1958-59 League of Ireland season

An eighth consecutive Dublin league championship success arrived in 1959, with Shamrock Rovers’ ninth League of Ireland title being secured with five points to spare over Evergreen United (who claimed the runners-up position on goal average) and Alec Stevenson’s Waterford. Rovers managed to play some good football in spite of some very muddy and sometimes frozen pitches, and while their league rivals definitely caused them a lot of headaches, none of the rest of the top four were able to find any real consistency. Waterford were possibly the most guilty of this, especially after coming out the right side of a 6-5 thriller at Kilcohan Park in early March that seemed to have thrown the race wide open, but the Blues lost two of their next three league games to allow Rovers to pull away.

Of the Suirsiders’ 58 league goals, some 56 were scored by members of two famous Waterford footballing families, the Hales and the Fitzgeralds (Peter Fitzgerald would depart for Sparta of Rotterdam during the summer, later to play for Leeds United and Ireland). Indeed, the loss of goalscoring prodigy Alfie Hale through injury in an F.A.I. Cup final dress rehearsal against St. Patrick’s Athletic helped the Blues to assume the mantle of this season’s nearly men, as goals from Johnny McGeehan (a recent signing from Transport) and Willie Peyton in a cup final replay (each side had an own goal in the first match) between the sides saw the Inchicore club record their first senior F.A.I. Cup success. Waterford did at least collect a fourth League of Ireland Shield a point ahead of Shamrock Rovers (following a poor start, they won their last eight games and amassed a total of 40 goals), to ensure that they now accounted for four of the seven non-Dublin victories in that competition. Former Aston Villa and Ireland star Con Martin had pulled many of the strings for the Blues this season, and the shield win gave him just his second medal in a career that had begun at Drumcondra in the early 1940s.

1958-59 was probably the most eventful and most impressive season to date for Limerick F.C. At the beginning of the season, a 4-3 semi-final victory over Shamrock Rovers had sent them into their first Dublin City Cup final, and they proceeded to beat Drumcondra (who had recently sold their Irish international goalkeeper Alan Kelly to Preston North End) by the same scoreline to join Sligo Rovers, Cork United and Dundalk on the list of non-Dublin winners of that trophy. Limerick registered a 4-3 win at Kilcohan Park to hand shield-winners Waterford one of just two defeats (Limerick won their last five games to finish third), so it looked like something positive was brewing for the club from the mid-west. They continued to show good form in the league, and in addition to enjoying two thrilling 3-2 wins over Waterford (the Kilcohan Park meeting was a superb match that had also seen a special train being laid on for Dublin-based supporters), they also held Shamrock Rovers to two 1-1 draws, each of which they were unfortunate not to have won. They won the Munster Senior Cup, and in spite of a gruelling four-match saga against Drumcondra, made it to the semi-finals of the F.A.I. Cup, where Waterford gained a measure of revenge thanks to a goal by Tommy Coady. Limerick also pipped Drumcondra to a place in the Top Four Cup, but after another 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers in the semi-final, were defeated 18-6 on corners.

Evergreen United were Rovers’ opponents in the Top Four final, and a Donal Leahy goal gave them a 1-0 win in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Dalymount Park. The turnout was very satisfactory for a competition that many had felt would not generate much interest, but the ‘Independent Cup’ had already succeeded in adding bite to what might otherwise have been meaningless end-of-season league games (clubs were also mindful of the extra revenue that would accrue). Leahy also scored both in the 2-0 semi-final win over Waterford (he had almost single-handedly dragged his team into contention for honours this season), and Rovers’ loss in the final meant that although they had regained the league title, they had surrendered possession of all five of the trophies that they had won in 1957-58.

A twelfth place league showing for Bohemians this year meant that the once-mighty Phibsboro club had achieved just one top-half league finish (fifth in 1951) since 1941. This could largely be attributed to the amateur status (in line with the principles enacted at the club’s foundation) that the club had so doggedly adhered to as the decades had passed, refusing to sign professional players, or even those that they felt harboured intentions of becoming full-time footballers. Bohemians recorded a surprise league double over old rivals Shelbourne this season, however, and shocked champions-elect Shamrock Rovers by knocking them out of the F.A.I. Cup, so it seemed that, in spite of their difficulties, the Gypsies might still have the ability to add some value to the league.

In a first for the League of Ireland (the practice was common for Ireland’s rugby and hockey teams at the time), a “trial” game was held in late January between a ‘Dublin XI’ and a ‘Provincial XI’ to aid with the task of selecting a team to play against the English League at Dalymount Park on St. Patrick’s Day. A large Tolka Park crowd was present to see a thrilling match finish 4-4, and Shelbourne centre-forward Christy Doyle (a cousin of St Patrick’s Athletic’s Dunne brothers) netted all four for the metropolitans. Doyle not only played against the English League (a very exciting scoreless draw that the home team were unlucky not to win), but also won a full international cap in a European Nations Cup game against Czechoslovakia a few weeks later. The 21-year old had also appeared in two ‘B’ internationals earlier in the season, scoring in both, including the only goal in a 1-0 win over South Africa’s ‘A’ team.

Although the 1950s had seen League of Ireland aggregate attendances rise to unprecedented levels, and crowds of up to 1,000 people often gathering outside newspaper offices on Sunday evenings to await the posting of the afternoon’s results, there was a noticeable dip during the 1958-59 season, with many clubs towards the middle and lower reaches of the league suddenly finding themselves in financial difficulty. While bad weather might have been a possible factor, heavy defeats for both Shamrock Rovers and Drumcondra in the European Cup, and reduced representation for League of Ireland players in the Irish national team did seem to have robbed the league of some of its gravitas. The 1950s had been a very difficult decade for Ireland that saw rising unemployment and emigration, but the league had been something of a success story. With a new decade on the horizon, it seemed that there might be some challenging times ahead.

League of Ireland 1958-59

Shamrock Rovers221543582934
Evergreen United221336492729
St. Patrick’s Athletic229013455918
Cork Hibernians225512294315
Sligo Rovers226313345115

European Competition : European Cup Preliminary Round (second leg at Dalymount Park), Atlético Madrid 8-0 Drumcondra, Drumcondra 1-5 Atlético Madrid

League top scorers : Donal Leahy Evergreen United, 22 Alfie Hale Waterford, 18 Peter Fitzgerald Waterford, 17

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

1940-41 League of Ireland season

The season began with Drumcondra winning a second consecutive Dublin City Cup after a 3-0 win over Dundalk, and St. James’s Gate cruising (they won nine and drew one of their 10 matches) to their second League of Ireland Shield. The league title was destined for Leeside, however, with Cork United succeeding where previous incarnations Fordsons, Cork F.C. and Cork City had failed. United could count themselves lucky to have got their hands on the trophy this time, though, with Waterford (who had a potent attack that featured Johnny Johnstone, Tim O’Keeffe and a young Waterford native called Paddy Coad) having finished on the same amount of points, and also having done the double over the Corkmen during the course of the league season. League rules dictated that a play-off be held, but due to a dispute regarding payments to the club’s players, Waterford failed to participate in the championship decider. The league title was thus awarded to Cork United.

Action from the first cup final match between Cork United and Waterford

Waterford had earlier lost the F.A.I. Cup to their southern rivals, United winning 3-1 in a replay, following a 2-2 draw first time out. The second match saw Cork captain Owen Madden and Waterford’s Jackie O’Driscoll (who himself was a Corkman) becoming the first players to be sent off in an F.A.I. Cup final. The Kilcohan Park outfit’s disappointing season was compounded by a heavy fine for their non-appearance in the league decider, and also the club being suspended from the League of Ireland before the onset of the 1941-42 campaign. Leinster Senior League side Distillery F.C. (who had taken the scalps of Drumcondra, Brideville and Dundalk in the F.A.I. Cup in recent seasons) made an application to take Waterford’s place, but the league decided against admitting another Dublin-based team.

1941’s league top scorer, Mick O’Flanagan, would make even more significant history seven years later. When being capped for the Irish rugby team against Scotland in February of 1948 (Ireland’s only Grand Slam-winning year prior to 2009), he emulated the achievement of his brother and Bohemians teammate Kevin (also an Irish sprint and long-jump champion, and an accomplished tennis player and golfer) by winning Irish caps in both rugby and soccer.

League of Ireland 1940-41


Cork United201343502330*



Shamrock Rovers20938484321

St. James’s Gate20938444121






Bray Unknowns20331429559

* Cork United awarded league title after Waterford failed to participate in play-off

League top scorers : Mick O’Flanagan Bohemians, 19 Johnny Johnstone Waterford, 17 Tim O’Keeffe Waterford, 17

Representative matches : League of Ireland 3-8 Northern Regional League, Northern Regional League 2-1 League of Ireland

1936-37 Free State League season

Having finished in eighth place the season before, the influx of several cross-channel players helped Sligo Rovers march to a first league title in 1937, a full 10 points clear of their three nearest challengers. The north-western club (who had only finished tenth in the shield) won their first 11 league games in a row, and became the first team to bring the title outside the province of Leinster. In fact, the top four clubs were all from outside Dublin – Dundalk (playing their first season at their new Oriel Park home) claimed the runners-up position on goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded) ahead of Waterford, and also Bray Unknowns (just three points separated the teams from second to eighth), whose fourth-placed finish would ultimately represent their best ever league performance.

Waterford, however, with a largely full-time professional side, could claim to have been the most consistent team of the season. Defeating Bohemians in a play-off for the Free State Shield (Bohs had needed just a point from their last match against Cork, only to lose 4-1 at the Mardyke), goals from Corkmen Eugene Noonan and Timothy Jim O’Keeffe (who repeated his 1934 display by scoring in every round) saw them overcome St. James’s Gate 2-1 to win their first Free State Cup. Both clubs had faced non-league opposition in the semi-finals, in the shape of Longford Town and Fearon Athletic, and the Gate’s promising youngster Jackie Carey left for Manchester United (for a transfer fee of £250) at the end of the season.

St. James’s Gate beat Sligo Rovers 6-2 in the second round of the Cup

The Free State League, Free State Cup and Free State Shield monikers would be dropped in 1937 in line with De Valera’s “Bunreacht na hÉireann” constitution, with the F.A.I.F.S. also reverting to their original “F.A.I.” title. Sligo Rovers topped up their league success with victory in the Dublin City Cup, handing Dundalk a second successive defeat in that competition’s final, and ensuring that each of the four trophies would spend the year outside Dublin. Meanwhile, in March, the last ever outing for the “Free State League XI” saw goals from Waterford’s Tom Arrigan, Dundalk’s Joey Donnelly and St. James’s Gate’s Billy Kennedy procure a good 3-2 win over their Yugoslavian counterparts at Dalymount Park.

Free State League 1936-37

Sligo Rovers221624683034
Bray Unknowns221048303924
St. James’s Gate22958634323
Shamrock Rovers228311465519

League top scorers : Bob Slater Shelbourne, 20 (including 1 for Waterford) Harry Litherland Sligo Rovers, 19 Hugh O’Donnell Bray Unknowns, 16 Tim O’Keeffe Waterford, 16

Representative match : Free State League 3-2 Yugoslavian League

1929-30 Free State League season

On the back of a good relationship having been established between the F.A.I.F.S. and the Belgian F.A. in recent times, Bohemians were invited to travel to Belgium in August of 1929 to take part in a pre-season tournament. They registered friendly wins over Charleroi and a ‘Royal Flemish XI’ in advance of the main event, which was called the “Aciéries de’Angleur Tournoi” and was to feature the Dublin club along with three teams from the Liège region. Bohs carried their good form into the competition proper, defeating R.F.C. Tillier by a goal to nil before beating Standard Liège 3-2 and being awarded the trophy.

The top of the league table at the end of December ended up having a somewhat familiar look, with Bohs taking maximum points from their Dalymount Park fixtures to triumph ahead of Shelbourne in second, Shamrock Rovers, and Fordsons (who had this year relocated to Cork’s Mardyke ground) some distance back in fourth. A last-minute David ‘Babby’ Byrne goal saw Shamrock Rovers defeat Brideville (now playing their home games at Harold’s Cross Greyhound Stadium, having relocated from Richmond Park, Inchicore in late 1929) 1-0 to become the first team to retain the Free State Cup, although Byrne would later admit that he had used his hand to net the all-important goal. Bohemians’ Bill Cleary, meanwhile, set a cup scoring record in his side’s first round clash with Bray Unknowns, when he netted six in the Gypsies’ 7-3 victory over the Wicklow side.

Shelbourne v Shamrock Rovers in a Free State Cup first round replay

Shelbourne’s victory in the Free State Shield after a 2-0 win over second-placed Shamrock Rovers in the penultimate round meant a continuation of the strangehold that they, Rovers and Bohemians had had on that competition since its 1922 inception. The tail-end of the 1929-30 season saw the introduction of a new competition for those three clubs to concern themselves with, the Leinster Football Association launching the first edition of the L.F.A. President’s Cup, which was to be competed for this year by the top four Leinster-based Free State League clubs. The competition got off to a less than ideal start, however, with Shelbourne (who had defeated Brideville) and Shamrock Rovers (who had defeated Bohs) drawing the first President’s Cup final and the intended replay never actually taking place. Each Free State League club was present and correct for the beginning of the 1930-31 season, with the existing teams now being joined by Waterford A.F.C., and also Dolphin F.C. (a club founded by the Dublin Butchers’ Social Union), meaning that a 12-team structure would be in place for the beginning of the new campaign.

Free State League 1929-30

Shamrock Rovers181224442226
Dundalk G.N.R.18639383615
Bray Unknowns18459344813
St. James’s Gate184311303811

League top scorers : Johnny Ledwidge Shelbourne, 16 Stephen McCarthy Bohemians, 13 David Byrne Shamrock Rovers, 11 Fred Horlacher Bohemians, 11

Representative matches : Free State League 1-6 Irish League, Welsh League 6-1 Free State League