Wanderers and Rovers in the 1950s

Bray Wanderers recorded their first ever victory over Shamrock Rovers in a Leinster Senior Cup 3rd round tie on 22nd October 1958 when they pulled off a major shock by defeating the current holders of the competition by 1-0 at Tolka Park. In those days the Leinster Senior Cup was contested seriously, and this tie attracted a crowd of over 8,000 people to Tolka Park. This was the second ever meeting between the two, the sides having met in the same competition on 2nd November 1955, with Rovers finishing easy 3-0 winners, also at Tolka Park.

In the 1950s the Leinster Senior League was regarded as second only to the League of Ireland, and the Cup competition was a good indicator of the difference in standards between the two leagues. Bray Wanderers held the best record in the country going into the meeting with the Hoops, unbeaten after twelve league games in the season, winning nine and drawing three, scoring 68 goals and conceding only 13. Wanderers' three draws came against the Reserve teams of Shamrock Rovers, Drumcondra and Transport, all of whom included League of Ireland players in their sides.

Wanderers had plenty of experience in their squad with Brian Hall (ex-Shelbourne) and Larry Doran (ex-Transport) their most experienced players, alongside goalkeeper Joe Sharkey (ex-Transport), left back Eddie Whelan (ex-Drumcondra & Transport), midfielder Dom Byrne, a junior International three years previously, and John Mooney, also a junior International. Wanderers had to plan without left-winger John May who was injured in training, but had McGee (ex-Transport and Drumcondra) as a replacement.

The start of the game was delayed for ten minutes when Rovers were forced to change their jerseys as their strip clashed with Wanderers colours. Rovers took to the field in unfamiliar white jerseys, which seem to put them off as they failed to live up to expectations against Leinster Senior League side Wanderers! The match started at a cracking pace with underdogs Bray starting brightly and matching their opponents in all areas of the pitch.

Rovers moved their attack around in the second half with wing back Coad moving up front to partner Liam Tuohy, and McCann on the left wing began to cause Wanderers' defence problems in the late stages. Wanderers wing halves Hall and Doran were superb throughout, with forwards Bennett and McGee causing numerous problems for the Rovers defence. The winning goal came in the 76th minute when, after considerable pressure from Wanderers, Billy McKay hit the post with John Bennett on hand to slam home the rebound. This was Rovers' second defeat in four days after losing to Cork Hibernians 3-1 at the Mardyke the previous Sunday.
Shamrock Rovers: Darcy, Burke, Mackey, Nolan, Keogh, Coad, McCann, Hamilton, Geoghegan, Ambrose, Tuohy
Bray Wanderers: Joe Sharkey, Owen Carroll, Eddie Whelan, Brian Hall, Dominic Byrne, Larry Doran, John Bennett, John Mooney, Billy McKay, Frank Daly, McGee
Referee: T. Barton.

By the end of that 1958/59 season, Bray Wanderers had set a new club record for goals scored in a season by scoring 163 goals in their 34 league games, conceding only 47. It was also a new record for the Leinster Senior League, beating the previous record set by St Patricks Athletic two seasons earlier by a single goal. Billy McKay scored fifty goals for the season but was unable to break Jimmy Duggan’s club record of 55 goals for the season, set in the 1953/54 season. Jimmy Duggan scored his 55 goals as Wanderers won the AUL Division 1 title, scoring 148 goals and conceding 50 goals from 42 games. John Mooney ended the 1958/59 season with 27 goals, followed by Jimmy Bennett with 20 goals.

Twenty-one-year old Billy McKay had an exceptional season for Bray Wanderers in 1958/59. Billy, a laboratory worker in Avoca Copper Mines, was the youngest player in Wanderers' squad that season. Included among his goal scoring feats for the season were hitting a club record of all seven of Wanderers goals in a 7-1 triumph over Dundalk B on 21st March 1959 at the Carlisle Grounds, and also scoring all five against AOH (Cork) in the Quarter-Final of the FAI Intermediate Cup at Turners Cross in a 5-1 win. Not surprisingly Drumcondra snapped up Billy McKay the following season. Bray Wanderers ended their season by winning the Leinster Senior League title for the second consecutive season, but were defeated in the Final of the Intermediate Cup by Albert Rovers and the Metropolitan Cup final by Jacobs, both on a 3-2 score line.

Michael Duffy

first published in Seagull Scene, 17 November 2002

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