The Top Four competition was introduced in the 1955/56 season. This was an end of season competition that featured the teams that had finished in the top four in the league. Shamrock Rovers were the inaugural winners having finished in 2nd place that season and beating Waterford in the final played on 4th May. The score was 1-0 and Jimmy ‘Maxie’ McCann got the all-important goal for the Hoops.
Rovers won the competition again in 1957/58 when they beat old rivals Drumcondra 2-0 in the final; Paddy Ambrose netted a brace that day. At the end of the 1965/66 season, the Hoops were going for their third success in the competition. The Milltown club had finished 2nd in the league behind Waterford. They had just won the FAI Cup for the third successive year, but there was to be no rest or time for celebrations as just three days later they had a Top Four semi-final date with Bohemians at Dalymount Park. Bohs had finished third in the league and were undergoing a revival having been in the doldrums since the late 1930s. The Bohs squad was managed by Sean Thomas who had guided Shamrock Rovers to a truly magnificent 1963/64 season having conquered all before them. Thomas, like many others before him, had fallen foul of the club owners the Cunninghams but his obvious coaching and leadership talents weren’t lost to the game, and it was very good business on the part of Bohemian Football Club to appoint him as their head coach.
Rovers were now being coached by Liam Tuohy. A veteran of the ‘Coad’s Colts’ era of the 1950s, Tuohy was a wily character who lacked no experience in the game. The teams had met previously during the season in a cup final when Bohs beat Rovers in the LFA President’s Cup but only after a replay. As they prepared to face into the Top Four semi-final against Bohs the Hoops’ players must have been feeling the strain of the long season. They had already played 51 competitive games in all competitions during the season. Probably the last thing they needed was a long drawn out affair. If that is what they wished for it wasn’t to be. It took three games before a winner emerged.
The final was played at Dalymount Park on Friday 6th May and finished 3-3. A replay had not been intended, extra time should have been played but an administrative error led to this information not been marked on referee ‘Pip’ Meighan’s card and so he blew for a cessation of hostilities at the end of the regulation 90 minutes. Bohs led 2-0 after just 8 minutes and what a game followed before a remarkable crowd of 10,000. The Fulham-bound Turlough O’Connor scored twice for Bohs whose other goal was scored by ex-Hoop Mick Kearin. Bobby Gilbert, Hugh Brophy and Tony O’Connell netted for the Hoops.
The replay was staged at Tolka Park the following Thursday and again finished level at 1-1. This time 20 minutes extra time was played. Kearin gave Bohs the lead in the second half but this was cancelled out 12 minutes later when a Gilbert header got Rovers the equaliser. So, the teams had to meet for a third time. It was back to Dalymount the following Tuesday for the third instalment and Rovers’ 54th competitive game of the season.
The following is the match report by Tom O’Shea in the Irish Press on Friday, 20th May.
SHAMROCK ROVERS 3 BOHEMIANS 0
THE Top Four final marathon is over at last. At Dalymount Park last night, Shamrock Rovers clinched the title in the second replay, but this game never went near the thrills of the first two encounters.
Rovers ended up with a convincing winning margin, but their last two goals came when the Amateurs were reduced to ten men; their centre forward, Mick Kearin, was sent off after 57 minutes; Ironically, Kearin had guested for Rovers against Coventry City on Tuesday night.
Rovers, at that stage, were a shade lucky to be holding their first half goal lead. But any hope Bohemians had faded with Kearin’s dismissal.
The incident happened after Kevin Murray, the Bohemians inside-right, had his name taken for a foul on Frank O’Neill. As the free was about to be taken Kearin was standing beside referee Billy O’Neill, at whom he allegedly made a kick.
Kearin, who is the first player from Bohemians to be sent off since Sean Thomas took over two years ago, said: “I did nothing.”
At any event, it killed the game as a spectacle. Never matching the pace or power of the other games – the sides were becoming obviously too familiar – the bottom really dropped out of the game when Bohemians were reduced in numbers.
They did make a brave effort to pull back the score, but Rovers gradually came into full command.
In the early stages Bohemians were, if anything, getting the better of the game. After 30 minutes they had a good chance when Sean Core mis-headed. Kearin eluded Nolan, but as he was about to shoot Jimmy Cummins dived out to smother the shot.
Then Larry Gilmore sent in a cracking drive from 30 yards which was brilliantly taken by Cummins.
It was Rovers who made the vital breakthrough in the 44th minute. Frank O’Neill sent over a low ball, which goalkeeper Liam McCormack and centre half Willie Brown went for. The ball went under the goalkeeper’s body to Bobby Gilbert, who tapped it to the net.
Bohemians made a brave effort after Kearin had been sent off, but they were constantly thwarted, by the brilliance of Rovers goalkeeper, Cummins, and right full Paddy Mulligan, who dropped back in place of the injured John Keogh.
Murray, who improved as the game went on, sent a great shot just over after 71 minutes, and three minutes later Cummins dived daringly to grab the ball off Ben O’Sullivan’s feet.
In the 81st minute Rovers got their second goal. Bohemians right full Billy Young made a mistake which let in Noel Hayes. The winger crossed for Bobby Gilbert to place a fine header coolly to the far corner of the net.
Three minutes later Johnny Fullam moved up to place the ball for Damien Richardson to head home. In the closing minutes Fullam moved into the Bohemians area and pushed the ball around the advancing goalkeeper. McCormack seemed to obstruct him, but the referee allowed a corner, which was cleared.
Shamrock Rovers played quite well. Apart from their sound defence, young Damien Richardson showed- up well at inside right. Willie Browne again played magnificently for Bohemians, but a lot of their good work in attack was wasted by over elaboration. Though they got their chances they could not call on the necessary finishing power.