A great team effort, built around a very solid defence, saw Drumcondra win their fifth League of Ireland title in 1964-65, a season that was, on the whole, a little bit dull and uneventful. The standard of play had been relatively poor during the first half of the 1960s, and it seemed to dip a little bit further this year, with many, if not most matches being described in less than glowing terms. The poor attacking play of the previous season continued, but the one thing to receive praise this season was the performance of the league’s goalkeepers, with their many excellent displays helping to keep the scoring rate at just three goals per game. The fact that it was a standout year for the league’s goalkeeping fraternity seemed to be confirmed by Shelbourne’s John Heavey becoming the first goalkeeper to score in a championship match, when he scored the first in a 2-0 win over Waterford at Kilcohan Park.
A good start and strong finish were key for Drumcondra, as they won five of their first six matches and also each of their last six to finish just a point ahead of Shamrock Rovers, who had led the league table for much of the middle part of the season (both clubs had taken 21 home points from 22 and remained unbeaten at home all season). A late Jimmy Hasty goal along with a brilliant display by home goalkeeper Gerry Macken prevented the Hoops from forcing a play-off, with their delayed last league game against Dundalk at Oriel Park finishing in a 1-1 draw. Drumcondra also captured the Top Four Cup at Rovers’ expense, and the competition saw them suddenly find their shooting boots (new signing Johnny Kingston had been their top league scorer this season with nine), with a 3-0 win over Cork Hibernians in the semi-final being matched by a 3-0 win over the Hoops in the decider (Billy Dixon scored twice with David Brooks getting the other). An injury crisis had seen veteran Christy ‘Bunny’ Fullam making his first appearance of the season for Drums in their final league game, and he remained in the side for both of the Top Four Cup matches.
Shamrock Rovers managed to retain two of the trophies that they had won the previous season, with a gallant Limerick team unlucky to lose their first ever F.A.I. Cup final, after a replay. Johnny Fullam netted the only goal after the first meeting had ended in a 1-1 draw, and Limerick became the first team to bring on a substitute in the final when Michael Doyle sustained a broken leg during the first half of the first game (Denis Linnane was his replacement; the rule permitting a first-half injury substitution had been introduced for the previous season’s final). The two clubs had taken part in a novel League of Ireland Shield game earlier in the season, with Rovers winning 3-1 and all four of the goals being scored from the penalty spot (Eddie Bailham scored all three for the Hoops, not long before emigrating to England), before then being involved in a five-way tie (along with Drumcondra, Dundalk and Cork Celtic) at the top of the shield table, brought about by an unlikely combination of final round results. A series of play-off matches eventually got under way in the new year, and with bad weather causing both semi-finals to be postponed, Shamrock Rovers and Cork Celtic met in the final on St. Patrick’s Day, with two Liam Tuohy goals giving the Hoops a 2-1 win at Tolka Park.
Limerick’s appearance in the cup final would prove enough to secure them a place in the European Cup Winners’ Cup for the following year, with Rovers electing to compete in the following season’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. This latter tournament had been very kind to the League of Ireland clubs so far, with Shelbourne’s thrilling first round victory over Portugal’s Belenenses one of the latest, and arguably the most significant, in a string of respectable results. The Reds set some very unconvincing domestic form aside to prevail following a play-off (the goals came from Ben Hannigan and Mick Conroy), and then performed admirably against Atlético Madrid in the next round. Shels had qualified for the Fairs Cup despite only finishing fifth in the 1963-64 League of Ireland Shield, but as the highest-placed Dublin club (the tournament was initially only open to clubs from a city where an international trade fair took place) apart from quadruple-winning Shamrock Rovers, the European spot went to the Tolka Park tenants ahead of Dundalk and Waterford (Cork Celtic had also finished above the Reds, but had secured qualification for the European Cup Winners’ Cup).
Shelbourne also managed to snag some silverware this season, with an Eric Barber hat-trick helping them to a 5-1 win over Drumcondra in a Dublin City Cup final replay in January. The first match had taken place in October, and many present actually thought that Drumcondra had won the game on corners after the sides finished level at 3-3 (the rule, however, only applied to the competition’s earlier rounds). Alvarito, a former Atlético Madrid defender and Spanish international, joined Shelbourne midway through the season, and even helped out with coaching duties when long-serving manager Gerry Doyle ended up moving on from the club. Con Martin, who had been out of the game since his spell at Dundalk a few years ago, was approached to take over for the 1965-66 season.
Bohemians had received their sternest warning yet from the rest of the League of Ireland when seeking re-election for the 1964-65 season (something akin to “improve or get out”), so the fact that Sean Thomas had taken over at the club following his acrimonious departure from Shamrock Rovers seemed particularly timely. He set about revamping the Dalymount Park squad, with many young players being brought in, mostly from the northside Stella Maris club. The changes brought no immediate improvement, however, and the Gypsies won just two of their first 11 league matches. Fortunes improved immediately, and dramatically, with the signing of Turlough O’Connor from Athlone Town, however, the young inside-left hitting the ground running and scoring eight goals (including both in a 2-2 draw away to Drumcondra) to help the club climb up the table. An unbeaten run of eight wins and three draws saw them eventually finish third, and O’Connor’s brilliant form not only appeared to have resolved Bohs’ long-standing goalscoring problem, but he had breathed some life into an otherwise very tame domestic season.
O’Connor had spent a few months playing for Athlone Town in the new League of Ireland ‘B’ league, a competition that also included Home Farm and Bray Wanderers, along with the reserve teams of most of the Leinster-based League of Ireland clubs (Bohemians were the exception; the ‘B’ teams of the Munster clubs played in the Munster Senior League). Home Farm were the team that grabbed all the headlines this season, winning the first League of Ireland ‘B’ championship, and also pulling off a huge shock by lifting the Leinster Senior Cup. Bohemians, St. Patrick’s Athletic and Dundalk’s first teams were all beaten on the way to ‘Farm becoming the first non-League of Ireland ‘A’ club to win the trophy for over 20 years. The Whitehall club (whose key player was future Stoke City and Ireland star Terry Conroy) also undertook a trip to the U.S. during the close season, playing friendly matches in front of big crowds, and recording a 6-0 win over Trenton All-Stars from New Jersey. Despite all this success, however, there was still no appetite within the League of Ireland to add another Dublin club to the ‘A’ division, so as with a number of previous attempts, Home Farm’s application to join the top flight for 1965-66 was unsuccessful.
League of Ireland 1964-65
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||9||3||10||37||36||21|
European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round (second leg at Dalymount Park), Rapid Vienna 3-0 Shamrock Rovers, Shamrock Rovers 0-2 Rapid Vienna European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round (second leg at Flower Lodge), Slavia Sofia 1-1 Cork Celtic, Cork Celtic 0-2 Slavia Sofia Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (home legs at Dalymount Park) First Round, Belenenses (Portugal) 1-1 Shelbourne, Shelbourne 0-0 Belenenses. Play-off (Dalymount Park, Shelbourne having won the toss of a coin), Shelbourne 2-1 Belenenses. Second Round, Shelbourne 0-1 Atlético Madrid, Atlético Madrid 1-0 Shelbourne
League top scorers : Jackie Mooney Shamrock Rovers, 16 Eric Barber Shelbourne, 14 Noel Bates St. Patrick’s Athletic, 14
S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Sean Thomas, manager, Bohemians
Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-2 Scottish League, League of Ireland 0-1 Irish League