1961-62 League of Ireland season

This season’s league race turned into a tussle between a free-scoring Cork Celtic side (who had four players in double figures) and a Shelbourne team that had shown an uncanny ability to grind out results. With both clubs finishing on 35 points (they drew 1-1 in front of a crowd of 10,000 at Turner’s Cross on the last day of the season), Shels and Cork Celtic contested a Dalymount Park play-off to decide the 1962 championship. A Ben Hannigan strike that came back off a post and went in off Cork defender Frankie McCarthy was enough to ensure a seventh league title for the Dubliners, and it meant that in spite of possessing a far superior goal average (ex-Limerick forward George Lynam had contributed ten goals, and centre-forward Donal Leahy was in the league’s top three scorers for the sixth year in a row), Celtic were condemned to a third runners-up finish in four seasons.

Shels would go on to defeat the Corkmen in the final of the Top Four Cup, and had been overwhelming favourites for the F.A.I. Cup final (which took place a few days before the league play-off) as well, only to be trounced 4-1 by Shamrock Rovers, with Tommy Hamilton and Paddy Ambrose each scoring twice. Shels had won each of the Dublin clubs’ three meetings during the season (and subsequently won a Top Four semi-final 4-1), including a 6-2 victory just nine days before the final, but an illness contracted by a number of their players from a vaccination ahead of a League of Ireland representative trip to Italy had disrupted the club’s preparations. The team that all other League of Ireland clubs loved to hate, therefore, now had some 14 Blue Riband victories to their name, and Tommy Hamilton’s great performance in light of yet another struggle with the Cunningham family (they had seen fit to drop him from the semi-final line-up, only to reconsider their decision after the fans had strenuously objected) saw him being awarded the Irish Soccer Writers’ “Personality of the Year” award.

Shelbourne’s 2-1 win over Rovers at Milltown on the 7th of January was also the first League of Ireland match to play host to a ‘Teilifís Éireann‘ camera crew, with the new television channel having been launched on New Year’s Day, 1962. Goals from Ben Hannigan and Eric Barber saw Shels defeat a Rovers team that featured future Hoops legend Frank O’Neill, who had returned to Ireland following a three-year spell at Arsenal. O’Neill had also guested with Rovers on their summer trip to the U.S.A., where they had become the first (and only ever) League of Ireland club to participate in the recently established ‘International Soccer League’ (they won one and drew two of their seven matches to finish seventh in their group of eight). The Rovers line-up this season also included brothers Eamon and Tommy Farrell, both half-backs, who were the father and uncle of future Hollywood film actor Colin.

Newcomer Hannigan, meanwhile, had arguably been the most consistent and effective forward in a Shelbourne team whose success had mostly been built around a great defence, brilliantly led by Freddie Strahan (Shels had allowed star goalkeeper Finbarr Flood leave to join Scottish club Greenock Morton during the season). Hannigan was one of a number of future League of Ireland stars who debuted during the 1961-62 season, with Johnny Fullam being another notable member of the Shamrock Rovers team this year. Inside-left Al Finucane and goalkeeper Kevin Fitzpatrick both made their debuts for Limerick, and although Finucane performed brilliantly, scoring eight league goals, he would go on to become more famous as a centre-half. Irish amateur international defender Willie Browne joined Bohemians from U.C.D., while Noel O’Mahony made his debut for Cork Hibernians in January, and would be a familiar face in League of Ireland football on Leeside for many years to come.

Cork Hibernians had been the club to lead the League of Ireland Shield table for most of the way, and so were in with a great chance of claiming their first national honour ahead of a last-day meeting with second-placed Drumcondra at Tolka Park. Goals from Jimmy Morrissey and Tommy Kinsella gave Drums a 2-1 win, however, and with it the club’s first shield success in over a decade. Since winning the last two editions of the “round robin” Dublin City Cup in the early 1950s, Drums had appeared in eight of the tournament’s 10 finals since, and they continued this pattern in 1961, with a rematch of the previous year’s decider against Cork Celtic. The issue took a little bit of time to resolve, though, with the clubs’ first meeting on 1st September ending in a 2-2 draw, and a replay in early November also finishing level at three goals apiece (ex-Cork United and Belfast Celtic star Liam O’Neill took over as Celtic coach ahead of this game, and the club lost their first two league matches before turning their form around). Drumcondra decided to fly to Cork for the second replay a few weeks later, but goals from Austin Noonan and Donie O’Leary gave Celtic a 2-0 win and their first Dublin City Cup, in what was the first match of the season to be played at Turner’s Cross (it was also their first “win” in that season’s competition, having reached the final by virtue of two “corners” victories in the earlier rounds). Cork Celtic had been sharing the Mardyke with Cork Hibernians during the early months, but an announcement by University College Cork that the ground wouldn’t be available for League of Ireland football beyond the current season prompted them to refocus their attention on trying to purchase Turner’s Cross from the F.A.I.

Drumcondra had been caught up in some controversy at the very beginning of the season, when they instigated a misuse of the substitute rule during their 3-0 L.F.A. President’s Cup win over St. Patrick’s Athletic at Dalymount Park. An injury to centre-half Sean Smyth saw him being replaced by Tony Nesbitt, but when Nesbitt got injured not long afterwards, the Tolka Park side readied Tommy Kinsella to come on in his stead. Despite the fact that only a goalkeeper substitution was available to Drums, the referee and an L.F.A. official allowed the second “outfield” change to be made. Dalymount Park itself, meanwhile, had yet another memorable moment later in the season, when the Phibsboro venue’s first ever floodlit football match took place. A ‘Bohemians XI’ (with guest players including the likes of Eric Barber and Tommy Hamilton) welcomed Arsenal for a midweek friendly in March, with the Londoners winning a high-scoring encounter by eight goals to three (the match had been played in poor weather conditions; although not as severe as the previous year, bad weather had been a feature of the 1961-62 season as a whole).

The previous season’s standout player, Dan McCaffrey, scored the first Drumcondra goal in their President’s Cup win, but injuries and a loss of form saw him struggle to hold down a place in the team as the season wore on. He eventually moved to Waterford and rediscovered some of his sharpness, but by the time the 1962-63 season rolled around McCaffrey would be on the move again, this time to Cork Hibernians. (Waterford had struggled towards the foot of the table and would have fared even worse if not for the brilliance of goalkeeper Tommy Taylor, whose displays grabbed many headlines this season.) Another of the 1960-61 season’s stars, Jimmy Hasty, also found himself on the sidelines for most of this campaign, but in spite of his injury problems, the Dundalk centre-forward still managed to register eight league goals.

The advent of a new European competition, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, saw St. Patrick’s Athletic acting as Ireland’s inaugural representatives, but unfortunately, with limited success. Meanwhile, a new cross-border tournament, the North-South Cup, had kicked off towards the end of the 1960-61 season, but due to fixture congestion for both the northern and southern-based clubs (St. Pat’s, Shels, Drums and Shamrock Rovers had each met Irish League opposition in a two-legged quarter-final), the unfinished tournament had spilled over into this year’s campaign. No League of Ireland club reached the first final (which took place between Linfield and Glentoran in early 1962), and a new edition of the competition commenced before the end of the current season, with Dundalk joining the other four southern clubs in a slightly revised 10-team version of the tournament. The competition again took place in fits and starts, however, and by the time Shelbourne lost the second decider to Glenavon in May of 1963, clubs’ appetite for the North-South Cup had been more or less exhausted.

League of Ireland 1961-62


PWDLFAPts

Shelbourne221552552335*

Cork Celtic221633712435

Shamrock Rovers221435513231

St. Patrick’s Athletic221138484625

Cork Hibernians22886373625**

Limerick221057413424**

Drumcondra22868454022

Dundalk22859423621

Bohemians226511404617

Waterford227312394917

Transport22231729767

Sligo Rovers22131831875

* Shelbourne beat Cork Celtic 1-0 in play-off for title

** Cork Hibernians awarded one point from Limerick

European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round, FC Nuremberg (West Germany) 5-0 Drumcondra, Drumcondra 1-4 FC Nuremberg European Cup Winners’ Cup Preliminary Round (second leg at Tolka Park), Dunfermline Athletic 4-1 St. Patrick’s Athletic, St. Patrick’s Athletic 0-4 Dunfermline Athletic

League top scorers : Eddie Bailham Shamrock Rovers, 21 Donal Leahy Cork Celtic, 18 Eric Barber Shelbourne, 15 Austin Noonan Cork Celtic, 15

S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Tommy Hamilton, Shamrock Rovers

Representative matches : League of Ireland 1-1 Scottish League, English League 5-2 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 0-3 Italian League, Irish League 3-1 League of Ireland, Italian League 6-0 League of Ireland

1952-53 League of Ireland season

This season’s Dublin City Cup final attracted more interest than usual, Shamrock Rovers (Paddy Coad having assembled a brand new squad over the previous seasons from the local schoolboy and junior leagues) defeating Drumcondra 1-0 to prevent the northside club from winning the trophy for a fourth year in a row. Transport finished as shield runners-up for the third time in four seasons, Waterford putting their name on the trophy for a third time after a 2-1 play-off replay victory at Kilcohan Park. In 1953, for the first time since 1929, the league’s top four positions would be occupied by clubs from the capital. Shelbourne captured a sixth league title ahead of Drumcondra, Shamrock Rovers and St. Pat’s, to join their local rivals Rovers at the top of the League of Ireland roll of honour.

In what was perhaps the most intriguing F.A.I. Cup campaign ever, Cork Athletic and Evergreen United proved that football outside of Dublin was alive and well by contesting a Cork derby in the “Blue Riband” decider. Athletic had lured former Sunderland and England star Raich Carter to the club as player-manager especially for an assault on the cup, and paid the forward a whopping £50 a week (the maximum wage in Britain was fixed at £20 a week) for his services. Carter began paying his way almost immediately, scoring for the Leesiders in their first round win over Drumcondra, and netting twice in a 3-2 quarter-final win over Waterford at Kilcohan Park. The latter game was notable as it was the first ever all-ticket F.A.I. Cup match, and somewhat ironically, an over-zealous Waterford fan managed to get close enough to Cork’s John Moloney to assault him and knock out some of his front teeth.

A semi-final win over Limerick meant Athletic would compete in the final for the fourth consecutive year, and after another Raich Carter goal in the decider against Evergreen, a 2-2 draw meant yet another F.A.I. Cup final replay for the Mardyke outfit (it would be their fifth over the course of the previous four seasons). Despite requests by both clubs to have the fixture moved to Cork, the second match was also scheduled for Dalymount, with only 6,000 people making the midweek journey. Both finals saw brothers John and Billy Moloney competing on opposing sides, and a further twist saw Florrie Burke lining out for Evergreen (the legendary Seanie McCarthy was also in the Evergreen side), having been loaned out from Athletic earlier in the season. Goals from Jackie Lennox and Raich Carter gave the 1951 double-winners a 2-1 victory, and the 39-year old Englishman became the first man to win F.A. and F.A.I. Cup medals. It was the sixth time that a Cork club had triumphed in the cup competition.

Shield champions Waterford (with Shelbourne’s Rory Dwyer as a guest player) would undertake a four-match tour of Iceland in the early summer, but it was the arrival of one Ed McIlvenny to the club in July of 1953 that was perhaps more significant. The Scottish-born wing-half had, by a very strange twist of fate, appeared for the U.S.A. at the 1950 World Cup, and even wore the captain’s armband for the Americans’ seismic 1-0 win over England at the same tournament. A subsequent move to Manchester United had come to very little, but United captain Jackie Carey helped to engineer McIlvenny’s move to League of Ireland football, with the 28-year old set to spend the next four seasons at Kilcohan Park.

League of Ireland 1952-53

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne221264462430
Drumcondra221093493329
Shamrock Rovers221237402727
St. Patrick’s Athletic22886493424
Sligo Rovers22877423723
Dundalk22868454522
Limerick22859394421
Cork Athletic229310414721
Transport22778354221
Evergreen United228410363520
Waterford225512355815
Bohemians224315275811

League top scorers : Shay Gibbons St. Patrick’s Athletic, 22 James Rowe Drumcondra, 16 Liam Coll Sligo Rovers, 13 Rory Dwyer Shelbourne, 13 Dessie Glynn Drumcondra, 13 Mick Lipper Transport, 13

Representative matches : Scottish League 5-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 0-2 English League, League of Ireland 0-3 Irish League

1946-47 League of Ireland season

Controversy reigned at the beginning of the 1946-47 season, when Shamrock Rovers attempted to avail of the services of Scottish international forward Jock Dodds, who had gained huge acclaim by scoring 255 league goals for Blackpool over the previous five seasons. Within a context of the other “home” associations still not recognising League of Ireland player registration lists, Blackpool demanded compensation, as Dodds was apparently still on the books of the Lancashire club, and valued at somewhere in the region of £8,000. Keen to make sure that their clubs did not miss out on big transfer fees in the future, all of the British and Irish associations finally agreed to recognise each other’s player registrations, bringing an end to the “open door” situation (where players who were out of contract could be signed by a club from another jurisdiction without the need of a transfer fee) that League of Ireland clubs had been able to avail of (and sometimes, been negatively impacted by) for the last two decades. As it happened, Dodds only remained with Rovers for about six weeks, scoring four goals across a number of appearances in the Dublin City Cup and the League of Ireland Shield, though his presence in the games attracted huge crowds, and Rovers would also garner a small fee after the player completed his transfer from Blackpool to Everton.

Another club to bring in a big cross-channel name in the build-up to this season was Shelbourne (now managed by former Irish international captain Charlie Turner), with former Liverpool and Chelsea outside left Alf Hanson proving a very telling acquisition. His goals helped the Reds take their second Dublin City Cup with a point to spare over Drumcondra (who scored 30 goals and conceded 24 in their seven Dublin City Cup games), and this proved to be the situation in the league race as well, with Shamrock Rovers finishing in third to ensure the first all-Dublin top three since 1930. In fact, a Rovers victory over Shelbourne on the last day of the season would have seen the title go to Milltown (a draw would have forced a three-way play-off), but Shels won the Glenmalure Park fixture 2-1 to make sure of the championship. Drumcondra (managed by a former Bohs and Shels player called Dickie Giles, who was the father of future Leeds United and Ireland great Johnny) did have something to celebrate in retaining the League of Ireland Shield (they finished one point ahead of Dundalk), but ended the season with another set of runners-up medals, after a 4-1 aggregate defeat by Shamrock Rovers in the final of the Intercity Cup.

With a largely full-time team, made up of 11 Cork-born players, fourth-placed Cork United won a cup final replay (in front of a record low crowd of just 5,519) against Bohemians in an effort to atone for the fact that, this year, the league trophy would not be making its way to the Mardyke. 10 of the side had previously won international or inter-league honours, and Seanie McCarthy and Tommy Moroney (who himself would win the first of 12 international caps as a West Ham player in 1948) scored the goals in United’s 2-0 victory. Meanwhile, the League of Ireland’s admission into the International Inter-League Board in the aftermath of the Jock Dodds affair paved the way for a first ever meeting of the League of Ireland and English League representative sides in April of 1947. A Dalymount Park crowd of 25,000 watched the visitors inflict a 3-1 defeat on the home team.

League of Ireland 1946-47

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne14833342419
Drumcondra14824292518
Shamrock Rovers14734342117
Cork United14725402716
Bohemians14536333313
Dundalk14437253711
Waterford1433817309
Limerick1425716319

League top scorers : Paddy Coad Shamrock Rovers, 11 Alf Hanson Shelbourne, 11 Seanie McCarthy Cork United, 10 Mick O’Flanagan Bohemians, 10

Representative matches : League of Ireland 2-2 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 0-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 1-3 English League

1943-44 League of Ireland season

Given that there were now just eight sides in the League of Ireland, the Dublin City Cup reverted to a round robin format at the start of the 1943-44 season. The race for that competition boiled down to a match between Cork United and Drumcondra (who were tied on nine points after six games), with a 4-1 Mardyke victory ensuring that the cup came to Leeside for the very first time. The win appeared to augur well for United’s chances of a fourth successive league title, but having capitalised on a last day slip-up by Shamrock Rovers (who had scored twice as many goals as Shels had) to win their first League of Ireland Shield since 1930, Shelbourne went on to capture their first league championship in 13 years (their fourth in all) in 1944.

Reaching only their second cup final in 20 years, Shels were denied a domestic treble in a thrilling game by local rivals Shamrock Rovers, who eventually triumphed on a scoreline of 3-2. Shels were controversially awarded a penalty late on when a Rovers defender handled a ball that already appeared to have crossed the line, but with the subsequent spot-kick being missed, Rovers held out to record an incredible ninth cup success. The competition was notable this year for the absence of any non-league teams due to the suspension of the F.A.I. Intermediate Cup, resulting in the first round, and subsequent semi-final ties, all being contested over two legs.

A change of club colours from red-and-white to blue-and-white seemed to be advantageous, as having failed to finish above fifth in any of their six previous league seasons, Limerick (both they and Shels had remained unbeaten at home, albeit through just seven league games) claimed the runners-up position in 1944, with the title only being clinched after Shelbourne’s 5-3 victory in their delayed last fixture against Shamrock Rovers. St. James’s Gate finished bottom of the table this year, and with the league refusing to grant their application for re-election, Brideville returned to the league fray after their one-year absence. The club who had won the inaugural League of Ireland would not compete in the league again for another 46 years.

League of Ireland 1943-44

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne14932322221
Limerick14842341920
Shamrock Rovers14554382715
Dundalk14635211915
Cork United14626362814
Drumcondra14626242814
Bohemians14428253210
St. James’s Gate14111212473

League top scorers : Seanie McCarthy Cork United, 16 Paddy Coad Shamrock Rovers, 15 Paddy O’Leary Limerick, 15

Representative matches : League of Ireland 3-4 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 2-2 League of Ireland

1938-39 League of Ireland season

In 1939, Shamrock Rovers became the first club to put League of Ireland titles back to back, a full nine points ahead of Sligo Rovers and Dundalk, and in doing so moved ahead of Bohemians in the league roll of honour. Shelbourne defeated Sligo Rovers following a replay to record what was, amazingly, their first F.A.I. Cup success, with William ‘Sacky’ Glen scoring the only goal of the game from a 2nd minute free kick to ensure that he would collect a record eighth Free State / F.A.I. Cup winner’s medal. The first half of the season had seen St. James’s Gate defeat Cork City 6-0 to take the Dublin City Cup (Cork had beaten Shamrock Rovers 7-0 in the semi-final), and Bohemians take the League of Ireland Shield after a play-off victory over Bray Unknowns at Shelbourne Park. It was a fifth shield success for the Gypsies (who introduced a permanent club programme / magazine for every league game this year, with other clubs soon to follow suit), and their third to be secured via a play-off. Meanwhile, the fortunes of Cork’s League of Ireland representatives continued to stagnate, with the club finishing second bottom for the third year in a row, and seeking re-election to the league for a fourth time in five years.

Sligo Rovers’ strong showing in both the league and cup could arguably be attributed to the euphoria created by the arrival of the legendary William ‘Dixie’ Dean to the club in January 1939. While the involvement of English players (and indeed coaches / managers) in the league was nothing new, a player of the calibre of Dean (widely believed to be the greatest player of his generation, Dean had scored 60 English First Division goals in the 1927-28 season) had never graced Irish football before. The former Everton and England star scored 10 goals in seven league games for Sligo, including five in a 7-1 defeat of Waterford. He also scored Sligo’s goal in the 1-1 cup final draw with Shelbourne, before returning to England at the end of the season.

St. Patrick’s Day 1939 saw the League of Ireland record a historic 2-1 victory over the Scottish League at Dalymount Park, six days after they had beaten the Irish League by the same scoreline in Belfast. 35,000 people turned out to witness this first ever meeting of the two sides, with Sligo’s Johnny Johnstone (a Derryman) and St. James’s Gate’s Irish international forward Paddy Bradshaw (who had enjoyed a meteoric rise from the Leinster Senior League to scoring twice for Ireland against Switzerland in the space of just five months) netting the all-important goals. Remarkably, it would be another 40 years, taking in an incredible 21 meetings, before the League of Ireland would record a second victory (and that would be against a mainly part-time team) over their Scottish counterparts.

The annual match against the Irish League had been restored since the previous season, but with some difficult financial times being experienced by clubs both north and south, the idea of establishing a cross-border cup competition was now also being strongly considered. To test some of the waters around this, an exhibition match between the northern and southern champions took place at the end of the 1938-39 season. Belfast Celtic had just taken the fourth in what was to be a run of five consecutive Irish League titles, but two goals by Owen McNally helped Shamrock Rovers to a 2-1 win at Dalymount Park. The attendance wasn’t quite as high as expected, however, and with the match itself also being seen as something of a disappointment, it seemed there might be some thinking to be done before any new tournament came into being.

League of Ireland 1938-39

PWDLFAPts
Shamrock Rovers221642603236
Sligo Rovers221075503127
Dundalk221075483127
St. James’s Gate221039594823
Limerick22949363822
Shelbourne22949404822
Bohemians228410414620
Drumcondra226610384518
Bray Unknowns227411414918
Brideville226610374918
Cork City227312394917
Waterford224810365916

League top scorers : Paddy Bradshaw St. James’s Gate, 22 Tom Davis Dundalk, 18 (including 15 for Cork City) Paddy Leeney Bray Unknowns, 18

Representative matches : Irish League 1-2 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 2-1 Scottish League

1933-34 Free State League season

With the Free State Shield “double-round” system of the previous year being retained, it was decided to open and close the season with a round of shield fixtures, and to effectively “sandwich” the league championship race in between. With Shamrock Rovers leading the shield at the halfway stage, victory in their last seven league games saw Bohemians (coached by Billy Lacey) claim a fourth Free State championship title one point ahead of Cork (who went unbeaten at the Mardyke and also inflicted Bohemians’ only home league defeat), before wrapping up their fourth shield with the help of an unbeaten away record and a 5-2 play-off win over Rovers at Shelbourne Park (the fixture was actually held over until August 1934). Needing seven matches to reach the final (the last ever to be held on St. Patrick’s Day), Cork did at least enjoy Free State Cup success, scoring a 2-1 win over Charlie Dowdall’s St. James’s Gate, who were making their first appearance in the decider since their league and cup double of 1922. Cork’s top scorer Tim O’Keeffe netted a goal in every round of the competition, and teammate Bobby Buckle emulated the achievement of his father Harry Buckle eight years previously by collecting a Free State Cup winner’s medal.

Apart from the trophies that were added to their cabinet, Bohemians’ 1933-34 season became memorable because of the somewhat international / cosmopolitan flavour that it ended up taking on. On the 1st of October a Peruvian / Chilean team were at Dalymount Park to play against Bohs in the opening match of a five-month long European tour. The team consisted mostly of Peruvian talent from the Universitario club, and Billy Jordan scored for the home team as they held the “Combinado del Pacifico” to a respectable 1-1 draw. Six months later (with their shield campaign not yet complete), Bohs travelled to Amsterdam to take part in an Easter tournament alongside three of the best teams from the low countries (including A.F.C. Ajax). Although beaten 6-2 by Go Ahead F.C. in a semi-final, the Free State League champions defeated Belgian side Cercle Bruges 4-1 in their next game to secure a third-place finish.

Bohemians draw 1-1 with a Peruvian / Chilean XI in October 1933

A dispute between the league authorities and Shelbourne F.C. led to some of the most significant events of this football season. Shels objected to the scheduling of an Irish international match for the same day as one of their league matches, but when both fixtures went ahead as planned, the club resigned their place in the league during the shield competition (a subsequent application for membership of the I.F.A. was refused). Cork Bohemians, meanwhile, having experienced great financial hardship during the year, would also be also absent for the beginning of the next league season (they were actually suspended and re-instated, before resigning in the middle of the shield), the two new vacancies being filled by Sligo Rovers and a returning Waterford.

Free State League 1933-34

PWDLFAPts
Bohemians181152382327
Cork181143472626
Shamrock Rovers18945282322
Dundalk18936332521
Dolphin18738232117
Shelbourne18657222517
Drumcondra18648272816
St. James’s Gate185310263213
Bray Unknowns186111264413
Cork Bohemians18241218418

League top scorers : Alf Rigby St. James’s Gate, 13 Ray Rogers Bohemians, 12 Billy Merry Drumcondra, 11 Tim O’Keeffe Cork, 11

1930-31 Free State League season

1930 saw Dundalk G.N.R. become Dundalk F.C., Fordsons (the Ford company having chosen to end its association with the club) change their name to Cork F.C., and Bray Unknowns finally begin playing in their home town, moving from Woodbrook in south Co. Dublin to the Carlisle Grounds in Bray. The changes seemed to benefit Dundalk the most, a late surge helping them finish closest to the eventual league winners, Shelbourne, who were grateful that three-quarter-mark leaders Brideville (whose wholly Irish side contained international forward Charlie Reid and a promising young player named Joe O’Reilly) took just three points from their last seven games to eventually wind up in sixth place, five points adrift of the Reds. Shels, by contrast, had shown tremendous composure during the run-in, defeating Brideville in a crucial fixture on the second last day, and winning two matches against fellow title contenders Cork in the latter weeks of the campaign. The Reds’ Scottish centre-forward Alexander ‘Sandy’ Hair not only topped the national goalscoring charts, but by scoring 29 of Shelbourne’s league goals, accounted for more than half of their total tally of 52.

One other club who had entertained serious title aspirations this season were the previous year’s league champions, Bohemians. After beginning the campaign strongly by taking 15 points from their first 20, the naming of four Bohs players in an I.F.A. amateur squad for a match against England would ultimately deal a severe blow to their season. Although the club initially expressed no problem with Fred Horlacher, Jimmy Bermingham, Alex Morton and Johnny McMahon lining out for the Belfast organisation, the F.A.I.F.S. soon came out as being strongly opposed to their inclusion, eventually causing a split within the ranks of Bohemian F.C. The club voted to adhere to the F.A.I.F.S.’ wishes, but with Horlacher, Bermingham and Morton (McMahon was born in Derry and so did not become part of the issue; he would actually end up being the only player to win a full I.F.A. cap while with a Free State League club) electing to retain their original agreement with the I.F.A., the three players received a three-month suspension from the F.A.I.F.S. on their return. Bohs’ form consequently became quite patchy between November and February, meaning that by the time the trio returned for the final weeks of the season, the league was already more or less beyond the Gypsies, the club eventually finishing four points behind Shelbourne in third position.

In addition to their strong league showing, Dundalk also progressed to their first Free State Cup final in 1931, and found themselves with the chance to prevent Shamrock Rovers from performing a Blue Riband “three-in-a-row”. The Louth side had earlier recorded two league wins over the Hoops (including a 6-0 rout at the Athletic Grounds), and thanks to a goal from Gerry McCourt, appeared to be on course for a victory in the cup final, until Paddy Moore popped up with a last-minute equaliser for Rovers. Dundalk defeated the Milltown club 4-3 in the shield a couple of weeks later, before the cup final replay finally took place on the 9th of May (due to the league’s new 12-team format, the original game had taken place in mid-April; the league itself was now contested from August to February), with another goal from Moore (like Byrne the previous year, Moore appeared to use his hand on the way to putting the ball in the net) eventually settling the issue in Rovers’ favour.

Shamrock Rovers beat Dundalk to win their third consecutive Free State Cup

A debut season success for Waterford in the Free State Shield at last meant an end to the Dublin monopoly of the competition, and despite having to play their last two games of the season on successive days (both were in Dublin, and one was a crucial shield match against second-placed Bohemians), the Suirsiders beat Bohemians 4-1 at Dalymount Park to clinch the trophy, and also register an unbeaten record throughout their 11 shield games. The other venue Waterford visited that weekend had witnessed a record goal haul earlier on in the season, when Cork’s Jimmy Munro netted all seven in his side’s 7-3 league win at St. James’s Gate’s Iveagh Grounds.

Due to situations such as the maximum wage in the English league, and an “open door” policy that allowed players to move between the jurisdictions without too much difficulty, the signing of cross-channel players by some Free State League clubs was now very much on the increase. Shelbourne, Cork and Waterford, for example, were very much embracing the new possibilities, and the influx of cross-channel players helped to maintain (or even strengthen) public interest in a league that was still largely dominated by Dublin clubs. Attendances were increasing all the time (crowds of 10,000-15,000 were starting to become the norm for the bigger clubs from the capital), and the fortunes of the league’s representative team also seemed to have been improving as a result of all the new talent that was available.

Free State League 1930-31

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne221354522231
Dundalk221165644328
Bohemians221075453227
Cork221237554527
Dolphin221147544326
Brideville221066494426
Shamrock Rovers22958544923
Bray Unknowns228410414520
Waterford228311435219
St. James’s Gate227411364818
Drumcondra225512334915
Jacobs22121921724

League top scorers : Alexander Hair Shelbourne, 29 Johnny Blair Cork, 21 David Byrne Shamrock Rovers, 21 Owen McNally Bray Unknowns, 21

Representative match : Free State League 3-1 Welsh League

1928-29 Free State League season

With David ‘Babby’ Byrne having joined during the close season (the former Shamrock Rovers and Bradford City player would receive a wage packet of £4 per week), his 15 league goals were combined with a very miserly defence (which conceded just 12 times) to ensure a second Free State League title for Shelbourne in the 1928-29 season. The Reds would win all nine of their home matches to hold off the challenge of outgoing champions Bohemians (who introduced 19-year old utility player and future club legend Fred Horlacher to their line-up during this season) by a single point, even though the Phibsboro team had also remained unbeaten at home and won each of their last nine league fixtures.

Shamrock Rovers (11-0 winners over Bray Unknowns this season, a record winning margin for a League of Ireland fixture) were the only other side to win more games than they lost this year, with new boys Drumcondra finishing the best of the chasing pack, a full 15 points behind the league champions. Rovers ensured that Bohemians missed out on both of the season’s top prizes, winning a cup final replay (again at Shelbourne Park) 3-0 thanks to two goals from John Joe Flood (who would score a hat-trick for Ireland against Belgium two weeks later) and another from Bob Fullam, following a scoreless draw first time out in Dalymount (it was only the second all-Free State League decider). The latter clubs also vied for this season’s Free State Shield, and with a virtually identical record in the competition (both teams had gone unbeaten, and Bohs’ extra goal scored was the only difference between the sides in the table), a 2-0 play-off victory for Bohemians at Shelbourne Park finally settled the issue.

Rovers defeated Dundalk in a replay to win the final of this season’s Leinster Senior Cup, but it was a game in an earlier round of the competition that had ended up becoming headline news. Recently-crowned champions Shelbourne made a trip across the river to play Drumcondra at Tolka Park, but found themselves two goals in arrears early in the second half. In the midst of a stirring comeback that saw the visitors eventually winning 4-2, a hoarding behind the Drumcondra goal gave way, and some of the large group of supporters that had been positioned on it suffered injuries. The match was allowed to continue, but a number of people had to be taken to hospital, with one young spectator suffering a broken arm and two broken legs.

After two draws and three defeats in previous meetings, the Free State League representative side gained a first victory over their Welsh counterparts this season, with league top scorer Eddie Carroll among those to find the net in a 4-3 Dalymount Park success. The selection panel had been vindicated for choosing form players over some of the league’s more established names, and the Welsh contingent continued their tradition of traveling to play a match in Cork the following afternoon. Although a few more games took place against the Welsh during the first half of the 1930s, the fixture was to more or less disappear from the calendar after that. For the Free State League’s first decade, however, the annual match against the Welsh League was to be something of a defining feature. In an apparent sign that the league was at last beginning to find a sense of stability, there were no demotions or admissions for the beginning of the 1929-30 season.

Free State League 1928-29

PWDLFAPts
Shelbourne181611491233
Bohemians181521612332
Shamrock Rovers181044582824
Drumcondra18747283118
Dundalk G.N.R.18738434417
St. James’s Gate18549374414
Fordsons185310273613
Brideville184311285711
Jacobs182610264810
Bray Unknowns18241224588

League top scorers : Eddie Carroll Dundalk G.N.R., 17 David ‘Babby’ Byrne Shelbourne, 15 Billy Dennis Bohemians, 15

Representative matches : Free State League 4-3 Welsh League, Irish League 2-1 Free State 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