1965-66 League of Ireland season

The 1965-66 League of Ireland season was probably the most compelling one of the 1960s, as well as being a standout season in the history of League of Ireland football as a whole. It was a league campaign of two halves, with Shamrock Rovers impressively winning each of their first 11 matches to open up a six-point advantage at the halfway point, the Hoops defeating Sligo Rovers 3-1 on a snow-covered Milltown pitch to equal the achievement of the northwesterners in their 1936-37 league winning season. To most observers it seemed as if Rovers’ eleventh League of Ireland title would now be little more than a formality, but while the Milltown game had been taking place, Waterford had been defeating Drogheda 3-1 to record their sixth league win in a row and install themselves as the Hoops’ nearest challengers.

In the league’s bottom two for each of the previous two years (they finished bottom in 1965), very little was expected of Waterford for the 1965-66 season, despite the fact that Paddy Coad had now returned for a second stint as manager. The much-travelled Mick Lynch had also returned to Kilcohan Park for a second spell, but while they finished their shield campaign strongly (scoring 21 goals on the way to winning their last five games) they took just four points from their opening five league games, and given their struggles over the last couple of seasons, a top six finish for the Blues would probably have been considered a very good achievement. But while Shamrock Rovers’ winning run (and an unbeaten home league record stretching back to February 1963) was being ended by third-placed Bohemians at Milltown, Waterford were registering their seventh consecutive league win, and when a Mick Lynch goal gave them both points at Dalymount Park the following Sunday, the scene was well and truly set for their visit to Milltown to tackle the leaders.

Crowd trouble had erupted at the end of the Kilcohan Park meeting of the sides earlier in the league (Rovers won 4-3 with the help of a hotly-disputed penalty and the referee needed the help of the gardaí to escape the stadium), but a record Glenmalure Park crowd of almost 25,000 were on their best behaviour for this all-important return match. An Al Casey goal in the 39th minute gave the spoils to Waterford and brought them to within a point of their rivals, and among other things, the Blues were now just two games away from winning 11 on the trot themselves. Victories over Drumcondra and Dundalk in the next two outings meant that they did just that. Having been runners-up on four previous occasions, Blues fans began believing that this finally might be their year, and when Cork Hibernians and Sligo were beaten to bring the winning run to an incredible 13, the championship appeared to be Waterford’s to lose. Despite drawing their next two league games (they thus fell short of Bohemians’ run of 15 straight wins from the 1923-24 season), and losing an F.A.I. Cup semi-final replay to Shamrock Rovers, the title was closed out with wins in their last two matches, a last day victory at Drogheda giving them the championship with two points to spare (they had taken 21 points from 22 away from home). The celebrations that the victory triggered on Suirside had only ever been matched by those that greeted the Waterford hurlers following their All-Ireland victories in 1948 and 1959.

Waterford had gradually been adding to their squad as the league campaign progressed, and the players that Paddy Coad brought in all played their part in the Blues’ success. Waterford native John O’Neill had re-joined in November from champions Drumcondra, before wing-half Jimmy McGeough was recruited for a fee of £3,000 from Derry City. After a slow start, McGeough’s midfield partnership with Vinny Maguire eventually became pivotal, and it was the Belfast native who supplied the cross for Al Casey’s winning goal at Milltown. In March, an English winger by the name of Johnny Matthews joined Waterford from Coventry City, and it was Matthews who scored the only goal at the Sligo Showgrounds to give the Blues their 13th league win in a row. Mick Lynch finished as outright top scorer on the way to winning his first ever League of Ireland medal, and Paddy Coad’s much younger brother Shamie was also in scoring form, his versatility having helped him to establish himself as the club’s key player during the previous number of seasons.

League of Ireland attendances in the 1960s had dipped considerably compared to the previous decade, but the exciting events of the first few months of 1966 allowed this trend to be bucked somewhat, at least temporarily. When Shamrock Rovers faced Bohemians with the aim of winning their 12th league game from 12, a record “gate” of over £1,300 was paid at the Milltown turnstiles, and those who were there were treated to one of the best League of Ireland matches for years, with Bohs eventually winning 3-2 to bring their rivals’ winning run to an end. There was an even bigger crowd at Dalymount for the visit of Waterford the following week, and when the Blues then faced Rovers at Milltown, several thousand were unable to gain entry. The cup semi-finals between Shamrock Rovers and Waterford also attracted bumper crowds, with 25,000 at Dalymount to see the Hoops progress to the final on a 4-2 scoreline.

Rovers had required replays in the two previous rounds as well, and found last season’s opponents, Limerick, waiting for them in the final. The Hoops would be without Liam Tuohy for the decider but second-half goals from Tony O’Connell and Frank O’Neill gave them their third ‘blue riband’ success in a row. The Hoops had earlier won their fourth League of Ireland Shield in succession (the second time they had achieved this feat) but it came at a cost, with a serious knee injury sustained by Jackie Mooney in a shield game against Shelbourne resulting in the Republic of Ireland international being on the sidelines for the next two years. Bobby Gilbert was brought in from Derry City, however, and finished as the club’s top scorer, with two goals coming in a 3-0 win over Bohemians in a Top Four Cup final second replay. The Hoops had also ran eventual runners-up, Zaragoza, very close in this season’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, holding on until a 78th minute winner for the Spanish side in the second leg.

Limerick had reached the final in spite of a little bit of disruption, caused by the unavailability of the Market’s Field for their cup run. The ground’s owners, Limerick Greyhound Racing Company, had initiated some renovations and though the club were able to remain there for league games, they had to play two ‘home’ F.A.I. Cup matches at Thomond Park and Dalymount Park. Limerick’s European Cup Winners’ Cup game against CSKA Sofia had also taken place at Dalymount, but the match ended up being delayed for 24 hours due to fog, resulting in a wasted journey for about 800 Limerick fans (ironically, there was no fog over Limerick on the same night). A crowd of 11,000 were then present on the Thursday evening to see Ewan Fenton’s men fall to a rather unlucky 2-1 defeat.

As well as achieving another third-placed finish in the league, the Bohemians revival under Sean Thomas also saw them win some silverware this season for the first time in almost 20 years. The Gypsies came from 2-0 down to beat Shamrock Rovers 3-2 in a replayed L.F.A. President’s Cup final (this competition had been expanded to a six-team knockout format the previous season), before overcoming Shelbourne by the same scoreline in the final of the Leinster Senior Cup. Wing-half Jimmy Conway (one of the young players that had been recruited from Stella Maris) had emerged as the team’s key player, and his excellent performances saw him attract the attention of several cross-channel clubs. Fulham won the race for his signature at the end of the season, and the London club decided to add Turlough O’Connor to the ticket as well. The duo’s last game for Bohs was the first of the two drawn Top Four Cup finals against Shamrock Rovers, with both players scoring in the 3-3 draw at Dalymount Park.

Goals from Pat O’Callaghan, Tony Allen and one of the Gosnell twins helped Cork Hibernians beat Dundalk 3-2 in the final of the Dublin City Cup to secure their first national honour. On the whole, however, it was probably a season to forget for the two Leeside-based League of Ireland clubs, as both Hibernians (who took just one point from their first 10 games) and Celtic spent the season hovering near the foot of the table and Celtic eventually had to apply for re-election. A thrilling January derby (one of the best ever) between the clubs saw Celtic score two late goals to win 4-3 and provide their supporters with a rare high point for the season. At the end of the campaign, Austin Noonan’s departure from Celtic to Hibernians saw his prolific strike partnership with Donal Leahy finally come to an end. The pair had scored 267 league goals between them over the course of the previous 11 seasons, and while neither player had ever had any trouble in gaining the attention of the inter-league selectors, Noonan and Leahy were to be denied the opportunity to appear for the Republic of Ireland. Leahy’s non-appearance for the national side was seen as a particular injustice (his seven goals in 17 League of Ireland XI appearances is a record), and this was especially so when one considers that he was called up to the Irish international squad on a number of occasions.

After their gradual introduction into other competitions during recent seasons, 1965-66 finally saw substitutions being allowed in League of Ireland championship matches. As it turned out, the law was introduced very hastily, with a broken leg sustained by Drumcondra’s Jimmy Morrissey proving to be the final straw. The substitute / twelfth man had to be nominated in advance and could enter in place of an injured player at any stage of the contest. Although the first weekend didn’t see any substitution being made, a match at The Showgrounds on the 27th of February saw St. Patrick’s Athletic’s Des Downey coming on for an injured Noel Bates after 21 minutes of the second half. In a peculiar twist, Sligo Rovers managed to score while their opponents were still readying their replacement player.

The floodgates soon opened and there were many uses of the substitute rule before the end of the season. Waterford’s Peter Fitzgerald (who had recently returned after a few months out injured) became the first substitute to score in a League of Ireland match when he gave the champions-elect a 1-0 win over Cork Celtic at Turner’s Cross. The lack of a substitute rule had previously thrown up some ridiculous situations, with injured players often staying on the pitch (they were usually put out on the wing) despite being of no real benefit to their team. The practice also raised player welfare concerns, but occasionally / ironically, a badly injured player might end up making a telling contribution, such as Mick Rice scoring in the P.J. Casey Cup final in 1962, or Ben O’Sullivan scoring the winner for Bohs in this season’s five-goal thriller at Milltown. However, substitutions were not yet common in other leagues throughout Europe, with 1965-66 being the first English league season to feature them, and UEFA proving very slow to introduce them into their competitions. In Spain, the first substitution in La Liga would not happen until 1969.

League of Ireland 1965-66

Shamrock Rovers221543592334
Sligo Rovers22877272623
St. Patrick’s Athletic229211354320
Cork Hibernians226313305115
Cork Celtic224612325114

European Competition : European Cup First Round, Drumcondra 1-0 ASK Vorwärts Berlin (East Germany), ASK Vorwärts Berlin 3-0 Drumcondra European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round (first leg at Dalymount Park), Limerick 1-2 CSKA Sofia, CSKA Sofia 2-0 Limerick Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Second Round (Rovers received a bye to this stage, first leg at Dalymount Park), Shamrock Rovers 1-1 Real Zaragoza, Real Zaragoza 2-1 Shamrock Rovers

League top scorers : Mick Lynch Waterford, 17 Shamie Coad Waterford, 14 Bobby Gilbert Shamrock Rovers, 14 Liam Tuohy Shamrock Rovers, 14

S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Liam Tuohy, Shamrock Rovers player-manager

Representative match : English League 5-0 League of Ireland

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

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

1927-28 Free State League season

With their Dalymount Park home continuing to act as the benchmark for all other Free State League grounds (it would soon become the home stadium for the Free State national side), 23 points from the first 24 saw Bohemians establish a strong position in the 1927-28 championship race. Despite a strong showing from Shelbourne in the closing stages, the title was destined to go to Dalymount for a second time, with Shamrock Rovers and Fordsons making up the rest of the top four.

Bohemians’ superiority for this season was emphasised by a 2-1 defeat of Drumcondra in the Free State Cup final (Bohs’ Jimmy White scored a goal in every round, and Drums’ semi-final with Fordsons was the first soccer match to be broadcast live on Irish radio), and also victory in the Free State Shield (Dundalk G.N.R.’s Eddie Carroll amassed 16 goals in just nine shield games; his club were fined £100 when the referee was assaulted following a key shield fixture against Bohemians), emulating Shamrock Rovers’ “treble” of 1925. Indeed, by adding the Leinster Senior Cup, the Gypsies actually eclipsed the achievement of their Dublin rivals (it should be noted, however, that the Free State League clubs had not competed in the Leinster cup that season), and also brought the Hoops’ 30-match league unbeaten run to an end with a 3-1 win at Dalymount in November. It was a truly remarkable achievement for the amateur club, with so many of their domestic opponents being drawn from the semi-professional and professional ranks. Despite their unbeaten sequence being ended, Shamrock Rovers could still take a lot of heart from the fact that, throughout two full seasons in league, shield and cup, they had yet to be defeated at their new home of Glenmalure Park.

Having lost out to Dundalk G.N.R. (who this year replaced their existing black and amber club colours with a kit of white shirt and navy shorts) for election to the league in 1926, Drumcondra (who played their home games at Tolka Park, the ground formerly known simply as “Richmond Road”) finally did gain admission in 1928, with bottom club Athlone Town this time making way. The cost of fulfilling their away games (the club had moved into a new home at the Ranelagh Grounds in 1926) was a key factor in the Co. Westmeath club’s resignation, and their last three shield matches had been left unfulfilled (in previous seasons, Athlone had occasionally conceded victory in shield matches rather than incur the cost of travel). Their place at the highest level of Irish football gone, the midlanders (outside of some involvement in the reserve league) would not return to League of Ireland action for another 40 years.

Free State League 1927-28

Shamrock Rovers18972411825
Dundalk G.N.R.18936443621
St. James’s Gate18549284214
Bray Unknowns18141329706
Athlone Town18211519615

League top scorers : Charlie Heinemann Fordsons, 24 Sammy McIlvenny Shelbourne, 22 Jock McMillan Shelbourne, 17

Representative matches : Welsh League 5-1 Free State League, Free State League 3-1 Irish League

1923-24 Free State League season

The fact that there were now only ten clubs allowed the league race to again take place between September and December, and following their second and third-placed finishes in the previous two seasons, Bohemians captured their first league championship this time around. They won each of their first 15 games to all but assure themselves of the title, with nearest challengers Shelbourne six points adrift with just three matches remaining. Shels then defeated their title rivals 5-2 to keep the race alive for at least one more week (they also ended the Bohemians winning streak; that run of 15 consecutive victories has yet to be equalled in the League of Ireland), but a 4-1 win for Bohs over St. James’s Gate in the next round of matches finally confirmed the Dalymount Park (they finished with maximum points from their home games, and went unbeaten at home in all three competitions) club as champions.

Bohemians defeat Shelbourne 2-0 at Dalymount Park in October 1923

It was a little harder to separate Bohemians and Shelbourne (who also went unbeaten at home, bar a 2-0 Free State Cup quarter-final defeat to Athlone Town) in the subsequent Free State Shield competition, competed for this year (from January to May) on a “round robin” basis, with each league side facing each other once. After both Bohs and Shels had remained unbeaten in their nine games, the Gypsies won through in a Dalymount Park play-off, with an extra-time winner from Ned Brooks (against his former club) preventing the Reds from performing a shield “three-in-a-row”.

Athlone Town combined a fourth place finish in the league with victory in the Free State Cup, defeating non-league Fordsons of Cork 1-0 in the decider. Dinny Hannon’s (who had previously won an I.F.A. Cup medal with Bohemians) goal was the only one that either of the clubs had conceded during the entire cup campaign. The Cork side, formed in 1922, had strong links to the Ford Motor Factory in the city, and took their name from the Fordson tractor that many of the club’s members had a hand in producing. The Ballinlough-based outfit, along with Bray Unknowns, would be incorporated into the Free State League for 1924-25, at the expense of Midland Athletic and Shelbourne United.

December of 1923 saw the first signs of reconciliation between football clubs from north and south of the border, with Bohemians traveling to Belfast to play Linfield, and Shelbourne hosting Glentoran at Shelbourne Park. Although relations between the two football associations remained frosty, one-off “friendly” matches between Dublin and Belfast clubs continued for the rest of the 1920s, with Bohemians and Linfield deciding to meet every year to contest the ‘Condor Cup’ (north-south matches were always well-attended and were a welcome boost to clubs’ finances). Meanwhile, February 1924 saw the first ever “inter-league” match involving a Free State League representative side (the team had made its unofficial debut against French club Gallia in Dublin in April 1923), with Welsh football relaxing its previously held stance by sending a team to Dalymount Park. 15,000 people turned out to watch the two sides play out an entertaining 3-3 draw, with the home goals coming from St. James’s Gate’s Ernie McKay, and Bohemians’ in-form English centre-forward, Dave Roberts (who scored twice).

A newsreel from early 1924 shows Bohemians in action against Linfield at Windsor Park

Then, a couple of months later, a squad of 20 home-based players travelled to Paris to represent the Irish Free State at the 1924 Olympic Games. While the competition (the most prestigious in the world at the time, in the absence of World Cups, European Championships etc.) was limited to amateur players, it would serve as an international swansong for I.F.A. international veteran Dinny Hannon, and an early introduction to international football for the likes of Tommy Muldoon (Athlone Town, and later Aston Villa), Jack McCarthy (Bohemians), and Joe Kendrick (Brooklyn, and later Everton and Dolphin). A goal from St. James’s Gate’s Paddy Duncan against Bulgaria set up a quarter-final tie against Holland, but a 2-1 extra-time defeat in this match ended the Irish involvement in the competition.

Free State League 1923-24

Athlone Town18855342421
St. James’s Gate18927382720
Shelbourne United18837303119
Shamrock Rovers18738353217
Midland Athletic18201613624

League top scorers : Dave Roberts Bohemians, 20 Christy Robinson Bohemians, 12 Frank Rushe Shelbourne, 12

Representative match : Free State League 3-3 Welsh League

(Note: Representative matches refer only to games against other league selections, or international sides – fixtures against clubs etc. are not included)

Early Years – Growth of the Game in Ireland

The introduction of Association Football (“soccer”) to Ireland can be credited to a Belfast merchant named John McAlery, who, having witnessed the game being played while on honeymoon in Scotland, began promoting it in his native city throughout 1878. An exhibition game between the Scottish clubs Queens Park and Caledonians in October would represent the first organised association football match to take place on the island of Ireland. McAlery was behind the formation of Cliftonville Football Club the following year, and on the 18th of November 1880, the latter was one of seven clubs (primarily from the Belfast area) that were founder members of the Irish Football Association (I.F.A.). The I.F.A. was the world’s fourth national football association, following those of England, Scotland and Wales.

The game (with the Scottish rule-book being adopted by the I.F.A.) began to grow steadily on the island over the coming years, and aided in no small part by Trinity College’s large English and Scottish student populations, gradually began to gain a foothold in Dublin. It wasn’t long before teams, and then clubs began to spring up around the capital, and in 1883, Dublin A.F.C. became the first one to be established outside of Ulster. The most notable clubs to emerge in the city in the coming years, however, were Bohemians (official name “Bohemian F.C.”, formed by members of various Anglo-Irish schools and academies in and around the Phoenix Park area) in 1890, Shelbourne (from Ringsend / Sandymount) in 1895, and St. James’s Gate, who drew from membership of the Guinness Sports and Social Club, and were named after the address of that company’s famous brewery. Having staged some high profile friendlies at their new Dalymount Park home against the likes of Preston North End and Glasgow Celtic the previous year, 1902 saw Bohemians gain entry to the Irish League, which had been up and running (as the Belfast and District League) since 1890, and they were joined by Shelbourne in 1904.

With Bohemians deciding to retain an amateur footballing ethos (as a Protestant club, they also sought not to play on Sundays), Shelbourne became Dublin’s first professional football club in September of 1905. This helped ensure they were a more competitive force within the Irish League framework, and having won an Irish Cup in 1906 (two Jimmy Owens goals beating Belfast Celtic in the Dalymount Park final), they finished runners-up to Linfield in the eight-team league in 1907. Bohemians were a respected side too, however, and while they never put together a sustained league challenge, they did reach six Irish Cup finals, with a 3-1 replay win over Shelbourne in a Dublin derby at Dalymount in 1908 being their only victory. Shels prevailed by two goals to one in another Irish Cup final derby against Bohemians in 1911, before a third Dublin side, Tritonville, competed in the Irish League for the 1912-13 season, only to relinquish their place the following year. (A Dublin club called Freebooters had contested the 1901 Irish Cup final, but lost to Cliftonville at Jones’s Road, current site of Croke Park; British army teams based in Limerick and Kildare had been runners-up in the 1892 and 1897 finals in Belfast.)

Then, however, due to a perceived “Belfast bias” on the part of the I.F.A., especially with regard to the selection of players for the Irish national side, disputes began to occur between the Belfast and Dublin clubs. The pro-British sentiments of the northern clubs (with the notable exception of Belfast Celtic) during the First World War and the Irish War of Independence inevitably increased tensions further, and in April of 1921, when an Irish Cup semi-final replay between Glenavon and holders Shelbourne (who had won the 1920 trophy after the semi-finalists on the other side of the draw were both disqualified) was switched from Dublin to Belfast for security reasons, the two southern sides removed themselves from the Irish League.

An Irish Cup match between Shelbourne and St. James’s Gate at Dalymount Park in February 1921

It was in June of this year that the Football League of Ireland came into existence. Five other Dublin clubs (all from the ranks of the Leinster Senior League), namely Dublin United (based at Beech Hill, Clonskeagh), Frankfort (Richmond Road, Drumcondra), Jacobs (a team representing the famous Irish biscuit factory who played at Rutland Avenue, Crumlin), Olympia (Bellevue Lodge, Ballsbridge) and Y.M.C.A. (Claremont Road, Sandymount), joined Shelbourne, Bohemians and “the Gate” to contest the 1921-1922 football season. In September of 1921, the Football Association of Ireland (F.A.I.) was formed, to rival the now exclusively northern I.F.A, although the latter body continued to see itself as holding sway over the footballing affairs of the entire island (including the selection of players for the national side). The F.A.I. consisted of the Football League of Ireland, together with the Leinster Football Association (formed as far back as 1892), who had revoked their own membership of the I.F.A. some months previously. A newly reformed Munster Football Association (the body was originally established in 1901 but due to its heavy British military make-up at the time, collapsed upon the outbreak of the First World War) would be incorporated into the F.A.I. in 1922.