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
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||10||6||6||45||32||26|
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