Cork sports historian Plunkett Carter charts the annual Soccer Writers Awards from its origin in the 1960/1961 season through to the modern era.
In the first part, he reflects on 1960 to 1964.
IN early January the annual Soccer Writers of Ireland Diamond Jubilee Awards Banquet for the announcements of the 2019 winners was held in Dublin.
The SWAI was founded in Flanagan’s Pub, Marlborough Street in 1960. The original founders were the leading writers from the national Sunday papers, and the correspondents from the Times, Press, Independent, Herald and Evening Press.
RTE television hadn’t yet been born, but the broadcasting authority was represented by the famous voice of Soccer Survey Tony Sheehan ('My Game Today').
Former inter-league star Willie Cotter of the Cork Examiner and a very young Bill O’Herlihy of the Evening Echo were shortly afterwards invited to join.
Seven years earlier an ad-hoc Football Writers Association group staged a benefit match for the young family of colleague Paddy McKenna, sports editor of the Irish Times, father of future president of the SWAI Brendan McKenna, whose untimely passing was announced the previous year.
Frank Swift the great international goalie, who himself was a gifted soccer writer, agreed to bring a team of household names to play a match against a Raich Carter selected at Dalymount. The sides also met at the Mardyke in Cork.
Carter, who captained Cork Athletic to FAI Cup victory in 1953, was also a former international playing colleague of Swift’s. In the years that followed the testimonial, the organisers felt that it was time to formalise an impromptu committee to deal with clubs and to lobby the FAI with regards to football match accreditation, etc.
They struck gold by introducing the Personality of the Year Award to Irish soccer. First presented in 1961, the Personality of the Year became the flagship award of the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland (SWAI) and continues to be one of the most prestigious awards in Irish football.
From managers to players and officials, this award recognises the achievements of the League of Ireland’s greatest servants, but also the manner and style in which they soared to such great heights.
Always a tough choice with so many credible candidates each year, the SWAI leave it up to its members to crown a winner at the annual banquet, which is one of the main events on the Irish football calendar.
The first recipient of the SWAI Personality of the year award was Dan McAffrey who received his memento in May 1961 shortly after hitting 29 goals in a 22-match league campaign for champions Dundalk.
Achieving an average of over a goal a game was a tremendous feat and his claim to the honour of being the first winner was too good to ignore.
Interestingly, in the three years before the awards were established, the leading scorers were Donie Leahy (twice) and Austin Noonan. In September 1962 McAffrey signed for Cork Hibs.
It would have been impossible to find a more deserving winner than Tommy Hamilton (Shams) unanimously chosen in 1962.
Hammo, controversially dropped by Rovers in the 1957 and ‘58 finals (both of which were lost), was, despite having a great season, omitted for the semi-final, but an injury to Tony Byrne opened the door for the Bray man.
He made the most of his reprieve and scored to earn his side a replay. Better again he netted twice as Shams defeated champions Shels 4-1 in the final.
It was Hammo’s last match with Rovers as he moved to Cork Hibs in a player exchange deal which saw Jackie Mooney going in the other direction.
It is extremely unlikely that a selection committee anywhere on the globe would contemplate awarding the personality of the year award to a player who captained a team which finished rock bottom with only eight points from 18 games in the league.
However, in their wisdom, they did just that in 1963 by selecting Willie Browne of Bohs.
Surprisingly, it proved to be a popular choice as Browne had just completed what was for him a season in which he was honoured several times by the inter-league selectors and became the first Bohs amateur to be capped at full international level since 1946.
Favourites overlooked included Shels stars Freddie Strahan and Paddy Roberts.
If the selection of Browne was a surprise then that of FAI Secretary Joe Wickham in 1964 was a shock.
Again, there were those who felt it was a richly deserved accolade for the much-loved personality who was a good friend of the press.
Shams swept the board that year and it was expected that Jackie Mooney and Eddie Bailham, both former Cork Hibs players, were contenders as was joint leading scorer Dundalk’s one-armed striker Jimmy Hasty.
Manager of Shams during the clean sweep in 1964 was Sean Thomas who looked set for a long career with the Milltown club, but he was axed by the “Family” after he dropped pin-up boy Frank O’Neill in the FAI Cup final. Sean moved to Bohs and, bringing all his expertise to bear on the league's amateurs, he transformed them from perennial no-hopers to one of the most exciting teams in the country.
In ’64 Bohs finished with seven points, needing Thomas to perform a miracle of some sort if they were to figure among the contenders in ’65 which they did with a massive 20-point improvement.