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

Shamrock Rovers221642603236
Sligo Rovers221075503127
St. James’s Gate221039594823
Bray Unknowns227411414918
Cork City227312394917

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

Shamrock Rovers221444714732
St. James’s Gate221318654027
Sligo Rovers227510556119
Bray Unknowns228212375618

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

Sligo Rovers221624683034
Bray Unknowns221048303924
St. James’s Gate22958634323
Shamrock Rovers228311465519

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

1935-36 Free State League season

Brideville re-entered the Free State League for 1935-36 after a three-season absence, and were joined by Reds United F.C., who were, essentially, Shelbourne F.C. in disguise. The new club played at Glenmalure Park, Milltown, home of Shamrock Rovers, but contained both players and officials from Shelbourne. With four players in double figures for the season, Bohemians scored 73 goals in 22 games on their way to a fifth league title (the last ever by an amateur club) this year, with Dolphin (whose win at Dalymount deprived Bohs of taking maximum home points) proving that the previous year’s successes were no fluke, by claiming the runners-up spot ahead of Cork. The latter club’s revival in fortunes could be attributed almost entirely to one man, with some 37 of their 61 league goals coming from Englishman Jimmy Turnbull.

The centre-forward (who was also a champion sprinter) set other Irish footballing records as well this season, with 11 goals coming in the Leesiders’ Free State Cup run, and an overall haul of 63 across the four main domestic competitions. A striker as prolific as Turnbull, if retained, might well have brought Cork to the pinnacle of League of Ireland football, but the £50 signing-on fee the forward sought for the 1936-37 season would prove too much for the Leesiders to part with. Instead, his appearance in the 1936 Free State Cup final against Shamrock Rovers would serve as his best opportunity to shoot the Cork club to a major honour, but in spite of a team selection issue that saw the club’s players refuse to tog out until minutes before the game (centre-forward Paul Scully, who had scored in every round, was dropped from the team by the Rovers owner, Joe Cunningham), goals from Paddy Moore and former Brideville star Charlie Reid rendered a late Turnbull strike insufficient, and the cup was on its way to Milltown for a seventh time.

Meanwhile, a shield success saw St. James’s Gate take their first national honour since their double triumph 14 years previously, with second-placed, unbeaten Drumcondra left cursing a last-day goalless draw with third-placed Sligo Rovers. Just as Dolphin (whose Ray Rogers was one of three players at the club to score 16 league goals or more this season) had done the year before, Bohemians capped off their league championship success by adding the Dublin City Cup, their 4-3 defeat of Dundalk in the final (the competition had been changed to a straight knock-out format this season, with corner counts set to decide any drawn games) echoing the Free State Cup decider of the previous season. Reds United, meanwhile, claimed a respectable fourth place finish in what would prove to be their only Free State League campaign, relinquishing their position to make way for Shelbourne’s return.

Free State League 1935-36
Reds United221219454725
Shamrock Rovers2210210615822
Sligo Rovers229310484721
St. James’s Gate228311474219
Bray Unknowns22102123992

League top scorers : Jimmy Turnbull Cork, 37 Ray Rogers Dolphin, 23 William Ouchterlonie Reds United, 20

1934-35 Free State League season

With the competition increasingly being used merely for experimentation, it was decided that the Free State Shield would now be competed for at the beginning of the season, and in October 1934, Shamrock Rovers won the tournament for a record fifth time, one point ahead of Dolphin. A poor showing in the league race by Rovers, however, along with Shelbourne’s absence from the fray, contributed to a very unfamiliar championship table (the league itself now ran from November to April) for the season, with Dolphin’s unbeaten away record helping them become the fifth Dublin club to lift the league trophy, a point ahead of a gallant St. James’s Gate side (who took 17 of their last 18 points), with newcomers Sligo Rovers in third.

With Irish internationals Billy Jordan (with two) and Fred Horlacher accounting for three of their goals, a thrilling Free State Cup decider saw 10-man Bohemians overcoming Dundalk by four goals to three. Although it later emerged that the Louth club had been fielding Irish League players under assumed names, Dundalk’s 18-year old centre-forward Billy O’Neill (temporarily switched from the full-back position in which he would win 11 international caps) became another player to score a goal in every round of the competition, emulating the achievement of Timothy Jim O’Keeffe in the previous season. It was a season to forget for O’Keeffe and his Cork teammates, however, with 1934’s near double-winners finishing bottom of the Free State League table, taking just three wins from their 18 league outings.

1934-35 was also the first year of a new competition, the Dublin City Cup. Largely introduced to fill up time in a league season now once again being contested by just 10 teams, it initially took place towards the end of the campaign, in the aftermath of the league and with the Free State Cup entering its final stages. Open to Free State League clubs only (and not just to those from Dublin, as the name suggests; it was primarily called the Dublin City Cup to distinguish it from the City Cup competition held north of the border), it was, like the shield, competed for in a “round robin” format in that first season (if a club had had home advantage in a shield fixture, they would have to travel to that opponent’s ground in the Dublin City Cup), before becoming a straight knock-out competition in 1936. As the fourth most prestigious trophy in Free State football, it, like the shield, would eventually come to serve largely as a method for clubs to blood new players. Like the league race, the competition turned into a tussle between Dolphin and St. James’s Gate, with Dolphin emphasising their end-of-season superiority by becoming the inaugural Dublin City Cup winners.

Free State League 1934-35

St. James’s Gate181233463327
Sligo Rovers18846443020
Shamrock Rovers18567273316
Bray Unknowns18639395615

League top scorers : Alf Rigby St. James’s Gate, 17 Charles McDaid Sligo Rovers, 16 Waltie Walsh Waterford, 13

Representative match : Free State League 2-1 Welsh League

1933-34 Free State League season

With the Free State Shield “double-round” system of the previous year being retained, it was decided to open and close the season with a round of shield fixtures, and to effectively “sandwich” the league championship race in between. With Shamrock Rovers leading the shield at the halfway stage, victory in their last seven league games saw Bohemians (coached by Billy Lacey) claim a fourth Free State championship title one point ahead of Cork (who went unbeaten at the Mardyke and also inflicted Bohemians’ only home league defeat), before wrapping up their fourth shield with the help of an unbeaten away record and a 5-2 play-off win over Rovers at Shelbourne Park (the fixture was actually held over until August 1934). Needing seven matches to reach the final (the last ever to be held on St. Patrick’s Day), Cork did at least enjoy Free State Cup success, scoring a 2-1 win over Charlie Dowdall’s St. James’s Gate, who were making their first appearance in the decider since their league and cup double of 1922. Cork’s top scorer Tim O’Keeffe netted a goal in every round of the competition, and teammate Bobby Buckle emulated the achievement of his father Harry Buckle eight years previously by collecting a Free State Cup winner’s medal.

Apart from the trophies that were added to their cabinet, Bohemians’ 1933-34 season became memorable because of the somewhat international / cosmopolitan flavour that it ended up taking on. On the 1st of October a Peruvian / Chilean team were at Dalymount Park to play against Bohs in the opening match of a five-month long European tour. The team consisted mostly of Peruvian talent from the Universitario club, and Billy Jordan scored for the home team as they held the “Combinado del Pacifico” to a respectable 1-1 draw. Six months later (with their shield campaign not yet complete), Bohs travelled to Amsterdam to take part in an Easter tournament alongside three of the best teams from the low countries (including A.F.C. Ajax). Although beaten 6-2 by Go Ahead F.C. in a semi-final, the Free State League champions defeated Belgian side Cercle Bruges 4-1 in their next game to secure a third-place finish.

Bohemians draw 1-1 with a Peruvian / Chilean XI in October 1933

A dispute between the league authorities and Shelbourne F.C. led to some of the most significant events of this football season. Shels objected to the scheduling of an Irish international match for the same day as one of their league matches, but when both fixtures went ahead as planned, the club resigned their place in the league during the shield competition (a subsequent application for membership of the I.F.A. was refused). Cork Bohemians, meanwhile, having experienced great financial hardship during the year, would also be also absent for the beginning of the next league season (they were actually suspended and re-instated, before resigning in the middle of the shield), the two new vacancies being filled by Sligo Rovers and a returning Waterford.

Free State League 1933-34

Shamrock Rovers18945282322
St. James’s Gate185310263213
Bray Unknowns186111264413
Cork Bohemians18241218418

League top scorers : Alf Rigby St. James’s Gate, 13 Ray Rogers Bohemians, 12 Billy Merry Drumcondra, 11 Tim O’Keeffe Cork, 11

1932-33 Free State League season

While Shamrock Rovers had taken a clean sweep of league, cup and shield during the 1931-32 season, Dundalk had won all three of the sides’ meetings, and buoyed by their first league victories over Bohemians and Shelbourne this season, became the first regional club to win the Free State championship, a full five points clear of Shamrock Rovers. The Milltown club (who returned the favour this year by handing the Louth side their only two league defeats) could more than take comfort, however, from a second consecutive Free State Shield (with the competition held over two rounds for the first time since 1922, Rovers finished two points ahead of the new league champions), and an incredible fifth Free State Cup in succession.

With Bohemians being dispatched in the cup semi-finals for the third year in a row, Shamrock Rovers defeated Dolphin in the final for the second successive season, the Crumlin side seeing a three-goal lead (Irish international George Lennox had scored two penalties for Dolphin) slip to allow Rovers force a replay, which they won on an emphatic 3-0 scoreline. Two goals from Jimmy Daly and one from David Byrne (who this season became the first player to register 100 Free State league goals, before being transferred to Manchester United) did the trick in the second game, and William ‘Sacky’ Glen, John Joe Flood and John ‘Tipp’ Burke each collected their fifth Free State Cup winner’s medals. It was not until a 2-1 defeat to St. James’s Gate in a first round replay in the following year’s competition that the Hoops’ remarkable 28-game unbeaten Free State Cup run would finally come to an end.

Off the field, the government’s 1932 budget had included the creation of a new “entertainment tax” for all outdoor events, with Free State League clubs now having to part with roughly a fifth of all gate receipts. Clubs were already required to pay a 5% share of gate receipts to the league management committee, so the new tax, along with the after-effects of the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression (the Free State’s economic war with Britain was also in session), ensured difficult financial times for many clubs during the early 1930s. Many of them increased admission prices to offset the loss, and the Football Association of the Irish Free State took the opportunity to criticise the new tax in a June 1932 statement that also happened to announce a ban on southern clubs from playing any matches against clubs from north of the border. Disagreements between the F.A.I.F.S. and the I.F.A. over the selection of players for international games had yet to be properly resolved, and the ban (which would last until 1937) was intended to remain in place until the Dublin-based body received “its just share in the use of the name Ireland in international matches”. The F.A.I.F.S. were forced to flex their muscles again a few months later, when betting and bookmaking were reported to have been openly taking place at the Cork Bohemians vs (Dublin) Bohemians match at Ballintemple Greyhound Stadium. A ban on betting was announced by the governing body, but the Cork club escaped further censure and the 3-1 opening day win ultimately helped them to finish one point (and two places) ahead of their Dublin namesakes in the Free State League table.

Free State League 1932-33

Shamrock Rovers181125483224
Bray Unknowns18675292919
St. James’s Gate18819394117
Cork Bohemians18468303814

League top scorers : George Ebbs St. James’s Gate, 20 Tommy Doyle Shamrock Rovers, 17 Jimmy Rorrison Cork, 16

Representative match : Free State League 2-0 Welsh League

1931-32 Free State League season

Although the shield trophy was now spending its first year outside of Dublin, the wait for a non-Dublin winner of the league itself would go on, with Shamrock Rovers capitalising on late slip-ups by Cork (nicknamed the “League of Nations” due to the amount of non-Irishmen now in their squad) and Dundalk (who were beaten into third by Waterford) to collect their fourth league championship in 1932. The Glenmalure Park side were in fact rampant this year, taking the Free State Shield (they remained unbeaten to finish five clear of nearest challengers Cork) along with a fourth successive Free State Cup to complete a second domestic treble.

A Dolphin side containing a number of Irish internationals were their opponents in the cup final, with another Paddy Moore goal proving enough for Rovers in front of a record crowd of 32,000 (the league’s two highest-scoring teams had played to a record crowd of 30,000 in a league match at the Iveagh Grounds a few months earlier). The Hoops’ success this season was perhaps not so surprising given that they boasted a whole host of Irish internationals of their own (Moore, Byrne, Fullam, Flood, Glen, Burke), as well as a former English international midfielder in Vincent Matthews, and the ultra-prolific Scot Jimmy Smith, who would eventually total some 249 goals in 259 games for Glasgow Rangers. Moore had scored in every round (netting nine goals in total) of a cup competition that had been completed without the need for a single replay, and the final had also been the first to take place on a Sunday (Sundays were gradually becoming the day of choice for most Free State football matches).

Shamrock Rovers win the Free State Cup for the fourth year in a row

Finishing bottom for the third consecutive campaign (they had failed to win a single league, shield or cup match in 1929-30, and had finished bottom of the shield every year since 1927), 1931-32 proved to be the final league season for Jacobs A.F.C., who conceded a whopping 145 goals in their 28 competitive fixtures this year. The Rutland Avenue club’s place was taken by a new Cork side, Cork Bohemians, who had enjoyed Munster Senior Cup and F.A.I. Intermediate Cup success over the course of previous seasons. With Waterford (in spite of their impressive third place finish) and Brideville also absent for the start of 1932-33, the league was now once again made up of 10 club sides.

Free State League 1931-32

Shamrock Rovers221363703432
Bray Unknowns22958455123
St. James’s Gate224216276210

League top scorers : Pearson Ferguson Cork, 21 Jack Forster Waterford, 21 Paddy Moore Shamrock Rovers, 18 Jimmy Shiels Dolphin, 18

Representative match : Welsh League 2-4 Free State League

1930-31 Free State League season

1930 saw Dundalk G.N.R. become Dundalk F.C., Fordsons (the Ford company having chosen to end its association with the club) change their name to Cork F.C., and Bray Unknowns finally begin playing in their home town, moving from Woodbrook in south Co. Dublin to the Carlisle Grounds in Bray. The changes seemed to benefit Dundalk the most, a late surge helping them finish closest to the eventual league winners, Shelbourne, who were grateful that three-quarter-mark leaders Brideville (whose wholly Irish side contained international forward Charlie Reid and a promising young player named Joe O’Reilly) took just three points from their last seven games to eventually wind up in sixth place, five points adrift of the Reds. Shels, by contrast, had shown tremendous composure during the run-in, defeating Brideville in a crucial fixture on the second last day, and winning two matches against fellow title contenders Cork in the latter weeks of the campaign. The Reds’ Scottish centre-forward Alexander ‘Sandy’ Hair not only topped the national goalscoring charts, but by scoring 29 of Shelbourne’s league goals, accounted for more than half of their total tally of 52.

One other club who had entertained serious title aspirations this season were the previous year’s league champions, Bohemians. After beginning the campaign strongly by taking 15 points from their first 20, the naming of four Bohs players in an I.F.A. amateur squad for a match against England would ultimately deal a severe blow to their season. Although the club initially expressed no problem with Fred Horlacher, Jimmy Bermingham, Alex Morton and Johnny McMahon lining out for the Belfast organisation, the F.A.I.F.S. soon came out as being strongly opposed to their inclusion, eventually causing a split within the ranks of Bohemian F.C. The club voted to adhere to the F.A.I.F.S.’ wishes, but with Horlacher, Bermingham and Morton (McMahon was born in Derry and so did not become part of the issue; he would actually end up being the only player to win a full I.F.A. cap while with a Free State League club) electing to retain their original agreement with the I.F.A., the three players received a three-month suspension from the F.A.I.F.S. on their return. Bohs’ form consequently became quite patchy between November and February, meaning that by the time the trio returned for the final weeks of the season, the league was already more or less beyond the Gypsies, the club eventually finishing four points behind Shelbourne in third position.

In addition to their strong league showing, Dundalk also progressed to their first Free State Cup final in 1931, and found themselves with the chance to prevent Shamrock Rovers from performing a Blue Riband “three-in-a-row”. The Louth side had earlier recorded two league wins over the Hoops (including a 6-0 rout at the Athletic Grounds), and thanks to a goal from Gerry McCourt, appeared to be on course for a victory in the cup final, until Paddy Moore popped up with a last-minute equaliser for Rovers. Dundalk defeated the Milltown club 4-3 in the shield a couple of weeks later, before the cup final replay finally took place on the 9th of May (due to the league’s new 12-team format, the original game had taken place in mid-April; the league itself was now contested from August to February), with another goal from Moore (like Byrne the previous year, Moore appeared to use his hand on the way to putting the ball in the net) eventually settling the issue in Rovers’ favour.

Shamrock Rovers beat Dundalk to win their third consecutive Free State Cup

A debut season success for Waterford in the Free State Shield at last meant an end to the Dublin monopoly of the competition, and despite having to play their last two games of the season on successive days (both were in Dublin, and one was a crucial shield match against second-placed Bohemians), the Suirsiders beat Bohemians 4-1 at Dalymount Park to clinch the trophy, and also register an unbeaten record throughout their 11 shield games. The other venue Waterford visited that weekend had witnessed a record goal haul earlier on in the season, when Cork’s Jimmy Munro netted all seven in his side’s 7-3 league win at St. James’s Gate’s Iveagh Grounds.

Due to situations such as the maximum wage in the English league, and an “open door” policy that allowed players to move between the jurisdictions without too much difficulty, the signing of cross-channel players by some Free State League clubs was now very much on the increase. Shelbourne, Cork and Waterford, for example, were very much embracing the new possibilities, and the influx of cross-channel players helped to maintain (or even strengthen) public interest in a league that was still largely dominated by Dublin clubs. Attendances were increasing all the time (crowds of 10,000-15,000 were starting to become the norm for the bigger clubs from the capital), and the fortunes of the league’s representative team also seemed to have been improving as a result of all the new talent that was available.

Free State League 1930-31

Shamrock Rovers22958544923
Bray Unknowns228410414520
St. James’s Gate227411364818

League top scorers : Alexander Hair Shelbourne, 29 Johnny Blair Cork, 21 David Byrne Shamrock Rovers, 21 Owen McNally Bray Unknowns, 21

Representative match : Free State League 3-1 Welsh League

1929-30 Free State League season

On the back of a good relationship having been established between the F.A.I.F.S. and the Belgian F.A. in recent times, Bohemians were invited to travel to Belgium in August of 1929 to take part in a pre-season tournament. They registered friendly wins over Charleroi and a ‘Royal Flemish XI’ in advance of the main event, which was called the “Aciéries de’Angleur Tournoi” and was to feature the Dublin club along with three teams from the Liège region. Bohs carried their good form into the competition proper, defeating R.F.C. Tillier by a goal to nil before beating Standard Liège 3-2 and being awarded the trophy.

The top of the league table at the end of December ended up having a somewhat familiar look, with Bohs taking maximum points from their Dalymount Park fixtures to triumph ahead of Shelbourne in second, Shamrock Rovers, and Fordsons (who had this year relocated to Cork’s Mardyke ground) some distance back in fourth. A last-minute David ‘Babby’ Byrne goal saw Shamrock Rovers defeat Brideville (now playing their home games at Harold’s Cross Greyhound Stadium, having relocated from Richmond Park, Inchicore in late 1929) 1-0 to become the first team to retain the Free State Cup, although Byrne would later admit that he had used his hand to net the all-important goal. Bohemians’ Bill Cleary, meanwhile, set a cup scoring record in his side’s first round clash with Bray Unknowns, when he netted six in the Gypsies’ 7-3 victory over the Wicklow side.

Shelbourne v Shamrock Rovers in a Free State Cup first round replay

Shelbourne’s victory in the Free State Shield after a 2-0 win over second-placed Shamrock Rovers in the penultimate round meant a continuation of the strangehold that they, Rovers and Bohemians had had on that competition since its 1922 inception. The tail-end of the 1929-30 season saw the introduction of a new competition for those three clubs to concern themselves with, the Leinster Football Association launching the first edition of the L.F.A. President’s Cup, which was to be competed for this year by the top four Leinster-based Free State League clubs. The competition got off to a less than ideal start, however, with Shelbourne (who had defeated Brideville) and Shamrock Rovers (who had defeated Bohs) drawing the first President’s Cup final and the intended replay never actually taking place. Each Free State League club was present and correct for the beginning of the 1930-31 season, with the existing teams now being joined by Waterford A.F.C., and also Dolphin F.C. (a club founded by the Dublin Butchers’ Social Union), meaning that a 12-team structure would be in place for the beginning of the new campaign.

Free State League 1929-30

Shamrock Rovers181224442226
Dundalk G.N.R.18639383615
Bray Unknowns18459344813
St. James’s Gate184311303811

League top scorers : Johnny Ledwidge Shelbourne, 16 Stephen McCarthy Bohemians, 13 David Byrne Shamrock Rovers, 11 Fred Horlacher Bohemians, 11

Representative matches : Free State League 1-6 Irish League, Welsh League 6-1 Free State League