League Of Ireland Shield
Believe it or not there used to be a football competition unlike any other on the continent that was distinctly Irish.
A competition that could get you into Europe before a ball was kicked in anger in the league. A third choice tournament but contested as fiercely as any of the two cups ranked above them.
The League of Ireland Shield was that competition.
Hailing from our exciting beginnings of independence and continuing throughout the decades until interest and attendance wained, the League of Ireland Shield carried much prestige. Though being ranked as the League of Ireland’s third most important trophy it was still highly thought of, mainly because its roots belong in the very first year of our existence.
Along with the inaugural ten team league and twelve team cup in the League of Ireland’s first year, the Shield was first contested in 1921/22. Shelbourne became the first champions, a title they not only retained in 1922/23 but would win twice more in that first decade (1926 & 1930)
As the league expanded so did the Shield. However the residence of the trophy seemed almost certain never to leave Dublin. Only twice between 1921-1941 did the winners come from outside the capital, and that was the same club! This feat was achieved by Waterford FC in both 1930/31 and 1936/37.
A club as superb and all-conquering as Cork United where always going to take the title (1942/43 & 1947/48) and then the magnificent Drumcondra got in on the act, winning it back to back in 1946 & 47.
Shamrock Rovers even by this stage has collected the Shield on no less than seven occasions and remained (under the moniker of League of Ireland Shield) the most decorated side in the competition.
However when topping your domestic league in the early sixties meant clubs gaining entry to the following seasons Inter-City Fairs Cup it intensified the competition.
Here became an early August appetizer, played out over a dozen games which could get your team travelling abroad before you even began a league campaign.
The Inter Cities Fairs Cup was the UEFA Cup of its day. Competed for first in 1955 and stayed with the same format and named until the arrival of the UEFA Cup.
Dromcondra would be the first Irish side to compete in it in 1962/63, actually beating Odense 6-5 over two legs before losing to Bayern Munich.
The competition was the right type of carrot to dangle to League of Ireland clubs. We still should have this tournament!!!
Drumcondra’s entry to the competition and rubbing the shoulders which such giants wasn’t lost on them – they had qualified by winning the League of Ireland Shield yet finished 7th in the their league campaign.
And the tournament threw up some glamour ties for League of Ireland clubs. The very next season in 1963/64 Rovers narrowly lost out to Valencia. Shelbourne lost out in a mammoth three games session v Portuguese opposition (Belenenses). Drums played Eintracht Frankfurt, St Patricks Athletic locked horns with Bordeaux in ’67 – amazingly scoring four goals, alas conceding twice as much. Dundalk first entered the tournament via runners up to Waterford FC in the league as Shamrock Rovers won both FAI Cup and League of Ireland Shield (which happened on occasion) and it saw them compete against Utrecht, doing the league proud on their maiden voyage in Inter-Cities Fairs waters with a 3-2 win over both legs before going out to Glasgow Rangers. The Lilywhites return a season later losing to Liverpool.
Cork Hibernians would become the last League of Ireland club to play in Europe via the Inter Cities/ League of Ireland Shield route when they lost out to Valencia in the 1970/71 tournament. Though the domestic Shield ran for a couple more seasons (Cork Hibernians taking that last honour in 1972/73) the UEFA Cup had now taken over in Europe and with it the demise of our League of Ireland Shield – replaced by the League of Ireland League Cup.
Mostly a straight knock out (though several tournaments would start via a round robin Group stage in the seventies and beyond), the League Cup suffered from a third world climate with mass unemployment and a country in hard times.
Decades later the League Cup is still here (or EA Sports Cup to be PC). Still our third most prestigious cup. And still competed for. Where Rovers dominated the Shield, Derry City have taken that mantle and carried it to an all-conquering League Cup campaigns.
Imagine if it had European qualification for the winner.
Now that would be fun!