After just a few weeks of this season’s league programme, it looked as if it had the potential to be one of the most open championship races ever, with any one of nine different teams looking as if they could be potential champions. When Limerick ascended to the top of the table for the first time at the halfway point (earning an £11 bonus for many of their players, the equivalent of about three weeks’ wages), they had been the eighth different club to hold leadership or joint-leadership of the table, and though no-one could have known it at the time, a 1-0 win for the Shannonsiders at Dundalk the previous weekend (Gerry O’Brien was the goalscorer) ended up being a very significant result come the end of the season. Limerick won their first League of Ireland championship after taking 22 points from a possible 22 at the Market’s Field, beating the bottom three sides away from home, and losing all but one of their away games against the rest of the “top nine”.
Although Austin Noonan and Donal Leahy (often swapping positions at centre-forward and inside-forward) hit 47 league goals between them to elevate Cork Celtic (who had changed their name from Evergreen United, and adopted a new colour scheme of black and gold) into the runners-up position for the second year in a row, it was Shelbourne who had looked like Limerick’s most dangerous title rivals this season. With a side containing 10 players who were 23 or under (some had been part of Shels’ F.A.I. Youth Cup win the previous year), and five current or future Irish internationals, it was a very memorable season for Shelbourne overall, with Gerry Doyle’s young guns (Doyle advocated a policy of “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”) defeating Cork Hibernians 2-0 in the F.A.I. Cup final to record what was only their second Blue Riband success. Eric Barber scored a goal in every round, and Tony Dunne, later to become a European Cup winner, an Irish international captain, and one of the world’s finest full-backs, left Tolka Park for Manchester United the day after the game. One other notable member of the Shels team was goalkeeper Finbarr Flood, who had broken three fingers in the semi-final but still ended up playing in the final with a heavily strapped hand. Flood later became managing director of Guinness and chairman of the Labour Court, before rejoining the Reds as club chairman in the early 2000s.
This season was the first to feature St. Patrick’s Athletic playing League of Ireland football (albeit just a handful of games) at their spiritual home of Richmond Park, and the Inchicore club marked the occasion by winning their first League of Ireland Shield. They won their first eight matches to build a virtually unassailable lead, and their record was only finally blemished by a defeat at Shelbourne (Eric Barber scored four in a 5-1 win) and a home draw against runners-up Limerick. St. Pats’ Johnny McGeehan topped the shield’s goalscoring chart alongside Barber, but one other player managed to equal their tally of nine goals in this year’s competition. Drumcondra hammered Sligo Rovers 9-0 at the Showgrounds in round three, and seven of those goals came from Billy Mackay, a recent signing from Leinster Senior League side Bray Wanderers. Scottish-born Mackay was the latest in a line of players that had gone from Bray to Drumcondra during recent seasons, but in spite of his promising shield form (he had also scored in a 2-0 win over Shamrock Rovers, Drums’ first Tolka Park win over the Hoops since 1952), he only scored two goals for Drums in the league before departing the League of Ireland scene.
Paddy Coad had taken over as player-manager of Shamrock Rovers midway through the 1949-50 season, and with the team that he assembled almost coming to define League of Ireland football during the 1950s, there was a sense of perfect symmetry when Coad decided to step away from the Glenmalure Park club midway through the 1959-60 campaign. It was a very mixed, and a very transitional season for the Hoops, as they won “only” the L.F.A. President’s Cup and Dublin City Cup, the latter trophy again being secured after defeating Drumcondra on corners, in the first final to be played away from Dalymount Park (the Tolka Park game was Drums’ fourth loss in the final in as many years). Rovers went through the first nine rounds of the League of Ireland Shield without winning a game (they did win their last two but there was now a view that other teams had figured out how to counteract their playing style), had a slow start to the league that saw them fall too far back to be able to mount a realistic challenge (they were the only one of this season’s “top nine” who never held or shared the lead), and suffered a chastening 3-0 F.A.I. Cup defeat at the hands of eventual winners Shelbourne.
Coad’s final Shamrock Rovers season did have one suitable high point, however, with the Hoops’ narrow 4-3 aggregate defeat by French champions OGC Nice in the European Cup being an extremely encouraging result for all League of Ireland sides. The manner of their performance was also very encouraging, with Rovers said to have played a “continental” style of football in the first leg, where goals from Tommy Hamilton and Liam Tuohy (who would join Newcastle United for £9,000 at the end of the season) had caused significant consternation for the home team and their supporters. Liam Hennessy had to sit out part of the away game after suffering a bout of sunstroke (the temperature reached 98° F), but he recovered to put in an excellent performance, and then scored a spectacular 40-yard goal against French international goalkeeper Georges Lamia in the second leg at Dalymount Park. Nice would go on to defeat Real Madrid 3-2 in the first leg of their quarter-final tie, before being eliminated by the eventual European Champions in the return leg in Spain.
39-year old Coad headed for his hometown, and took over as player-manager of a Waterford team that included several other great names from the club’s history, including his much younger brother Seamus (in his breakthrough season), the Fitzgerald brothers Jack and Denny, and also Alfie Hale. Hale’s star continued to rise following his return from the injury that had kept him out of the previous season’s cup final, as he hit a hat-trick in his inter-league debut against the Hessen League (the 5-2 win was the League of Ireland’s first against the German side), and scored twice in a 6-3 Olympic qualifier win against the Netherlands. It was the F.A.I.’s first Olympic football qualifying campaign, and with only amateur players allowed, the teams that took to the field for the four matches against Great Britain and the Dutch were almost entirely composed of League of Ireland players (Willie Browne of U.C.D. was the notable exception). Two somewhat unlucky defeats against Great Britain ultimately proved costly, but Hale’s performance against the Dutch helped him secure a move to Aston Villa a couple of months later, with a fee of £4,500 being agreed for the 20-year old.
The 1959-60 season was also one that had captured the imagination on Leeside. With both clubs in contention for honours, and a dispute having earlier arisen over the transfer of winger Paul O’Donovan from Cork Hibernians to Cork Celtic (Hibs had themselves recruited ex-Glasgow Celtic and Northern Ireland star Charlie Tully), a crowd of 30,000 attended the Mardyke in mid-January to see Celtic win a local derby 2-1, and take over from Hibs (on goal average) at the top of the League of Ireland table. It was initially believed that O’Donovan had not been properly registered by Cork Celtic, leading to them being docked two League of Ireland points and fined a sum of 10 guineas, but a subsequent appeal to the F.A.I. found that the Turner’s Cross club had not acted improperly. The two restored points helped them to finish second (instead of sixth), and they handed Limerick a rare Market’s Field defeat in the semi-finals of the Top Four Cup, before goals from Donal O’Leary and Frank McCarthy gave them a 2-0 win over Shelbourne in the final.
A significant off-the-field development this season was the foundation of the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (P.F.A.I.) in February of 1960. It followed a visit to Dublin by Jimmy Hill, the secretary of the British P.F.A., who had been invited over to offer advice in relation to the grievances of some Irish players. The organisation had three key objectives, namely the improvement of conditions for players, the advancement of the game, and the improvement of player insurance and benefit schemes. Representing the interests of both professionals and semi-professionals, the P.F.A.I. was registered as an official Irish trade union in September 1960.
League of Ireland 1959-60
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||12||1||9||46||44||25|
European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round (second leg at Dalymount Park), OGC Nice 3-2 Shamrock Rovers, Shamrock Rovers 1-1 OGC Nice
League top scorers : Austin Noonan Cork Celtic, 27 Tommy Collins Cork Hibernians, 21 Donal Leahy Cork Celtic, 20
Representative matches : League of Ireland 1-4 Scottish League, English League 2-0 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 5-2 Hessen League, League of Ireland 2-1 Irish League