Though not as severely affected as the U.K., the 1962-63 League of Ireland football season was largely defined by the winter “Big Freeze”, which led to a succession of postponements during December and January and threw the championship race almost completely out of step. Dundalk F.C. somehow escaped the worst of it, however, and with a team containing a number of “cast-offs” from other clubs, managed to keep their noses ahead of everyone else for almost the entire campaign. Two late goals away to bottom club Bohemians in their final game secured a dramatic 2-2 draw, and a three-point advantage at the top of the table, but with three other clubs still in a position to catch them. Over the coming days, the title hopes of Drumcondra, Shelbourne (who lost their last three games to slip to seventh), and then Cork Celtic all evaporated, leaving the Lilywhites’ to celebrate their first league title in 30 years (it was the club’s first top four finish in 14 years, and they used a squad of just 14 players). By the time all of the fixture congestion had been cleared, Paddy Coad’s Waterford were left in the runners-up position, ahead of Drumcondra on goal average.
A decision had been taken to reduce the amount of League of Ireland clubs from 12 to 10, and having both finished some distance adrift at the foot of the previous season’s table, Transport and Sligo Rovers had failed to retain their League of Ireland status. Although the north-westerners would soon return, 1961-62 would prove to have been the Busmen’s last League of Ireland action (they would, however, go on to win three F.A.I. Intermediate Cups). The reduction of clubs was partly to accommodate a new P.J. Casey Cup competition, which opened the new season in August. Again open to League of Ireland clubs only, but with a geographical format similar to the modern-day League Cup (two groups of five clubs played each other once, with the top two qualifying for the semi-finals), the trophy was named after the Dundalk administrator and former president of the League of Ireland who had died during the previous season. Fittingly, Dundalk reached the final, but were beaten 3-0 (Billy Dixon scored twice) by Drumcondra, in what would actually prove to be the only ever P.J. Casey Cup decider. The fixture pile-up that happened to occur this year meant that the new competition was sacrificed instead of the league having to possibly introduce a mid-season break.
The shield had kicked off immediately after the P.J. Casey Cup, with eight wins from nine helping Shamrock Rovers finish six points clear of Cork Celtic and Dundalk to capture what would prove to be the first of four consecutive League of Ireland Shields (as with the subsequent league race, most of the teams had found consistent form hard to come by). Something of a new departure for the Dublin City Cup saw it commence in November, with the first round taking place over two legs. The competition was impacted by the cold weather, however, and the second semi-final wasn’t played until the 25th of April, a whole four months after the first. Shelbourne, and Tommy Moroney’s Cork Hibernians (who this season finally began playing their home fixtures at the Flower Lodge stadium, and received big praise for both the facilities and the quality of the playing surface) could look forward to a meeting in the final on the 5th of May.
These clubs had already met in a far more prestigious fixture on April 22nd, however, with the F.A.I. Cup throwing up a repeat of the 1960 decider, and giving Hibs the chance to gain revenge for their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Gerry Doyle’s side. The Leesiders’ team this year included former Shamrock Rovers, Everton and Ireland star Tommy Eglington, and also Tommy Hamilton (hero of the previous season’s final and the reigning S.W.A.I. ‘Personality of the Year’), but in a final played in wind and rain, goals from Shels defenders Paddy Roberts and Paddy Bonham ensured that the 1960 result and scoreline were also destined to be repeated (peculiarly, just as in 1960, Hibs had a goal controversially disallowed). The Reds then rounded the season off with a win over the Corkmen in the Dublin City Cup decider, goals from Ben Hannigan (described in an F.A.I. Cup final match report as the “stormy petrel” of Irish soccer) and Joey Wilson giving them a 2-1 win at Dalymount Park.
At the end of the 1960-61 season, Drumcondra had needed two replays to collect the Top Four Cup at the expense of Cork Celtic, and the first instalment of the 1963 final between the sides finished in a 2-2 draw. Finding themselves 2-0 down at half-time in the rematch, Drums fought back to force extra-time, before a brace of goals from Jimmy ‘Maxie’ McCann helped them to a 4-3 win. It was the Dublin club’s second trophy of the season, but it was their exploits in the new Inter Cities Fairs Cup (although the competition would eventually include sides who finished runners-up in the various European leagues, the League of Ireland was initially represented by the winners of the previous season’s shield) that were maybe more significant. A first victory, and first aggregate victory by a League of Ireland side in European competition were achieved by the Tolka Park outfit, at the expense of an ‘Odense XI’ from Denmark.
A couple of miles away in Dalymount Park, Bohemian F.C. had a somewhat peculiar season. They finished five points adrift at the foot of the table in spite of playing reasonably well, and conceding just 35 goals (two fewer than runners-up Waterford) in their 18 matches. The problem for the Gypsies was up front, where their forward players tended to waste an amount of goalscoring opportunities, week after week. Bohs often sought to remedy the problem by switching their centre-half and leader Willie Browne from defence to attack, and this sometimes paid dividends. Browne was a threat from set-pieces in any case, and he ended up as the club’s top scorer with five goals. The Longford native was voted the Soccer Writers’ ‘Personality of the Year’ for 1962-63 and would go on to win a number of international caps the following season.
The ‘Big Freeze’ affected English clubs and competitions to such an extent that some were forced to go without football for around two months. Manchester United eventually had the idea of travelling to Ireland to play a series of friendlies and exhibition matches, and they were joined by Coventry City for a match at Milltown on the 2nd of February. 20,000 were there to see Bobby Charlton score late to rescue a 2-2 draw for United, and a crowd of 6,000 braved heavy rain to see United beat Bolton Wanderers (who had not played a match since early December) 4-2 at Flower Lodge on February 13th. United rounded off their programme a week later with a 4-0 win over a Bohemians / Shamrock Rovers XI in front of 15,000 at Dalymount Park.
Paddy Crerand made his Manchester United debut and scored in the Flower Lodge match, following his recent move from Glasgow Celtic, and Crerand had been one of the tormentors-in-chief a few months earlier when the Scottish League inflicted a humiliating 11-0 defeat on the League of Ireland at Celtic Park. A match against the Irish League was also lost following a very poor performance, but with this fixture now very much an annual event, and friendly matches between northern and southern clubs also now a regular occurrence (Shelbourne and Portadown, for example, had played each other once a year for the last number of years), relations between the two leagues / associations had seemingly never been better. So much so that one meeting of League of Ireland officials this season raised / discussed the possibility of making a formal approach to their northern counterparts with respect to the creation of an all-Ireland league. In the meantime, however, the League of Ireland was to revert to a 12-team structure, and six applications would be received for the two new positions, including ones from Jacobs, Transport, Tycor Athletic (Waterford) and Home Farm. As it turned out, the 1963-64 season would see Sligo Rovers returning, and for the first time, a team from Drogheda.
League of Ireland 1962-63
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||18||4||5||9||23||47||13|
European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round (first leg at Dalymount Park), Shelbourne 0-2 Sporting Lisbon, Sporting Lisbon 5-1 Shelbourne European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round (Rovers received a bye to this stage, first leg at Dalymount Park), Shamrock Rovers 0-4 Botev Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Botev Plovdiv 1-0 Shamrock Rovers Inter Cities Fairs Cup First Round, Drumcondra 4-1 Stævnet Odense (Denmark), Stævnet Odense 4-2 Drumcondra. Second Round, Bayern Munich 6-0 Drumcondra, Drumcondra 1-0 Bayern Munich
League top scorers : Mick Lynch Waterford, 12 Jackie Mooney Shamrock Rovers, 11 Jimmy Hasty Dundalk, 9
S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Willie Browne, Bohemians
Representative matches : Scottish League 11-0 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 1-3 Irish League