- Wednesday April 27th, 2022 @ 19:00
70th Anniversary Of Our 1st League Title
Our Historic First Season in the League of Ireland - 70th Anniversary of the Debut Title.
After three unsuccessful attempts at admission to the League of Ireland, St Patrick's Athletic, the dominant club outside the League, were eventually elevated alongside Evergreen of Cork for the 1951/52 season. The newspaper archives detail an inauspicious start; an ad in the Evening Herald on Tuesday July 31st promoted a trial of sorts for prospective new players.
"Training now in progress in Richmond Park, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7.30. Junior players desiring to make the grade invited to attend ground tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday at 7.30oc or write Hon Sec W McCormack, 79 Kilworth Rd, North Crumlin."
The ad also noted that membership cards were now available by applying at the grounds.
The Irish Independent reported on the squad-building with a week to go to the season opener under the headline "St Patrick's Are Getting League Team Together."
"The majority of last year's team are in training," it noted, listing goalkeepers Kinahan and Dunne, backs Staunton, Crowley, Marshall, Coughlan; half-backs Byrne, O'Connor, Cummins, Mulville, Stokes and Deegan; and forwards Mountaine, Cassidy, Gibbons, Connolly and White.
Several of these players had featured primarily for the B team the previous season.
Newcomers training with the Saints were Johnny Coyle, formerly of Shamrock Rovers and Grimsby Town, who had guested in the past for the Saints; Tommy Desay, the ex-Bohs Amateur international, Liam Galvin, from Shamrock Rovers, a former Pat's player, and "promising youngsters" Troy, a junior interprovincial player from Merrion Rovers, and Harry Boland from Longford Town. A later edition of the Irish Press also reported that Eamon (Eddie) Hamilton, a Scottish inside-left formerly of Dundalk, who had just returned from Barnsley in England's Division Two, would challenge for a place in the attack. Others would join later in the season.
The Press reported that the club would field three teams for the season ahead, in a major expansion of the club; the first team in the League of Ireland, playing at Shamrock Rovers' home ground of Glenmalure Park in Milltown; the second team in the LSL Division One, and the third team in the AUL Division One (Saturday), with the latter two teams playing out of Richmond Park and all three training in Inchicore.
The club colours, it was reported, would continue to be red with white sleeves, with an alternate colour of a white shirt with red facings (although Pat's would wear green on more than one occasion this season). The famous red and white was about to be launched on the League of Ireland stage for the first time.
The Athletic's debut as a League of Ireland club would take place in the Dublin City Cup. Despite its name, the competition featured all League of Ireland clubs. In the years previous, it had been a round-robin tournament, but with the League's expansion to 12 clubs and the resultant pressure on fixture lists, it was played from this season on as a knock-out competition.
The St Patrick's Athletic team to face Drumcondra in the season opener was named as Jimmy Kinahan, Jimmy Staunton, Johnny Coyle, Dessie Byrne, Jimmy 'Timber' Cummins, Billy Mulville, Harry Boland, John 'Barreller' Cassidy, Shay Gibbons, Tommy 'Longo' White, Liam Galvin. Reserves were Tommy Desay and Connolly. The game kicked off at 3.30pm on Saturday, August 18th at Drums' home ground of Tolka Park.
The preview in the Irish Times referred to the Saints as a "side who specialise in upsetting calculations."
"At this stage it is, perhaps, opportune to wish St Patrick's and Evergreen, the newcomers to the League of Ireland, the best of luck in their new surroundings, and to add the hope that their stay in senior ranks will be a long and successful one," noted the Times football correspondent.
"They Lost 4-1, But St Patrick's Put Up Fine Show Against Drums" ran the headline on the extensive match report from Seumas Devlin in the following day's Sunday Independent. "St Patrick's Athletic will have cause to remember their debut in League of Ireland football," he wrote.
Daly had opened the scoring for Drums after 10 minutes. Gibbons equalised with Pat's first ever goal as a League club, rising highest to head home after the goalkeeper failed to deal with a Galvin cross. Daly scored a second before the break, with Kelly and Kinsella scoring in the second half to secure a 4-1 win for Drumcondra.
St Pat's were "not disgraced," reported Monday's Irish Press, which also noted they had "little luck." The Herald noted Pat's strong efforts to get back on terms at the start of the second half following an early "period of aimless kicking."
The early exit from the Dublin City Cup brought the next competition into sharp focus; the League of Ireland Shield, a precursor to the League campaign proper.
The League of Ireland Shield has all but disappeared from collective memory nowadays, but for half a century it was a huge part of the Irish football calendar. It had started alongside the League proper in 1921 and would continue for another fifty years. Various formats were used over the years but for the 1951/52 season, each of the 12 teams were scheduled to play each other once between August and November.
The Shield was regarded as a serious competition, lesser in importance to the more prestigious League (where each team played each other twice) and the blue riband of the FAI Senior Cup, but of more significance than the Dublin City Cup, Leinster Senior Cup and other minor trophies.
As luck would have it, Pat's first game in the Shield saw the same opponents as in the Dublin City Cup; Drumcondra, again at Tolka Park. "St Patrick's Turn Tables On Drums In Thriller," ran the headline in the following day's Sunday Independent, noting an improved all-round performance from the Saints, full of teamwork and fighting spirit.
"Seldom during the game was there any attempt to individualise." Drums had gone one-up on 17 minutes, but Pat's were level six minutes later, when Gibbons netted from a Galvin cross, with a White goal four minutes into the second half securing a 2-1 Pat's win. The team was Kinahan; Byrne, Coyle; Mulville, Cummins, Desay; Staunton, White, Gibbons, Hamilton, Galvin.
The game was "thoroughly enjoyed by a good crowd," noted the Irish Press report, which stated that, for Pat's, "their improvement was gratifying, and by this game they vindicated their entry into first-class football."
Later in the week, the Press picked out Tommy 'Longo' White for particular praise. "Here is a player with cleverness and finishing power; but perhaps his greatest attribute is his bubbling confidence."
The following week saw Pat's first ever "home" game as a League of Ireland club in their temporary base for this season, Glenmalure Park. Pat's ran out 4-0 winners over fellow newcomers Evergreen. "St Patrick's Excel, Evergreen Moderate" was the headline in the Sunday Independent, who noted the Cork team "lacked the teamwork and polish of their opponents."
Reporter Seumas Devlin credited the performance of Eamon Hamilton in the forward line, who "worked like a trojan."
Pat's kept up their unbeaten Shield run, albeit losing top spot in the table, with a 1-1 draw away to Transport in Harold's Cross the following Sunday.
A "brilliant header" from Cassidy, noted the Irish Press report, saved the day for the Saints in a game which "neither side deserved to win." But they were brought down to earth the following week with a 3-0 loss away to Dundalk. The Lilywhites had gone one up early in the second half before Tommy Desay gained the unenviable distinction of being the first Pat's player to be sent off in the League of Ireland era, following a dismissal on 70 minutes described as "a harsh decision" by the Irish Independent.
Pat's returned to winning ways the following week with a 4-2 home win against Bohemians. "St Pats Were Easy Winners" noted the Irish Press headline. The Irish Independent credited two Saints players with strong performances; inside-right Cassidy and centre-forward Staunton. Cassidy had scored twice with Staunton and Gibbons completing the scoresheet. The win left Pat's with 7 points from their five games, just one off the Shield leaders Dundalk.
Hopes of advancing up the table, however, were dashed with a 4-1 defeat the following week away to Waterford in Kilcohan Park. Gibbons opened the scoring for the Saints just before half time but the home side responded by scoring four past Pat's keeper McCreevy, who had been selected ahead of Kinahan. Another two points were earned on October 7th at Milltown with a 1-0 win over Cork Athletic, with Gibbons scoring a header with just 4 minutes remaining.
"Once again as too often the case in recent matches, the clever approach work of the half-backs was completely nullified by the ineffectiveness of the forwards," lamented the Irish Press.
Pat's "cantered" to a 4-0 win on October 14th at home to Sligo Rovers, bringing them up to joint second in the Shield table. Sligo's lack of effort came in for sharp criticism in the Irish Press, who stated that the game was "pure agony for the spectators." Tommy Desay, who earlier in the season had suffered the ignominy of being the first Pat's player to be sent off in the League of Ireland era, now became the first to net a hat-trick; Hamilton had scored the other.
"Shelbourne Attack Knocks St Patrick's Out Of Shield Race" ran the headline in the Sunday Independent on October 21st, reflecting on the previous day's 3-1 result at Shels' temporary home of Dalymount Park. Tenants took on landlords the following week at Milltown as Pat's and eventual Shield winners Shamrock Rovers played out a 1-1 draw, the Saints goal coming from Cassidy. The result left Pat's on 12 points from ten games, with one game left to play, away to Limerick.
With neither team in contention for Shield honours, this dead-rubber game would cause significant controversy. First scheduled for November 4th, the same date as all the other final games in the competition, the match was initially postponed until the following Sunday. However, this led to a standoff between the League of Ireland the Munster FA, the latter of which wanted priority given to the Munster Senior Cup semi-finals planned for that day. Bizarrely, the game was held over until the following March, and even more bizarrely, it ended in a 6-5 win for Limerick, with Doran scoring four for Pat's with a solitary White goal.
Overall, it had been a creditable debut in top-level competition for the Saints. With a two-week break until the start of the League proper in November, this was "stocktaking time" for clubs, noted WP Murphy in the Irish Independent, who presciently noted that "St Patrick's have done really well in their first senior points competition, and may do even better in the League." Socaro in the Irish Press noted that, alongside Evergreen, Pat's had "made their presence felt and should remain a force."
The Saints' first game in the League of Ireland proper kicked off at 2.30pm on Sunday, November 18th 1951 at Milltown, again against Drumcondra. The Saints selectors began the League in experimental mood, shifting left full-back Johnny Coyle to centre forward. "I once heard a supporter ask a St Patrick's committee man did they draw the team out of a hat," wrote WP Murphy in the Irish Independent League preview, "and certainly they put great trust in the versatility of their players, switching them from one position to another."
Drums won "a lively match" by 2 goals to 1. "On merit St Pat's should not have been beaten, noted the Irish Press report. The experiment of starting Coyle up front had paid off with him opening the scoring on 6 minutes, with Drums netting twice after in the first half to secure the win.
Pat's travelled to Turner's Cross on November 25th to take on Evergreen. "St Patrick's Missed Chances But Drew" ran the headline in the following day's Irish Independent, reporting on a 1-1 draw in which Shay Gibbons had opened his LOI account.
It had been an inauspicious start to the League campaign but some of the experimentation in positioning and selection was about to pay off. The Saints next outing, at home to Transport, came on December 1st, and saw a Gibbons hat-trick and a John Breen goal contribute to a 4-3 win.
December 9th saw the Athletic again at home in Milltown to take on a more fancied Dundalk side. The game was played in horrific conditions in front of a crowd of just a "couple of hundred people," noted the Irish Press, but Pat's "gave their best display since their promotion" in running out 5-2 winners. The Irish Times reported on players "skidding like ice-hockey players" while the Evening Herald noted that "in front of the reserved terraces the players were operating in a small lake" while the weather "might have caused Scott, the Antarctic explorer, to recoil."
The conditions saw players forced to change "togs" at half-time but the Irish Times reported on a more startling change; Pat's appearing in the second half, not in their own red and white shirts, but "in the green and white of their ground landlords," Shamrock Rovers. The Saints goals came from Gibbons (2), Breen, White and Staunton.
Pat's climbed to third the following Saturday with another 5 goals, this time away to the amateurs of Bohemians, who netted 2 in reply. Gibbons (2), Breen, Byrne and Murray were the scorers. "Those who criticised St Patrick's promotion to League of Ireland status this season had to eat their words after seeing them giving a polished display," reported the Irish Press.
Waterford were next to visit Milltown on December 22nd, going down 3-2 to the Saints. With the game played on the Saturday before Christmas the gate was just 37 pounds, representing just a few hundred supporters in attendance. Breen, Byrne and Gibbons had been the Pat's goalscorers. The Athletic's climb up the table continued, moving to second place, just two points behind leaders Sligo Rovers.
The gap was narrowed to just a point on December 30th as the Saints defeated Cork Athletic by a single goal at the Mardyke in what the Irish Times called "one of the season's biggest crowds."
"St Patrick's Masters in Mardyke Mud" was the headline in the Irish Independent, with the report, and that in the Cork Examiner, giving particular credit to goalkeeper Jimmy Kinahan, who saved a penalty, and the defence of Coyle, Cummins, Staunton and half-backs Boland and Murray. White was the scorer of the game's only goal.
The top two met at the Showgrounds on January 6th with advantage going to Sligo Rovers in front of another large attendance. Gibbons had opened the scoring but Sligo hit back with two second half goals to take the win and move three points clear in the table, with Pat's level with Shelbourne in second.
"Fans came from all parts of Connacht and Donegal," noted the Sligo Champion match report.
The two second-place teams faced each other in Milltown on January 13th. The game was again played in poor weather; a "thousand-pounder" gate was expected but the weather kept many at home and the gate was only 398 pounds, according to the Irish Times.
Pat's preparations were disrupted in the run-up to the game with Tommy 'Longo' White injured after falling twenty foot from scaffolding. But, WPM in the Irish Independent reported, "the Inchicore men had an ace up their sleeves in 'Play-anywhere' Desay, who has been full-back, half back and winger this season."
Tommy Desay started the game at inside right alongside Danno Donnelly, who had returned to the club after a spell with Transport. Despite the two sides entering the game level on points, Shelbourne were totally outclassed in a 6-1 Pat's win with a Gibbons hat-trick along with goals from Desay, Cassidy and Coyle (pen).
It was a "scintillating display by St Patrick's," according to the Irish Times, despite a "sea of mud."
At the same time, Waterford shocked Sligo Rovers with a 4-2 win, leaving Pat's just a point off the leaders.
Writing in the weekly "Sporting Roundabout" wrap-up in the Irish Independent on January 16th, MVC commented on two aspects of Pat's season to date; the bad weather which seemed to accompany their home games at Milltown, and the quality of the Saints play and team spirit of the "babes of the season."
The Evening Herald compared Pat's to the great Shamrock Rovers sides of the 1920s, noting "the Athletic used storming tactics, mixed with clever football, to overcome their rivals convincingly."
Landlords took on tenants on Sunday January 20th as Pat's, technically the away team, met Shamrock Rovers in front of a gate of 573 pounds. Rovers ran out 3-1 winners with Donnelly the Saints' scorer. "Things did not click" for Pat's, noted WPM in the Irish Independent.
Sligo, who also lost that weekend, had their game at home to Shamrock Rovers the following called off due to heavy snow. Pat's game at Milltown against Limerick on January 27th went ahead despite a frozen surface "on which the ball played queer tricks," noted WPM in the Irish Independent.
The Saints ran out easy winners against the bottom side, with Cassidy and Gibbons netting a brace each in a 4-2 win.
With 7 wins and a draw from their 11 games, Pat's went top for the first time in their short LOI history on 15 points alongside Shelbourne. Sligo were a point behind with a game in hand. The question at this halfway point now was - could St Patrick's Athletic do the unthinkable and hold onto top spot until the end of their debut League season?
Pat's began the second series on February 2nd against Drumcondra at Tolka Park. The Athletic, who had been beaten four times in a row by Drums, finally broke the run with a 3-1 win through goals from Breen, White and Donnelly. The "dominating figure in the game," noted the Irish Press, "was the winners' right-half, Harry Boland, who literally kept going like a steam engine from start to finish."
On February 9th a decent gate of 278 pounds for a Saturday game at Milltown saw the Saints defeat fellow "babes" Evergreen 5-1. A Gibbons hat-trick was complimented by a goal from Tommy Desay and a screamer from Johnny Breen, noted by the Irish Times as a "searing right-footed shot from thirty yards."
With St Pat's tipped for FAI Cup as well as League honours in the newspapers, an interesting Cup draw saw the Saints travel to Oriel Park on February 17th to meet a Dundalk side well below them in the table, and who they had beaten comprehensively when the sides met back in December. What transpired was one of the most controversial games in the history of both clubs and the famous "Goal That Never Was."
In front of a good-sized crowd at Oriel Park (gate 192 pounds), Pat's took a 2-0 lead through a Shay Gibbons brace. Dundalk brought the game back to 2-2 but Johnny Breen headed what seemed a clear goal for the Saints to retake the lead. Referee Mr Evans, from Liverpool, had been involved in a collision with Dundalk's Jackie McCourt just moments before and was still regaining his composure. He didn't consult with the Irish linesman and made the decision not to award the goal, and for play to continue. An incensed Pat's team then conceded another, with Dundalk running out 3-2 winners.
Tensions boiled over after the final whistle. Gardai drew batons on the crowd and referee Evans collapsed in the melee. Seamus Devlin in the Irish Press reported that the melee broke out after the final whistle, and "inside three minutes the pitch was a swarming mass of spectators, players and police, and fists could be seen flailing in the air. The police eventually brought about order, but not until after the referee and Fearon, the Dundalk inside-right, had both been assaulted."
WP Murphy, writing in the Irish Independent, reported that Evans had received "a severe kick in the back just over the kidneys" and required the treatment of a doctor before catching the boat back home. Meanwhile, Pat's keeper Jimmy Kinahan was identified as Fearon's attacker.
It would be the last time Kinihan, who had joined the Saints back in 1944 as a forward, would play for the club. Action was taken by the club in dropping him with immediate effect; two weeks later the FAI's Emergency Committee suspended him for the rest of the season following the referee's report.
St Patrick's were fined 5 guineas and "warned against a repetition of offences by their players in questioning referees' decisions."
Local amateur photographer Malachy Bellew had captured the scene of Breen's disallowed goal and it was published in the following Thursday's Irish Independent, showing the ball clearly over the line. He reportedly received a lifetime ban from Oriel Pk for daring to show the goal that never was.
The Saints returned to League action on February 23rd away to Transport at Harold's Cross, winning by two Gibbons goals to 1. In the days before substitutions Transport were reduced by injury to nine men, having gone ahead early on, but there was "little good football in the game" and "on this form, St Patrick's are not potential League champions," noted the Sunday Independent match report.
Bohemians were up next on March 9th at Milltown. Pat's went three up in the first half with goals from Gibbons, Donnelly and White, with Bohs pulling it back to 3-1 at the break. A remarkable goal early in the second half brought the deficit down to just a goal. Pat's keeper Maxwell Doyle embarked on a long clearance only for the ball to strike referee Mr Brendan Torsney in the back and rebound into the net. Remarkably, that same referee had also hit the headlines for 'scoring' two weeks before in a match between Dublin University and Glasgow University. The Irish Independent had some fun at the ref's expense, with the headline "Creeping Up The Scorer's List - Mr B Torsney Gives Encore At Milltown." Pat's survived a late Bohs onslaught - presumably without the referee involved - to clinch a 3-2 win and stay top by a point.
The following weekend the Saints travelled to Kilcohan Park to take on Waterford. "St Patrick's Retain Lead With Fine Win In Waterford," recounted the Evening Herald on the following day, reporting on a superb Harry Boland hat-trick and a late Charlie Smith goal which secured a 4-3 win. With six games left to play, just three teams were left with serious League ambitions; Pat's, Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne.
Smith netted the all-important goal in a 1-0 win over Cork Athletic at Milltown on Saturday, March 22nd. The Sunday Independent reported complained of "lifeless League soccer" and a "dull game" in which "Cork Athletic strolled through" due to Cup commitments.
Jimmy Collins made his debut in goal for a top-of-the-table clash against Shelbourne at Shels' temporary home ground of Dalymount Park on Saturday, April 5th. The Saints had led 1-0 at the break with a goal from Donnelly, but Shels scored three without reply to leap-frog Pat's and go top of the table. The weekend's results saw Shelbourne now top, with Pat's and Sligo trailing. With just a handful of games remaining, the Saints needed to make their own fortune and hope for results to go their way elsewhere.
Tenants again faced landlords at Milltown on Easter Saturday, April 12th in a 'must-win' game for the Saints. "St Pat's Switch the Backs To Attack" noted Seamus Devlin's preview in the Irish Press. "A right winger at full-back; a full-back on the wing; and two half-backs up among the forwards!" he exclaimed, noting Danno Donnelly's move to the backs, Staunton's to right-wing and Boland's and Desay's to the inside-forward line. "For most of the 90 minutes it was a case of defences being supreme," noted the match report in the following day's Sunday Independent, with Pat's winning 1-0 thanks to a Tommy Desay penalty.
Shelbourne and Sligo Rovers both had victories on Easter Sunday, but Sligo slipped up 24 hours later with a 1-1 draw against Shamrock Rovers. The following weekend, two more shock results gave St Pat's the upper hand in the League championship. Drumcondra trounced Shelbourne 6-1 at Tolka Park on Saturday, while on Sunday Evergreen United shocked Sligo Rovers with a 5-0 win at Turner's Cross.
Pat's impending game against Sligo at Milltown was moved to an unusual Friday kick-off on April 25th due to a replay of the FAI Cup Final. Less than 48 hours later the Saints were away to Limerick. It was a weekend which would define their season and go down in Irish footballing history.
"St Patrick's Lined Up For League Title" was the headline in Saturday's Irish Times, reporting on Friday's 3-1 win over Sligo Rovers at Milltown. The irrepressible Gibbons scored two first half goals but Sligo pulled back the deficit on 65 minutes. With 14 minutes left to play, the Rovers keeper misjudged a Harry Boland drive which gave Pat's the 3-1 win and sent them top. Sligo, who had led the League for much of the season, were now consigned to the also-rans.
24 hours later, on Saturday April 26th, Bohemians shocked Shelbourne at Dalymount Park, with the Reds twice going ahead but eventually falling to a 3-2 defeat. These results left the Athletic needing just a single point from their two final games, away to Limerick and Dundalk, to clinch the Championship - and the first of those games came the next day, Sunday April 27th, at Market's Field.
The match was played in front of a small crowd, noted the Limerick Leader. Fittingly, Shay Gibbons was the hero of the hour, scoring another hat-trick in a 3-2 win - his fourth of the season, taking his League tally to an extraordinary 26 goals. Pat's had gone behind twice in the game, with Gibbons levelling twice. He completed the hat-trick on the hour mark, heading home a rebound. Limerick missed a penalty with the last kick of the game, although a goal would have been immaterial to the destiny of the League championship, given that Pat's only needed a draw.
"Hat Trick Centre Gives Pats Title," reported Seamus Devlin in the Irish Press. The "babes of the League of Ireland have won the League Championship flag in their first season."
The Saints saw out their League campaign with a well-contested match away to Dundalk on Wednesday April 30th, their third game in five days. Barreller Cassidy netted the opening goal in a 1-1 draw.
With the time to pause for breath finally upon them, players, officials and supporters alike could reflect on an extraordinary achievement; the club who had started at the lowest levels of junior football barely two decades before, who had climbed every step of Irish football's pyramid, who had been refused entry to the League of Ireland time after time, had done it, they had won the League at the first time of asking. From the Phoenix Park to Champions of Ireland in 22 years.
This article originally appeared in edited form across four editions of The Saint, the St Patrick's Athletic matchday programme. The series will conclude in May with a closer look at Shay Gibbons, Timber Cummins, Harry Boland, Johhny Coyle and some of the other players who achieved the title in this most extraordinary and historic of seasons.