Though not as open as the previous season, the 1960-61 League of Ireland title race (set against a wintry backdrop of cold, wind and rain) was still fairly competitive, and eventually turned into a three-horse one, with Waterford, St. Patrick’s Athletic and Drumcondra separated by just two points with five rounds of matches remaining. A 2-0 win for Drumcondra at Richmond Park pushed them one point clear of their Dublin rivals, and with both clubs subsequently defeating Waterford, only Pats and Drums could still be champions going into the final day’s action. Drumcondra held their nerve to win 2-1 against Cork Hibernians at the Mardyke (it was their seventh successive league victory), and ensure that Pats’ 1-0 win at outgoing champions Limerick was not enough to alter the situation.
The two Dublin clubs were also scheduled to meet in the F.A.I. Cup final, but having scored eight goals without reply in the sides’ two league encounters, Drumcondra were installed as overwhelming favourites in the build-up to the Blue Riband decider. Thanks to a goal from Johnny White, and another important cup final strike from Willie Peyton, however, the Inchicore club emerged victorious on a scoreline of two goals to one (and in keeping with the pattern of this season, a very strong wind had made an appearance for the final). Drumcondra did secure the Dublin City Cup and Top Four Cup, though, and their extended presence in these competitions afforded centre-forward Dan McCaffrey (a native of Omagh, Co. Tyrone) the opportunity to amass a total of 56 goals for the season, making him an obvious choice for the inaugural Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland “Personality of the Year” award. 29 of his goals came in the league, with five coming against second from bottom Bohemians, and McCaffrey also scored five against bottom club Sligo Rovers, who he had joined Drumcondra from at the beginning of the season.
Drums had won the league in spite of losing three of their first six matches, and had also seen goalkeeper Maurice Swan (who had proved himself a very good replacement for Alan Kelly over the previous two years) leave for Cardiff City before the beginning of the season. Swan had been replaced by a 20-year old Mick Smyth, and alongside Dan McCaffrey and the veteran ‘Bunny’ Fullam, Smyth was one of the team’s standout performers. Two sons of the club’s owner, Sam Prole, also made contributions to the cause, with Robert Prole playing well as a half-back (he was also a club director) and Royden Prole acting as coach.
Drumcondra became the first League of Ireland champions to add the Top Four trophy, although the final against holders Cork Celtic turned into an epic, three-match tussle, with Drums eventually winning the third game 3-0 under lights at Tolka Park. The third match also saw the first ever use of a substitute in League of Ireland football, when Hendricks replaced Grumley for the Dublin club. Cork Celtic, for their part, had won their last two league matches 3-0 to snatch fourth place from Dundalk, and continue their record of having qualified for every Top Four competition.
Drums had also taken the Dublin City Cup at Cork Celtic’s expense, with goals from Dan McCaffrey and Tony Nesbitt giving them a 2-1 win at Tolka Park. Substitutes had also been allowed in this competition but didn’t end up being availed of, with (like the Top Four Cup) the possibility to replace one player up to the 44th minute, and a goalkeeper at any stage. One other rule change meant that corners could still decide any drawn match in the early rounds of the Dublin City Cup, but not now the final itself (however, no matches had finished level in this season’s competition). Cork Celtic could at least look back on victory in the League of Ireland Shield, having edged out Leeside rivals Cork Hibernians. The trophy was pinched with a 1-0 win at the Mardyke in the second last match of the competition, a solitary goal from Austin Noonan enough to secure one of four derby victories for Cork Celtic over the course of this season.
Ewan Fenton, a Scot who had played in the famous F.A. Cup final of 1953 alongside Stanley Matthews, took over as player-coach of Limerick at the beginning of the 1960-61 season, and with the Shannonsiders having a European Cup tie against Young Boys Berne to look forward to, the decision was taken to play the home game at Thomond Park. A shield match with Shamrock Rovers was used to acclimatise to the venue, but having lost that match by two goals to nil, they went on to concede five without reply against the Swiss outfit, with all five goals coming in the second half. Limerick fared a bit better in the second leg, and were again level at half-time (Donie Wallace had even put them ahead), but eventually lost 4-2 to the team who had won the last four Swiss championships.
Sligo Rovers experienced financial issues during the summer months, and they persisted all the way through the 1960-61 campaign, with the Connacht club eventually having to field a number of local amateur players due to not being able to pay the wages of some of their regular squad. Former Everton and Ireland star Peter Farrell had joined the club as player-coach, but they finished adrift at the bottom of the table, picking up just one win and conceding a whopping 97 goals (only Bray Unknowns in the 1935-36 season had conceded more). Second-from-bottom Bohemians (who played in white jerseys this season) had improved slightly on their 1959-60 form, which had seen them finish without a win in league, shield or F.A.I. Cup.
Though Dundalk had faded out of contention for honours during the second half of the season, the addition of a one-armed centre-forward named Jimmy Hasty to their squad had been a great success. The Belfast native joined the Lilywhites from Newry Town in November, and he set about his business straight away, scoring ten goals in his first seven games and eventually finishing with 17 goals from 20 league appearances. Hasty quickly became the focal point for Dundalk’s play, with his passing and heading ability, along with great strength, balance and footwork meaning that he was more than capable of spearheading their attack. Although Transport F.C. had been well-served by a one-armed winger, Paddy Cody, during the 1950s, Cody had not been as prolific or as dynamic as Hasty, and the Dundalk forward quickly became a major attraction at League of Ireland grounds. After scoring on his league debut in a 2-2 draw against Cork Celtic at Oriel Park, he later scored both in a 2-1 win at Turner’s Cross, a feat that saw him receive applause from the home fans.
League of Ireland 1960-61
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||14||4||4||43||28||32|
European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round, (first leg at Thomond Park) Limerick 0-5 Young Boys Berne (Switzerland), Young Boys Berne 4-2 Limerick
League top scorers : Dan McCaffrey Drumcondra, 29 Donal Leahy Cork Celtic, 21 Jimmy Hasty Dundalk, 17
S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Dan McCaffrey, Drumcondra
Representative matches : League of Ireland 0-4 English League, Scottish League 5-1 League of Ireland, League of Ireland 2-3 Irish League, Irish League 1-1 League of Ireland