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

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.

1941-42 League of Ireland season

Trophy wins for Shelbourne (with two Paddy Bradshaw goals helping them to a 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in the Dublin City Cup final) and Shamrock Rovers (shield) in the opening months of the season hinted at the league title’s possible return to Dublin this year, but Cork United did enough to retain the league championship in 1942, finishing two points ahead of Shamrock Rovers. A late December meeting between the two title rivals at Milltown came to be regarded as a League of Ireland classic, with a crowd of 25,000 being treated to an epic 4-4 draw. With a side that included I.F.A. international captain Davy Cochrane (the club’s top scorer this year; F.A.I. and future Manchester United skipper Jackie Carey also featured for Rovers in one match), the Hoops handed Cork their only league defeat of the season, 3-2 at the Mardyke, and themselves remained unbeaten at Milltown through all four national competitions.

Dundalk (who had adopted their now famous white and black kit the previous season, after a temporary flirtation with maroon and light blue) prevented Cork from claiming a second consecutive double, by winning the F.A.I. Cup decider 3-1. In doing so they got their own hands on the trophy for the first time, after three previous final defeats, and nine previous progressions to the semi-final stages. Club legend and 10-time Irish international Joey Donnelly (considered the best player that the club has ever produced), a survivor of all three of those beaten Dundalk sides, had the honour of lifting the elusive trophy for the Oriel Park outfit.

Dundalk were also the inaugural winners of the new Dublin and Belfast Intercity Cup, a cross-border competition (contested at the very end of the season) introduced to increase the amount of football for both northern and southern teams during the war years, and having the added bonus of generating much needed revenue for the competing clubs. Six teams from each league (there were now just six teams competing in the unofficial “Northern Regional League”) took part, with the victors and two strongest losers from a two-legged first round moving on to two-legged quarter and semi-final stages. The first final, where an Artie Kelly goal (Kelly had scored twice in the F.A.I. Cup final just a few weeks earlier) gave Dundalk a 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers, took place over 90 minutes, but the next five Intercity Cup finals were two-legged affairs. All six southern clubs played their “home” games at Dalymount Park, and attendances were considerable.

Despite the relatively successful year at Glenmalure Park, controversy would reign at Shamrock Rovers towards the end of the season, with Jimmy Dunne’s omission from the team line-up for an F.A.I. Cup semi-final match with Dundalk prompting a protest march by Hoops fans to the home of the Rovers’ owners, the Cunningham family. Joe Cunningham (with occasional input from his wife Mary-Jane) had enjoyed control of Rovers team selection for years, and the incident would be one of several selection scandals that the family would become embroiled in over the coming decades. With matters not resolved to his satisfaction, Dunne would leave to take the post of player-coach of Bohemians in time for the beginning of the new league campaign.

Despite the war impacting heavily upon Ireland’s economy, attendances at League of Ireland matches showed no sign of waning, and all 10 clubs made themselves available for the beginning of the 1942-43 season. The league’s fortunes were aided by an influx of players from the other “home” leagues in the early 1940s, due to the suspension / downgrading of their own domestic competitions because of the war (it was also an opportunity to avoid national service). As well as players like Cochrane, Carey, and Derry City star Jimmy Kelly, many Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen were happy to ply their trade (or at least have brief stints) in the League of Ireland during this time. Although a number of the league’s better players were also lured north of the border by favourable contract offers, there would be a noticeable increase in the amount of full-time footballers in the League of Ireland as the 1940s progressed.

League of Ireland 1941-42


PWDLFAPts

Cork United181341542030

Shamrock Rovers181242522328

Shelbourne18855382921

Dundalk18837453619

St. James’s Gate18657413519*

Brideville18576294417

Limerick18738323315*

Bohemians18468293614

Drumcondra18468294914

Bray Unknowns18031517613

* St. James’s Gate awarded two points from Limerick

League top scorers : Tommy Byrne Limerick, 20 (includes 3 goals from a 3-1 win over St. James’s Gate, where the points were awarded to the Dublin club after Limerick fielded an ineligible player; the four goals scored in the match were removed from the league table) Artie Kelly Dundalk, 15 Owen Madden Cork United, 14

Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-2 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 5-2 League of Ireland

1932-33 Free State League season

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

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

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

Free State League 1932-33

PWDLFAPts
Dundalk181332442129
Shamrock Rovers181125483224
Shelbourne181035452623
Cork181017353521
Bray Unknowns18675292919
St. James’s Gate18819394117
Cork Bohemians18468303814
Dolphin18549283914
Bohemians18459244013
Drumcondra18141322436

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

Representative match : Free State League 2-0 Welsh League

1925-26 Free State League season

With two second and two third-placed finishes since the league began, the return of former player Billy Lacey (who won two English league medals with Liverpool during the early 1920s) helped Shelbourne finally win their first league title in 1926, two points ahead of their local rivals Shamrock Rovers. The latter club had actually looked set to retain the championship, but a draw and a defeat in their last two games (both Rovers and Shels had remained unbeaten since Shels ended their rivals’ 26-game unbeaten run in October) opened the door for Shelbourne, who clinched the title with a 4-1 win at St. James’s Gate on the last day. Shels added a third Free State Shield (scoring an average of four goals per game) at the end of the season, while Fordsons (featuring a host of players from northern Ireland, a situation becoming common in the Free State League because of discrimination against Catholics by many northern employers) built on the successes of the last two years to become the first side from outside of Dublin to break into the league’s top three placings.

Shelbourne beat Fordsons 4-2 at Shelbourne Park in November

The Cork club also defeated Shamrock Rovers 3-2 to lift the Free State Cup (the 25,000 attendance at the final was the biggest yet), a victory made even more significant by the fact that they had never actually scored against Rovers since joining the league two seasons earlier (they had actually been heavily defeated by them on a number of occasions, including a 6-0 loss in Rovers’ first ever league visit to Cork). They could be extremely grateful to goalkeeper Billy O’Hagan, who made four penalty saves during the course of the cup campaign, including a famous one from Rovers’ Bob Fullam in the final, when the score was level at 2-2 (Fullam famously elected not to contest the rebound, as he feared that he would cause a very serious injury to the brave O’Hagan). Future Free State international Paddy Barry also gained the distinction of becoming the first player to score two goals in a Free State Cup decider.

March was an eventful month overall with regard to Irish football, as just four days before that cup final, history was made at Dalymount Park with the first-ever meeting of the Free State League and Irish League representative sides. A crowd of 20,000 watched a team fronted by the Shamrock Rovers’ “four F’s” attacking line enjoy a 3-1 victory over the northerners (Billy Farrell added a goal to Charlie Dowdall’s brace), while four days after the cup final, a Free State national side travelled to Turin to contest the F.A.I.F.S.’s very first international fixture. Although the lengthy three-day journey (and the fact that several players had competed in all three of these high-profile games) helped Italy to a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Irish, the fact that all 11 members of the team were home-based was viewed as being a very good reflection of the current quality of the Free State League.

F.I.F.A.’s decision to modify the existing “offside” law in 1925 (two and not three members of the defending team now had to be between the attacker and goal when the ball was played forward; goalkeepers were still afforded limited protection from charging etc.) had had an immediate impact on the Free State League, with a total of 445 goals being scored compared to the previous season’s 344 (the average of almost five goals a game remains the highest in League of Ireland history). The new measure was of very little help to Pioneers F.C., however, and having propped up the league table for the last two campaigns, 1926 was to prove the last league outing for the Dublin side (the bottom two league teams had to apply for re-election). Their place for the new season was taken by Dundalk G.N.R., also known as the Great Northern Railway Association Club (the team was linked to the railway steelworks in the town), founded in the Co. Louth town as far back as 1903.

Free State League 1925-26

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne181431652331
Shamrock Rovers181332622129
Fordsons181215583125
Bohemians181026502822
Jacobs18747404818
Brideville18648365316
Athlone Town187110465615
St. James’s Gate184311334811
Bray Unknowns184311345511
Pioneers18101721822

League top scorers : Billy Farrell Shamrock Rovers, 24 Jock Simpson Shelbourne, 18 Jim Sweeney Athlone Town, 17

Representative matches : Welsh League 2-2 Free State League, Free State League 3-1 Irish League

Shamrock Rovers beat Bohemians in a Free State Cup first round second replay