1958-59 League of Ireland season

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

PWDLFAPts
Shamrock Rovers221543582934
Evergreen United221336492729
Waterford221417583629
Limerick221156483127
Drumcondra221147302626
Shelbourne22787353322
Transport228311303719
St. Patrick’s Athletic229013455918
Cork Hibernians225512294315
Sligo Rovers226313345115
Dundalk226313345315
Bohemians226313255015

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

1957-58 League of Ireland season

Despite losing both league encounters between the sides, Drumcondra garnered a third league championship in 1958, following another season-long battle with Shamrock Rovers. One of the most significant games of the year (and indeed the decade) was the meeting of the sides at Tolka Park in January 1958. Billed as the League of Ireland’s first all-ticket game, by kick-off time it was apparent that many fans had gained unauthorised entry, and with the Tolka stands creaking and swaying, many supporters were forced to decamp to the touchlines. Then, with Rovers leading 2-1 midway through the second half, Hoops’ forward Tommy Hamilton (having been taken down by Drums’ goalkeeper Alan Kelly, who was arguably the league’s best player this season) careered into a number of spectators behind the goal-line. As he struggled to free himself, and chaos suddenly threatening to break out, the match was abandoned. Amazingly, the result stood, but was not enough to prevent Drums from eventually becoming champions with two points to spare.

Two 1-0 defeats to Dundalk had not helped Rovers’ championship aspirations, but the Milltown side had the chance to gain some revenge when the two clubs locked horns in the final of the F.A.I. Cup. With Tommy Hamilton (like last season) having been controversially dropped from the Rovers team at the behest of the Cunningham family, a header from former Hoop Hughie Gannon (who broke his cheekbone in the process) was enough to ensure a fourth Blue Riband success for the Lilywhites. The Louth side kept clean sheets in all five of their cup games, and bizarrely, before the first round of this season’s competition, had not won an F.A.I. Cup match since their victory in the decider of 1952.

While it was only Rovers’ fifth defeat in 18 F.A.I. Cup final appearances, they could take some solace from a fourth successive League of Ireland Shield (three points clear of St. Patrick’s Athletic and Waterford), and an incredible four cup final victories over Drumcondra. In addition to triumphing in the Leinster Senior Cup and L.F.A. President’s Cup deciders (both replays – the drawn games were Drumcondra’s only joy against the Hoops in nine meetings this season), Rovers defeated Drums in the Dublin City Cup final (in front of a crowd of 14,000) for the fourth time in six years, and a 2-1 victory in the Top Four decider meant that the Hoops now led the roll of honour in all five of the main domestic competitions (league, F.A.I. Cup, shield, Dublin City Cup and the Top Four Cup).

It was perhaps fitting, therefore, that Rovers had earlier had the honour of being the first League of Ireland side to participate in the European Cup. Over 45,000 packed Dalymount Park to see them take on the mighty Manchester United, and although humbled 6-0 by a far fitter team in that first leg (it was just 1-0 at half-time, and three goals came in the last 10 minutes), they achieved a more respectable 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford. Tragically, six months later, five of the players who had lined out against Rovers (including Dubliner Liam Whelan, scorer of two goals in the Dalymount game) would perish in the Munich air disaster.

With the League of Ireland’s involvement with the Irish national side being at the mercy of a seemingly extremely volatile and capricious five-man selection committee, the decision to create a Republic of Ireland ‘B’ team was viewed as a very welcome development this season. It was envisaged it would provide another avenue for home-based players to attain some international experience, and indeed three home-leaguers (all Shamrock Rovers players) took to the field for the team’s debut outing against Romania ‘B’ in October of 1957. Although three more matches (with each of them featuring entirely home-based XI’s) would be arranged for the ‘B’ team during the coming seasons, the initiative would surprisingly be shelved indefinitely in 1960.

While the 1950s had seen the League of Ireland’s profile rise to previously unscaled heights, the increase in attendances had seen a corresponding increase in crowd disturbances, with the Tolka Park match of early 1958 being just the latest (though perhaps the most notable) of several such incidents during the decade. Cork Athletic’s double-winning season of 1950-51 had seen a league game against Shelbourne and a cup game against Limerick produce unsavoury scenes, while the 1955-56 season saw a section of Shamrock Rovers fans respond with distaste to their team’s damaging late-season defeat by Waterford at Kilcohan Park. On the very first day of the 1957-58 season, a Dublin City Cup game between Rovers and St. Pat’s almost had to be abandoned due to crowd encroachment, while Cork Hibernians’ first ever home League of Ireland match was also marred by crowd trouble, as a group of supporters surrounded the pavilion after the game against Waterford at the Mardyke and chanted “we want the referee”. In the wake of the Tolka Park match, serious questions were raised regarding safety at League of Ireland games (only six gardaí had been on duty at the ground), leading to a more vigilant attitude to fixtures on the part of league authorities.

League of Ireland 1957-58

PWDLFAPts
Drumcondra221534512333
Shamrock Rovers221516552631
Evergreen United221336533029
St. Patrick’s Athletic221066453226
Shelbourne221138412925
Waterford221039433723
Limerick227510314019
Dundalk227312384617
Bohemians226412365216
Transport226412305016
Sligo Rovers225512326115
Cork Hibernians226214376614

European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round, (first leg at Dalymount Park) Shamrock Rovers 0-6 Manchester United, Manchester United 3-2 Shamrock Rovers

League top scorers : Donie Leahy Evergreen United, 16 Johnny McGeehan Transport, 15 Austin Noonan Evergreen United, 15

Representative matches : League of Ireland 1-5 Scottish League, English League 3-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 2-2 Irish League, Irish League 3-1 League of Ireland

1956-57 League of Ireland season

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


PWDLFAPts

Shamrock Rovers221561682436

Drumcondra221192492831

Sligo Rovers221174422929

Evergreen United221156483127

Transport228104423626

Shelbourne221066473924*

Waterford22949444122

Cork Athletic22589324618

St. Patrick’s Athletic226511335517

Dundalk224810334016

Bohemians22251520569

Limerick22231721597

* 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

1955-56 League of Ireland season

Having defeated Waterford 2-1 to land a second Dublin City Cup in three seasons, a third league success for St. Patrick’s Athletic followed in 1956, with Shay Gibbons’ 21 league goals being complemented by 17 from Paddy ‘Ginger’ O’Rourke. St. Pat’s rode their luck at times this season, winning several games where their opponents had played as well if not better, and they also had third-placed Waterford to thank for doing a “double” over runners-up Shamrock Rovers, with both of these wins coming at very important points in the league race. Rovers had beaten Pats 4-2 in a thriller at Chapelizod in the closing stages to place control of the league title’s destiny in their own hands (and to deprive their rivals of a clean sweep of points from their home matches), but a 3-1 loss at Kilcohan Park in their next outing combined with a St. Pat’s win in Sligo meant that the league trophy would be retained by Alec Stevenson’s side.

Paddy Coad’s side (or “Coad’s Colts” as they had now come to be known by fans and the media, a moniker to rival that of the “Busby Babes” of Manchester United) met with Cork Athletic in the F.A.I. Cup final, a game that gave rise to what was perhaps the finest ever example of League of Ireland / F.A.I. Cup folklore. The Leesiders’ team featured one Jimmy Delaney, a Scottish international who had already pocketed F.A. Cup, Scottish Cup and I.F.A. Cup medals in a glittering 20-year career, and with Athletic leading 2-0 (Delaney, who was in receipt of a salary similar to that of Raich Carter in ’53, netted the first) with just 12 minutes remaining, Cork Athletic Secretary Donie Forde left the ground to fetch champagne for the celebrations. Forde was unnerved by the sound of three loud cheers coming from the Dalymount stadium, however, and when he saw the ecstatic Rovers fans walking out as he returned, he knew that Coad’s side had done the unthinkable. Their 3-2 win meant a thirteenth cup success for the Hoops, and ensured that Delaney missed out on that historic quadruple of cup winner’s medals.

An unbeaten Rovers had secured an equally incredible eleventh League of Ireland Shield (Shelbourne, with seven, were the Hoops’ nearest challengers in that roll of honour) earlier in the campaign, following a 2-1 win at leaders Waterford on the last day, and also defeated the Suirsiders (who registered an unbeaten league record at Kilcohan Park) to capture the inaugural Top Four Cup, a new end-of-season competition for the league’s four highest-placed sides. Officially titled the ‘Independent Cup’ (after the Irish newspaper group), the tournament ran on a straightforward semi-final and final format, with a draw determining who would meet who. With the aim of reducing the amount of meaningless end-of-season games, it seemed to pay dividends straight away, with Sligo Rovers going on a six-game winning run (during which their prolific Scottish winger Johnny Armstrong scored nine goals) to move from 10th place to 4th with just one match to play. Evergreen United (who had been in the top four for most of the season) pipped them on goal average, however, and after Shamrock Rovers had beaten St. Pat’s 9-8 on corners in the competition’s very first match (following a thrilling 3-3 draw), a James ‘Maxie’ McCann goal eight minutes from the end ensured not just a win over Waterford in the final, but also that Rovers had scored in every match of the 1955-56 season.

In what was a fairly turbulent year for Shelbourne, a number of the club’s more established players had been released during the close season, and a slightly more youthful side was assembled under the tutelage of returning former player Eddie Gannon (who had spent some time in England’s top division with Sheffield Wednesday and also won 14 international caps). The club had been hoping to free up some funds in advance of moving into their new (but still quite incomplete) stadium in Irishtown, but mediocre league form and a lack of spectator facilities at the ground had a significant impact on their attendances. With the financial situation not looking too favourable, Shels took the difficult decision to vacate the ground after just one season. Signing off with an impressive 7-1 win over Limerick in their last Irishtown match, the Reds returned to being tenants at Tolka Park, and apart from a spell at Harold’s Cross in the ’80s, have played at the northside venue ever since.

League of Ireland 1955-56

PWDLFAPts
St. Patrick’s Athletic221624613434
Shamrock Rovers221516543031
Waterford221426663930
Evergreen United221048342824
Sligo Rovers221129475024
Shelbourne228410454220
Bohemians227510293619
Drumcondra228212415118
Cork Athletic227312384317
Dundalk226511375417
Limerick226511355417
Transport225314335913

League top scorers : Shay Gibbons St. Patrick’s Athletic, 21 Paddy Ambrose Shamrock Rovers, 20 Paddy ‘Ginger’ O’Rourke St. Patrick’s Athletic, 17

Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-4 Scottish League, English League 5-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 4-1 Hessen League, League of Ireland 1-0 Irish League, Irish League 6-0 League of Ireland

1954-55 League of Ireland season

Having played a number of games for the club the previous season, former Everton and Ireland inside-left Alec Stevenson took over as manager of St. Patrick’s Athletic during the summer of 1954 (he had recently been serving as Irish international coach), and former Shamrock Rovers defender Tommy Dunne (son of the late Jimmy, and a future Irish international) was a notable addition to a squad that had finished second from bottom at the end of the most recent league campaign. Several other young players were introduced, and a move to Chapelizod Greyhound Stadium seemed to be the final piece of the jigsaw, as the West Dublin club finished three points ahead of Waterford (who they defeated 4-1 in a crunch fixture during the closing stages) to collect their second League of Ireland championship.

Waterford were themselves five points clear of the previous season’s champions, Shamrock Rovers, who had failed to fully recover from a shaky start that had seen them lose three of their first five league matches. The Milltown club could look back on a tremendous season overall, however, having earlier picked up the Dublin City Cup (beating Drumcondra 2-0), the League of Ireland Shield, the Leinster Senior Cup and the L.F.A. President’s Cup. A semi-final win over Longford Town (the non-leaguers in the semi-finals for the second time) then set up another F.A.I. Cup final meeting against bitter rivals Drumcondra, with a Liam Tuohy goal (Tuohy scored in every round of the competition) giving Rovers their twelfth F.A.I. Cup success.

In spite of the offside trap becoming increasingly common, and an overall feeling in recent years that defences had very much been on top, there was a noticeable increase in goals scored during the 1954-55 league season, with the highest goals-per-game ratio since 1946 being recorded. A revitalised Shay Gibbons at St. Pat’s (a haul of 28 league goals was the highest-ever tally for the player who had topped the goalscoring charts in 1952 and 1953), and a productive partnership between Rory Dwyer and Dermot Curtis at Shelbourne were among the contributing factors, but it was Waterford’s centre-forward pairing this year that had really caught the Irish football public’s attention. Scottish striker Jimmy Gauld (who would later serve four years in prison for his part in a match-fixing scandal in the English league) bagged 30 goals to finish top of the season’s scoring charts, and he was ably assisted by local hero Jack Fitzgerald (one of six Fitzgerald brothers that would play for the Kilcohan Park club), who finished the season off by scoring the only goal of the game in his Irish international debut against Holland in May.

The inordinate amount of goals being scored led to some very eye-catching scorelines this season. It began on the opening day, with Shelbourne spoiling St. Patrick’s Athletic’s first league match at Chapelizod by turning a 4-1 half-time deficit into a remarkable 6-4 success. The 1953 champions then went on an excellent run that saw them take 17 points from their first 18, and this set up an eagerly-anticipated mid-January clash with Waterford that got switched to Dalymount Park (Shels had become tenants at Tolka Park this season). However, the crowd of almost 22,500 saw Waterford take the Reds apart by six goals to one, a result that triggered a dramatic mid-season collapse for Shels that saw them take just one point out of 16, before they recovered at the end of the season to win their last five league matches.

On the same afternoon that Shelbourne faced Waterford at Dalymount, St. Patrick’s Athletic were due to host a struggling Dundalk side at Chapelizod. Conditions weren’t ideal, as there had been sleet and snow showers the night before, and a frost had then set in that caused the ground to harden and create a very slippery playing surface. The match went ahead, but the harsh conditions, combined with the Dublin football public’s attention being focused on the other match, meant that a relatively small crowd would be in attendance. With the players slipping and sliding all over the pitch, the champions-elect recorded a slightly bizarre / bonkers 10-3 victory, the total of 13 goals scored being a record for a League of Ireland game.

League of Ireland 1954-55

PWDLFAPts
St. Patrick’s Athletic221723623136
Waterford221615704333
Shamrock Rovers221246633728
Shelbourne221327624128
Cork Athletic221057535125
Drumcondra22958383023
Bohemians229112515519
Limerick228113325017
Sligo Rovers226313343915
Transport225413225114
Evergreen United224513344613
Dundalk225314396613

League top scorers : Jimmy Gauld, Waterford, 30 Shay Gibbons St. Patrick’s Athletic, 28 Rory Dwyer Shelbourne, 19

Representative matches : League of Ireland 0-6 English League, Scottish League 5-0 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 2-1 Irish League, Hessen League 7-2 League of Ireland, Hessen League 5-0 League of Ireland

1953-54 League of Ireland season

The race for the 1954 championship came down to the very last day of the season, with a near-perfect (nine wins, two draws) record at Turner’s Cross propelling Evergreen United to within touching distance of their first league title. Having defeated Drumcondra the previous week to end that club’s title aspirations, the Corkmen now looked forward to a last day showdown with Shamrock Rovers, with the two sides level on 28 points after 21 matches. A solitary Liam Tuohy strike at Glenmalure Park was enough to secure the Hoops’ seventh League of Ireland championship title, their first for 15 years.

In the F.A.I. Cup, St. Patrick’s Athletic reached the decider for the first time, and with the squad having placed a bet on themselves to win the trophy much earlier in the season, each man was set to pocket a considerable sum of money if they could get the better of Drumcondra (whose manager Billy Behan had played in two finals for Shamrock Rovers, and refereed the decider of 1943) in the Dalymount showdown. The omission of Pats’ star striker Shay Gibbons from the line-up (which did include a 19-year old Joe Haverty, who would soon join Arsenal) was even more bizarre given these circumstances, and a Dessie Byrne own-goal was enough to give Drumcondra a 1-0 win, and their fourth F.A.I Cup success. The defeat meant that St. Pat’s would not add to the Dublin City Cup that they had secured earlier in the season, after a 4-3 win over Shelbourne.

1953-54 saw Limerick F.C. capture the first national honour of their 16-year existence, and in extremely dramatic circumstances. Needing a win at Oriel Park in their last League of Ireland Shield (a competition that they had finished in the bottom two of for five of the last seven seasons) match to overtake leaders Shamrock Rovers, the Shannonsiders found themselves two goals in arrears early in the second half. The match was turned on its head between the 65th and 68th minutes, however, with the visitors scoring three times (Irish international Sean Cusack scored the first from the penalty spot) to fashion a famous 3-2 victory, and trigger wild celebrations in the Treaty city.

Drumcondra had actually gone on to secure second position in the shield, and days before their league defeat to Evergreen, they had played host to a slice of League of Ireland history at Tolka Park. Owner Sam Prole, who had taken over the club during the close season after 25 years as secretary of Dundalk (a hugely influential figure, Prole was often described as the “godfather” of Irish football, and later became President of the F.A.I.), fittingly welcomed his former club to the Richmond Road venue for the first ever League of Ireland match to take place under floodlights (he would later oversee the introduction of pitchside advertising at the ground, Drums being the first League of Ireland club to make such a move). Although a 4-0 victory for the home team would probably have pleased Prole, the fact that the result helped condemn the Lilywhites to finish in twelfth and last position (they took just one point from 11 away matches, and also lost their long-standing unbeaten F.A.I. Cup home record this season) for the first time in their history would not have been so agreeable. Prole’s shrewd financial management of the club over the previous years had been instrumental in ensuring that Dundalk not only competed for footballing honours, but that it had even survived. He had been commended for garnering very respectable transfer fees from English clubs for several Dundalk players in the late 1940s and early 1950s, monies which had, in essence, saved the Louth club from bankruptcy.

League of Ireland 1953-54

PWDLFAPts
Shamrock Rovers221183442030
Evergreen United221165442928
Drumcondra221075372527
Cork Athletic221138404625
Limerick22886424324
Shelbourne221039353523
Waterford22868454522
Bohemians228410414620
Sligo Rovers228410333720
Transport227411424918
St. Patrick’s Athletic224711274315
Dundalk224414325412

League top scorers : Danny Jordan Bohemians, 14 Paddy Ambrose Shamrock Rovers, 13 Christy Bergin Waterford, 12 Eddie Doran Evergreen United, 12

Representative matches : League of Ireland 3-1 Welsh League, English League 9-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 1-3 Scottish League, Irish League 0-0 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 1-0 Hessen League (Germany)

1952-53 League of Ireland season

This season’s Dublin City Cup final attracted more interest than usual, Shamrock Rovers (Paddy Coad having assembled a brand new squad over the previous seasons from the local schoolboy and junior leagues) defeating Drumcondra 1-0 to prevent the northside club from winning the trophy for a fourth year in a row. Transport finished as shield runners-up for the third time in four seasons, Waterford putting their name on the trophy for a third time after a 2-1 play-off replay victory at Kilcohan Park. In 1953, for the first time since 1929, the league’s top four positions would be occupied by clubs from the capital. Shelbourne captured a sixth league title ahead of Drumcondra, Shamrock Rovers and St. Pat’s, to join their local rivals Rovers at the top of the League of Ireland roll of honour.

In what was perhaps the most intriguing F.A.I. Cup campaign ever, Cork Athletic and Evergreen United proved that football outside of Dublin was alive and well by contesting a Cork derby in the “Blue Riband” decider. Athletic had lured former Sunderland and England star Raich Carter to the club as player-manager especially for an assault on the cup, and paid the forward a whopping £50 a week (the maximum wage in Britain was fixed at £20 a week) for his services. Carter began paying his way almost immediately, scoring for the Leesiders in their first round win over Drumcondra, and netting twice in a 3-2 quarter-final win over Waterford at Kilcohan Park. The latter game was notable as it was the first ever all-ticket F.A.I. Cup match, and somewhat ironically, an over-zealous Waterford fan managed to get close enough to Cork’s John Moloney to assault him and knock out some of his front teeth.

A semi-final win over Limerick meant Athletic would compete in the final for the fourth consecutive year, and after another Raich Carter goal in the decider against Evergreen, a 2-2 draw meant yet another F.A.I. Cup final replay for the Mardyke outfit (it would be their fifth over the course of the previous four seasons). Despite requests by both clubs to have the fixture moved to Cork, the second match was also scheduled for Dalymount, with only 6,000 people making the midweek journey. Both finals saw brothers John and Billy Moloney competing on opposing sides, and a further twist saw Florrie Burke lining out for Evergreen (the legendary Seanie McCarthy was also in the Evergreen side), having been loaned out from Athletic earlier in the season. Goals from Jackie Lennox and Raich Carter gave the 1951 double-winners a 2-1 victory, and the 39-year old Englishman became the first man to win F.A. and F.A.I. Cup medals. It was the sixth time that a Cork club had triumphed in the cup competition.

Shield champions Waterford (with Shelbourne’s Rory Dwyer as a guest player) would undertake a four-match tour of Iceland in the early summer, but it was the arrival of one Ed McIlvenny to the club in July of 1953 that was perhaps more significant. The Scottish-born wing-half had, by a very strange twist of fate, appeared for the U.S.A. at the 1950 World Cup, and even wore the captain’s armband for the Americans’ seismic 1-0 win over England at the same tournament. A subsequent move to Manchester United had come to very little, but United captain Jackie Carey helped to engineer McIlvenny’s move to League of Ireland football, with the 28-year old set to spend the next four seasons at Kilcohan Park.

League of Ireland 1952-53

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne221264462430
Drumcondra221093493329
Shamrock Rovers221237402727
St. Patrick’s Athletic22886493424
Sligo Rovers22877423723
Dundalk22868454522
Limerick22859394421
Cork Athletic229310414721
Transport22778354221
Evergreen United228410363520
Waterford225512355815
Bohemians224315275811

League top scorers : Shay Gibbons St. Patrick’s Athletic, 22 James Rowe Drumcondra, 16 Liam Coll Sligo Rovers, 13 Rory Dwyer Shelbourne, 13 Dessie Glynn Drumcondra, 13 Mick Lipper Transport, 13

Representative matches : Scottish League 5-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 0-2 English League, League of Ireland 0-3 Irish League

1951-52 League of Ireland season

In 1952, St. Patrick’s Athletic became the first club since inaugural champions St. James’s Gate and subsequent winners Shamrock Rovers to win the League of Ireland in their very first season. Sligo Rovers (who had added a talented Scottish winger called Johnny Armstrong to their squad) had led the league table for the majority of the campaign, but four defeats in their last seven games allowed the Inchicore club in to take the title, three points ahead of their new Dublin rivals Shelbourne (whose 19-year old centre-forward Rory Dwyer would score 40 goals across all competitions). Pats had just replaced Shels as tenants at Milltown, and after losing their first home league match, proceeded to win each of the next ten on their way to championship glory (Shels were now tenants of Bohemians at Dalymount Park, and remained unbeaten there throughout their first season). Third-placed Shamrock Rovers had earlier held off Shelbourne by a point to take their ninth League of Ireland Shield.

Although Drumcondra collected a third consecutive Dublin City Cup with a 4-0 win over Sligo Rovers (the competition had now reverted to a knockout format), F.A.I. Cup success belonged to Dundalk. Their defeat of Cork Athletic in a replay meant a second cup victory in four years for the Lilywhites (a very young side featured just one player, Johnny Fearon, from the 1949 success), and a second cup final defeat in three years for the Mardyke-based side. Athletic’s preparations for the replay were far from ideal, however, with some of the players drinking heavily in Dublin in the aftermath of the first game, and some squad members being required to testify in an attempted murder trial (a Cork Athletic director was the accused) in the days leading up to the replay.

Dundalk’s 6-4 extra-time semi-final replay victory over Waterford has been described as the greatest match in the history of the F.A.I. Cup. The Milltown fixture had finished 3-3 at the end of normal time, and with car headlights being used instead of floodlights as the evening darkened, the English referee was criticised for playing 30 extra minutes instead of the F.A.I. Cup’s customary 20. Meanwhile, Athletic’s path to the final featured their third consecutive three-game saga with Transport (who had moved to the Harold’s Cross stadium at the beginning of this season), and the final was significant as it was the first time that the decider had been contested by two teams who had finished in the bottom half of the league (second-from-bottom Dundalk were the first winners of the cup who had to apply for league re-election). One notable member of the Cork Athletic squad over the previous couple of seasons was 20-year old Noel Cantwell, who would be transferred to West Ham United in September of 1952. In less than five years’ time, Cantwell would become captain of the Irish national side, before skippering Manchester United to F.A. Cup victory in 1963, and the English league championship in 1967.

League of Ireland 1951-52

PWDLFAPts
St. Patrick’s Athletic221624593434
Shelbourne221354594431
Shamrock Rovers221255431829
Sligo Rovers221336494629
Evergreen United221129444224
Drumcondra22958473323
Bohemians228311374119
Waterford228311475419
Transport227312435017
Cork Athletic226313364415
Dundalk224711375015
Limerick22251520659

League top scorers : Shay Gibbons St. Patrick’s Athletic, 26 Rory Dwyer Shelbourne, 22 Dessie Glynn Drumcondra, 20

Representative matches : English League 9-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 0-2 Scottish League, League of Ireland 4-0 U.S.A.

1950-51 League of Ireland season

People may have wondered if the 1950s, like the previous decade, were about to be dominated by a Cork club, with 17 home points from a possible 18 helping Cork Athletic to claim a League of Ireland (captain Florrie Burke collecting his sixth championship medal) and F.A.I. Cup double in 1951. Sligo Rovers, having finished bottom of both the shield and Dublin City Cup, mounted a surprising championship challenge, and only for missing a penalty in a goalless draw with Transport in their last league game, would probably have forced a play-off for the title. Cork Athletic, meanwhile, needed a replay with Shelbourne (whose Tommy Carberry joined Cork’s Paddy O’Leary in scoring in every round of the competition) to make up for the cup final disappointment of the previous year, a Johnny Vaughan goal being the difference between the sides. Four days later they beat Waterford 3-1 at the Mardyke to move a point clear at the top of the table, and dash Sligo’s hopes of a second League of Ireland championship.

Holders Drumcondra took the honours in the last ever “round robin” version of the Dublin City Cup, and (eventually) followed it up with victory in the League of Ireland Shield to become the first club to capture both trophies during the course of the same season. When the final round of shield matches was completed in early December, a three-way tie at the top seemed to have created the need for a round of play-offs, but in a very tightly-packed season, a semi-final and final format was instead opted for, with Transport awarded a ‘bye’ and Drumcondra set to play against Shamrock Rovers in a semi-final match-up. The final was initially scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day, but a hastily arranged league representative match against a team from Germany’s ‘Hessen League’ (the usual March 17th meeting with the Irish League had been cancelled due to a new dispute between the F.A.I. and the I.F.A.) ended up taking place on that date, and a build-up of fixtures in subsequent weeks meant that it would be a Wednesday evening in the middle of April before Drums and Rovers finally played out a 1-1 draw. It had been a fractious match, however, and when the same referee was appointed to take charge of the replay, the Hoops withdrew from the competition in protest. With both clubs’ league programmes by now having been wrapped up (the Tolka Park club finished third to ensure their sixth top three finish in a row), two Dessie Glynn goals helped Drums beat the Busmen 3-1 in the final.

At the end of the season all 10 League of Ireland sides would travel to England to take part in an epic series of friendly matches that was taking place as part of the 1951 ‘Festival of Britain’ event (seen as a promotion / celebration of the culture of the U.K.). Clubs from all over Europe were invited to play matches against English teams, and the League of Ireland contingent played 33 games in total, against the likes of Oldham Athletic, Tranmere Rovers and Darlington. Four wins and four draws were recorded by the Irish sides, with Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers posting many of the better results.

The 1951-52 close season saw the addition of two new League of Ireland clubs, bringing membership of the league back to 12 for the first time since 1940. A second Cork club, Evergreen United (based at Turner’s Cross), were joined by a fifth Dublin side (a sixth if you include Transport), St. Patrick’s Athletic, a club who had enjoyed extraordinary success in Junior, Intermediate and Leinster Senior League football during the previous 20 years. They won two F.A.I. Intermediate Cups in the late 1940s, and despite beating Transport in the 1948 Leinster Senior Cup final, had been pipped by the Busmen to League of Ireland membership the same year. “Pats” had played their home games at Richmond Park, Inchicore since 1930, but would be required to play at Milltown, Chapelizod Greyhound Stadium and Dalymount Park during the 1950s due to Richmond’s failure to meet the League of Ireland’s ground criteria.

League of Ireland 1950-51

PWDLFAPts
Cork Athletic181224462226
Sligo Rovers181134292525
Drumcondra18873372623
Shelbourne18846372720
Bohemians18765303220
Shamrock Rovers18738333017
Transport18549253614
Dundalk184410354412
Waterford185211284712
Limerick184311274811

League top scorers : Dessie Glynn Drumcondra, 20 Johnny Vaughan Cork Athletic, 14 Martin Colfer Shelbourne, 10 Paddy Gallagher Dundalk, 10 George Gray Sligo Rovers, 10

Representative matches : Scottish League 7-0 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 0-7 Hessen League, League of Ireland 0-1 English League

1949-50 League of Ireland season

Having finished in ninth the previous season, Cork Athletic surprised everyone by being in the shake-up for a league and cup double as the 1949-50 season (one that had been severely impacted by bad weather / bad pitches) drew to a close. Drumcondra (who had earlier won their last five Dublin City Cup matches to take the trophy ahead of Sligo Rovers) were themselves aiming for a championship three-in-a-row, and a 2-1 win for Drums at the Mardyke put them a point clear of Cork at the top of the table, with all 18 of their league games played. Thanks to Athletic becoming embroiled in a cumbersome F.A.I. Cup campaign (they needed six games to reach the final, including a three-match semi-final with non-league St. Patrick’s Athletic), the Leesiders’ last remaining league fixture against bottom club Bohemians was due to take place after their Blue Riband decider, against the league’s newest side, Transport.

Action from the first cup final match between Transport and Cork Athletic

The Corkmen squandered a two-goal lead to allow the Busmen to force a replay, and led twice in the second match before a spectacular, 35-yard overhead kick from Jim Loughran in the last minute of extra-time ensured that the sides would need to meet for a third time. A mere two days before the second replay was scheduled, Athletic faced into their delayed league fixture, and a last-minute Paddy O’Leary goal gave them a dramatic 2-1 win over Bohs, to edge out Drumcondra and capture what was essentially their sixth (but officially their first) League of Ireland championship title. Preparations for the second cup final replay, therefore, were far from ideal, and two Bernie Lester goals helped Transport (who had engaged in a full-time training regime over the course of the saga) to a comfortable 3-1 victory. Athletic’s Jackie O’Reilly (acting as player-manager this year) could at least look back on the season with a great deal of pride, having secured a record sixth League of Ireland championship winner’s medal, and also scoring a goal in the second meeting with Transport to become the all-time record goalscorer (seven goals) in F.A.I. Cup finals, having netted for Cork United in 1941, 1942 and 1943.

League of Ireland football had been rocked by the sudden death of Shamrock Rovers manager Jimmy Dunne in November 1949, at the age of 44. Paddy Coad took over as player-manager, and in a fitting tribute to Dunne, the club rallied to press home their advantage in the League of Ireland Shield, three points ahead of Transport and Drumcondra. Shelbourne (who finished third in the league behind Cork and Drumcondra) became tenants at Rovers’ Glenmalure Park ground at the beginning of the season, and proceeded to remain unbeaten in all their “home” league fixtures, but were defeated by the Hoops themselves in the match where Rovers were listed as being the home side. An unbeaten home record (consisting of two wins and seven draws, in a season where almost a third of matches were drawn), meanwhile, was not enough to prevent Limerick from having to seek re-election for the second time in four seasons, while the end of 1949-50 signalled very worrying times for amateur side Bohemians, the club propping up the League of Ireland table for a third year in succession. However, all 10 member clubs would return to contest the 1950-51 league season.

League of Ireland 1949-50

PWDLFAPts
Cork Athletic181053452625
Drumcondra18963322124
Shelbourne18774342921
Waterford18684403220
Dundalk18756353119
Sligo Rovers18756283019
Shamrock Rovers18747393018
Transport18468232914
Limerick18288264212
Bohemians18241216468

League top scorers : Dave McCulloch Waterford, 19 Paddy O’Leary Cork Athletic, 13 Johnny Vaughan Cork Athletic, 12

Representative matches : League of Ireland 0-1 Scottish League, English League 7-0 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 3-1 Irish League, Irish League 2-2 League of Ireland