (who had taken the scalps of Drumcondra, Brideville and Dundalk in the F.A.I. Cup in recent seasons) made an application to take Waterford’s place, but the league decided against admitting another Dublin-based team.

1941’s league top scorer, Mick O’Flanagan, would make even more significant history seven years later. When being capped for the Irish rugby team against Scotland in February of 1948 (Ireland’s only Grand Slam-winning year prior to 2009), he emulated the achievement of his brother and Bohemians teammate Kevin (also an Irish sprint and long-jump champion, and an accomplished tennis player and golfer) by winning Irish caps in both rugby and soccer.

League of Ireland 1940-41


PWDLFAPts

Cork United201343502330*

Waterford201424623130

Bohemians20956524423

Shamrock Rovers20938484321

St. James’s Gate20938444121

Drumcondra20848445020

Dundalk209110434219

Brideville207211395716

Limerick206410274416

Shelbourne20398233115

Bray Unknowns20331429559

* Cork United awarded league title after Waterford failed to participate in play-off

League top scorers : Mick O’Flanagan Bohemians, 19 Johnny Johnstone Waterford, 17 Tim O’Keeffe Waterford, 17

Representative matches : League of Ireland 3-8 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 2-1 League of Ireland

1939-40 League of Ireland season

The new campaign would again see no change to the constituents of the league, although Cork City, due to financial difficulties, would be forced to re-arrange themselves as Cork United (who took on the playing record and fixtures of the defunct club) midway through the season. Aided by the presence of Irish internationals Joe O’Reilly, Paddy Bradshaw and Mattie Geoghegan, St. James’s Gate were the dominant league force for this year, claiming a second league title six points ahead of Shamrock Rovers, to deny the Milltown club a three-in-a-row. A record crowd of 38,509, meanwhile, watched the latter side defeat Sligo Rovers 3-0 to hand the Connacht club their second F.A.I. Cup final defeat in a row.

Drumcondra and Shelbourne had met to decide this season’s first piece of silverware, with each club seeking to put their name on the Dublin City Cup for the first time. The previous December (1938) had seen a mid-table league game between the sides almost have to be abandoned after a melee broke out involving opposing players and supporters, but this Dalymount Park meeting passed off without further incident, goals from O’Doherty (2) and O’Brien giving Drums a comfortable 3-0 win. An extremely competitive League of Ireland Shield finished with just two points separating the top seven, but holders Bohemians, along with Sligo Rovers, finished clear of the rest on 14 points each. It would mean yet another shield play-off for the Gypsies, and it was fixed for Shelbourne Park on a Wednesday in early January, with the two clubs also due to play a league match at the Showgrounds three days in advance. Sligo won the league game 3-2 after almost allowing a three-goal lead to completely slip, but having taken a 2-0 half-time lead in the play-off they looked very well-placed to put a blot on Bohs’ impressive record in shield “test matches”. The Dubliners fashioned another second-half revival, however, and goals from Frankie Fullen, Billy Jordan and Dermot Skelly secured the club’s sixth (and last) League of Ireland Shield.

The outbreak of World War II had led to an immediate suspension of the English and Scottish leagues, and a knock-on effect was that the possibility of league representative matches against any overseas team had now all but been removed. There was time for one more twist, however, as a Scottish XI (comprised only of players from Glasgow area clubs) made a trip to Dalymount Park at the end of the 1939-40 season. Their opponents would be an Irish XI made up of 10 League of Ireland players, and Jackie Carey of Manchester United (the team contained two of Carey’s former St. James’s Gate team-mates) filling the one remaining place. Billed as a Scottish attempt to gain revenge for the previous season’s inter-league defeat, a large crowd were present to see the visitors edge a very exciting match by three goals to two. By now, however, the economic effects of the war were beginning to make life very difficult for League of Ireland clubs (fuel shortages and a lack of rail services were two of the biggest problems), and this prompted Sligo Rovers to resign their league position before the beginning of the 1940-41 season. Although the league advertised for a replacement club, none was found in time for the beginning of the new campaign.

League of Ireland 1939-40

PWDLFAPts
St. James’s Gate221723632736
Shamrock Rovers221345513930
Sligo Rovers221246604428
Dundalk221138453625
Cork United221138403425
Drumcondra221057494525
Shelbourne22688413920
Bohemians227411364618
Bray Unknowns228113495217
Brideville226511394917
Waterford226412445416
Limerick22151623757

League top scorers : Paddy Bradshaw St. James’s Gate, 29 Paddy Leeney Bray Unknowns, 16 Jimmy Dunne Shamrock Rovers, 15 Joe McAleer Sligo Rovers, 15 Tim O’Keeffe Waterford, 15

Representative match : League of Ireland 2-0 Irish League

An ‘Ireland XI’ with 10 home-based players meets a Scotland XI at Dalymount Park in April 1940

1938-39 League of Ireland season

In 1939, Shamrock Rovers became the first club to put League of Ireland titles back to back, a full nine points ahead of Sligo Rovers and Dundalk, and in doing so moved ahead of Bohemians in the league roll of honour. Shelbourne defeated Sligo Rovers following a replay to record what was, amazingly, their first F.A.I. Cup success, with William ‘Sacky’ Glen scoring the only goal of the game from a 2nd minute free kick to ensure that he would collect a record eighth Free State / F.A.I. Cup winner’s medal. The first half of the season had seen St. James’s Gate defeat Cork City 6-0 to take the Dublin City Cup (Cork had beaten Shamrock Rovers 7-0 in the semi-final), and Bohemians take the League of Ireland Shield after a play-off victory over Bray Unknowns at Shelbourne Park. It was a fifth shield success for the Gypsies (who introduced a permanent club programme / magazine for every league game this year, with other clubs soon to follow suit), and their fourth to be secured via a play-off. Meanwhile, the fortunes of Cork’s League of Ireland representatives continued to stagnate, with the club finishing second bottom for the third year in a row, and seeking re-election to the league for a fourth time in five years.

Sligo Rovers’ strong showing in both the league and cup could arguably be attributed to the euphoria created by the arrival of the legendary William ‘Dixie’ Dean to the club in January 1939. While the involvement of English players (and indeed coaches / managers) in the league was nothing new, a player of the calibre of Dean (widely believed to be the greatest player of his generation, Dean had scored 60 English First Division goals in the 1927-28 season) had never graced Irish football before. The former Everton and England star scored 10 goals in seven league games for Sligo, including five in a 7-1 defeat of Waterford. He also scored Sligo’s goal in the 1-1 cup final draw with Shelbourne, before returning to England at the end of the season.

St. Patrick’s Day 1939 saw the League of Ireland record a historic 2-1 victory over the Scottish League at Dalymount Park, six days after they had beaten the Irish League by the same scoreline in Belfast. 35,000 people turned out to witness this first ever meeting of the two sides, with Sligo’s Johnny Johnstone (a Derryman) and St. James’s Gate’s Irish international forward Paddy Bradshaw (who had enjoyed a meteoric rise from the Leinster Senior League to scoring twice for Ireland against Switzerland in the space of just five months) netting the all-important goals. Remarkably, it would be another 40 years, taking in an incredible 21 meetings, before the League of Ireland would record a second victory (and that would be against a mainly part-time team) over their Scottish counterparts.

The annual match against the Irish League had been restored since the previous season, but with some difficult financial times being experienced by clubs both north and south, the idea of establishing a cross-border cup competition was now also being strongly considered. To test some of the waters around this, an exhibition match between the northern and southern champions took place at the end of the 1938-39 season. Belfast Celtic had just taken the fourth in what was to be a run of five consecutive Irish League titles, but two goals by Owen McNally helped Shamrock Rovers to a 2-1 win at Dalymount Park. The attendance wasn’t quite as high as expected, however, and with the match itself also being seen as something of a disappointment, it seemed there might be some thinking to be done before any new tournament came into being.

League of Ireland 1938-39

PWDLFAPts
Shamrock Rovers221642603236
Sligo Rovers221075503127
Dundalk221075483127
St. James’s Gate221039594823
Limerick22949363822
Shelbourne22949404822
Bohemians228410414620
Drumcondra226610384518
Bray Unknowns227411414918
Brideville226610374918
Cork City227312394917
Waterford224810365916

League top scorers : Paddy Bradshaw St. James’s Gate, 22 Tom Davis Dundalk, 18 (including 15 for Cork City) Paddy Leeney Bray Unknowns, 18

Representative matches : Irish League 1-2 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 2-1 Scottish League

1937-38 League of Ireland season

It was decided that the Dublin City Cup, like the League of Ireland Shield, should now become a beginning of season competition, and a 2-1 win for Dundalk against Cork in the Dalymount Park final decided this season’s first piece of silverware. Shamrock Rovers (with the returned Irish international and former Arsenal star Jimmy ‘Snowy’ Dunne as player-coach) won the shield with four points to spare over Shelbourne, and went on to collect a fifth League of Ireland championship at the end of the season, one point ahead of Waterford. An unbeaten record at Kilcohan Park, and the goals of Tim O’Keeffe (who would depart for Scottish club Hibernian at the end of the season for a League of Ireland record £400) and Hughie O’Donnell had helped the Suirsiders to land the runners-up position ahead of Dundalk, and an unbeaten record at Harold’s Cross helped Brideville to a fourth-placed finish, their best League of Ireland performance to date. Meanwhile, a large exodus of players from the previous season’s runaway league champions Sligo Rovers meant that the north-westerners could only manage a sixth place finish this time around.

Having been on the losing side with St. James’s Gate in 1934 and 1937, Dundalk striker Alf Rigby now found his former teammates (including the league’s top scorer, Willie ‘Wagger’ Byrne) standing in the way of him and an F.A.I. Cup winner’s medal. A close match was expected, as Dundalk had added a semi-final victory over Shamrock Rovers to a 5-1 league win over the Hoops at Milltown (Rovers won the league in spite of having a very generous defence), and the Gate had done real damage to Dundalk’s championship hopes by inflicting two league defeats on them. A goal from Dickie Comerford gave the Gate a half-time lead, only for Rigby to equalise for the Lilywhites just two minutes into the second period. A penalty from the Gate’s Irish international defender, Paddy Gaskins, a few minutes later proved to be the winner, however, and the border club had to contend with a third defeat in a Free State / F.A.I. Cup decider. The result also ensured that the Lilywhites had been eliminated by the eventual cup winners in each of the previous six campaigns.

The 1937-38 season was definitely one to forget for Drumcondra F.C. As well as finishing bottom of the league table, they were dumped out of the F.A.I. Cup by their near neighbours Distillery, with the Leinster Senior League club strolling to an easy 4-0 win at Tolka Park. Drums put in a much better performance in losing 5-4 to champions-elect Shamrock Rovers in front of a big crowd at Tolka in March, but this game ended up being the catalyst for another bad news story. After a bag containing some of the gate receipts from the match went missing, the teenage son of a club official soon appeared in court, and with his own father among those giving evidence in the case, eventually found himself charged with larceny.

1937-38 was the first time that the league contained a club from the Free State’s third-largest city, with a newly-formed Limerick side (they beat Shamrock Rovers 1-0 in the Dublin City Cup in their debut senior fixture) having been elected to the league following the resignation of Dolphin. The Dublin club would not feature in the League of Ireland again, but with one league championship, two F.A.I. Cup final appearances (in beating St. James’s Gate 10-0 in 1932, they had established a record away winning margin in an F.A.I. Cup match that would stand for over 80 years), and six senior Irish international players, they had certainly made a significant impact on Irish football. Shamrock Rovers took part in an effort to promote the game in Galway by playing an exhibition match there the day after their league victory, but the possibility of a Galway club joining the League of Ireland still seemed some distance away. The league contained the same 12 teams for the beginning of the 1938-39 season, with the only change being Cork’s transformation (the club had been liquidated and immediately reformed in February 1938) into Cork City F.C.

League of Ireland 1937-38

PWDLFAPts
Shamrock Rovers221444714732
Waterford221354764031
Dundalk221345532930
Brideville221255513529
St. James’s Gate221318654027
Sligo Rovers227510556119
Shelbourne226610364718
Bray Unknowns228212375618
Bohemians227312556017
Limerick226511344317
Cork226115387813
Drumcondra225314326713

League top scorers : Willie Byrne St. James’s Gate, 25 Frank Fullen Bohemians, 22 Tim O’Keeffe Waterford, 21

Representative match : League of Ireland 1-3 Irish League

1936-37 Free State League season

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

PWDLFAPts
Sligo Rovers221624683034
Dundalk221048413424
Waterford2212010594924
Bray Unknowns221048303924
St. James’s Gate22958634323
Drumcondra221039414723
Bohemians2210210545622
Shelbourne229310534821
Shamrock Rovers228311465519
Dolphin227411435918
Cork227312516017
Brideville226313325115

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