THE Top Four Cup was an end-of-season super cup competition featuring the four highest-placed teams in the League of Ireland, first held in 1956 and last played for in 1974.
It began life as the League Cup and Shamrock Rovers were the inaugural winners.
Waterford won the competition five times, one more than Evergreen.
Prior to the commencement of the 1957 competition, it became known as the Top Four Independent Cup when the national newspaper became the sponsors.
In theory, it could be said that Evergreen/Cork Celtic were the first and last holders of the magnificent trophy. Evergreen became known as the Top Four specialists, qualifying to compete in each of the trophy’s first nine seasons, winning three times in its first five.
It was the first trophy they won in their six-year history when, in front of an attendance of 14,000 (£1,400), they defeated FAI Cup winners Drumcondra 2-1 at Dalymount.
Donie Leahy, scorer of both goals in the 2-1 semi-final victory over Sligo, unfortunately, left his shooting boots at home on this occasion which was a pity as watching the League’s top scorer at Dalymount were Raich Carter and Ted Fenton managers of Leeds Utd and West Ham. Wingers Johnnie Vaughan and Donie O’Leary contributed the goals.
Evergreen were thus the first provincial team to take a trophy out of the capital in three seasons.
Fittingly two of Evergreen’s great stalwarts Con 'Brasso' McCarthy and Mick Taylor were able to retire with prestigious winners’ medals in their pockets.
Competition for top four places added spice to what used to be dead rubber fixtures and in the pre-television decade, the fans showed by the increased attendances that given value, they were willing footsoldiers.
There were seasons approaching deadline day when every single game had a direct influence not alone on the top four but the title destination as well.
The 1959 renewal featured the country’s top two sides Shamrock Rovers (champions) and Evergreen in a final billed as the Game of the Season.
Evergreen’s 1-0 victory courtesy of Leahy was richly deserved despite the fact that for three-quarters of the game they had ace marksman Austin Noonan virtually a passenger on the wing after he had been in a collision with Eamon Darcy, the Shams keeper.
A year later they retained the trophy when producing, arguably, the best team performance in the history of the competition by defeating Shelbourne before an attendance of 11,000 at Dalymount.
Five days earlier the Reds defeated Cork Hibs in the FAI Cup final and in acknowledgment of that achievement Cork Celtic (note name change) clapped them on the pitch. Such was the brilliance of the Cork side’s performance that they received a standing ovation when leaving the field at the interval and again at the final whistle.
They won 2-1, but for a less brilliant performance by Shels keeper Flood, the score would have been doubled.
Despite his many miraculous saves, he was beaten twice by shots from Donie O’Leary and Frankie McCarthy.
In the semi-final, they defeated League Champions Limerick at the Markets Field which housed one of its biggest crowds of the season including over 500 from Cork.
Cork Celtic contested the next three finals, losing all three. They were defeated by Drums in 1961 after two replays and again in 1963 also after a replay and Shels in 1962. The replay in 1961 was the first time that the final was played outside Dalymount Park.
After it ended deadlocked again (2-2) at the Mardyke, it reverted back to headquarters where Drums won 3-0.
Cork Hibs, you might be surprised to learn, never won the trophy; they were beaten in three consecutive deciders by Waterford (1968-70) and by the Blues again in 1973.
Every dog has its day and the great Cork Celtic enjoyed their anus mirabilis in 1974 when they won the League Championship for the first time in their history. Paul O’Donovan’s team rounded off a great season when, before a big crowd, they defeated arch-rivals Hibs in a fiery but brilliant top four semi-final and this despite the handicap of playing for a long period without skipper Keith Edwards who had been given his marching orders.
It was a similar story in the final against Bohs. This time it was Paddy Shortt who was red-carded and they did well to finish 0-0 before taking the trophy 6-5 following a sudden death penalty shoot-out.
It was the last time the trophy was played and for the following 44 years, the massive Independent Cup was on display behind the bar at the Evergreen Lounge until it closed in 2018.