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
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||17||2||3||62||31||36|
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