Charitable deeds, professional representation and the recognition of Irish football’s heroes were the driving forces behind the formation of the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland (SWAI) over 50 years ago.
The untimely and early passing of Irish Press sports editor and former football writer Paddy McKenna in 1952 sparked an immediate response of his peers, who organised a benefit match at Dalymount Park in May 1953 to raise funds for his widow and family that included future SWAI President Brendan.
An ad-hoc Football Writers’ Association of Ireland staged the game between FAI Cup winners Cork Athletic and a Frank Swift XI, featuring England international Raich Carter who had helped Athletic to that Cup success.
In the years that followed, those involved felt that it was time to formalise the impromptu committee. At the same time, there was a growing feeling amongst football journalists that they needed a collective voice to lobby the FAI and deal with clubs with regard to facilities and match accreditation.
A meeting of interested football reporters was held in the pub owned by former Bohemians player Mick O’Flanagan on the corner of Marlborough and Cathedral Street in Dublin in ear;y 1960. The Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland was born.
Membership was originally restricted to the football correspondents number ones – of the daily newspapers – and RTE that had yet to launch its television channel. Here is the list of initial members: WP Murphy (Irish Independent), Kieran Kenealy (Evening Herald), Seamus Devlin (Irish Times), Vincent Mathers (Irish Press), Gerry Noone (Evening Press), George King (Sunday Independent), Frank Johnstone (The People), Arthur Legge (Sunday Express), Tony Sheehan (Radio Eireann), Derek Jones (Daily Express), Eddie Boyle (Sunday Independent), Bill Kelly (Sunday Press), Willie Cotter (Cork Examiner), and Bill O’Herlihy (Cork Evening Echo).
With the 1960-61 season looming, the fledging association decided to establish the Personality of the Year award, so called to enable personnel in all aspects of Irish football to be recognised. Prolific Drumcondra striker Dan McCaffrey was the winner of the first ever prize at the inaugural dinner on May 8, 1961 in the Maples Hotel in Glasnevin, Dublin.
In 1971-72, the SWAI broke new ground with its Player of the Month awards that have charted the League of Ireland’s ebbs and flows ever since with Shamrock Rovers striker Mick Leech picking up the first award.
Since 2002-03, the association has recognised the League’s top goalkeeper and the Special Merit award is now also an integral part of the Annual Banquet. And in 2006, awards for the Press Officer of the Year and Club Website of the Year were added to the list.
2014-16 Paul O’Hehir (Irish Daily Mirror)
2012-14 Paul Buttner (Freelance)
2010-12 Daniel McDonnell (Irish Independent)
2008-10 Owen Cowzer (Irish Sun)
2006-08 Neil O’Riordan (Irish Sun)
2004-06 Aidan Fitzmaurice (Evening Herald)
2002-04 Gerry McDermott (Irish Independent)
2000-02 Paul Lennon (Irish Daily Star)
1998-2000 Alan Dalton (Irish Times)
1996-98 Cathal Dervan (The Title)
1994-96 Gabriel Egan (RTE)
1992-94 Peter Byrne (Irish Times)
1990-92 Sean Ryan (Sunday Independent)
1988-90 Charlie Stuart (Irish Press)
1986-88 Tony Sheehan (RTE)
1984-86 Billy George (Cork Examiner)
1982-84 Brendan McKenna (Evening Press)
1980-82 Tom Keogh (Daily Mirror)
1978-80 Jimmy Magee (RTE)
1976-78 Noel Dunne (Irish Independent)
1974-76 Willie Cotter (Cork Examiner)
1972-74 Bill Kelly (Sunday Press)
1970-72 Derek Jones (Daily Express)
1968-70 Seamus Devlin (Irish Times)
1966-68 Frank Johnstone (The People)
1964-66 Eddie Boyle (Sunday Independent)
1962-64 Kieran Kenealy (Evening Herald)
1960-62 WP Murphy (Irish Independent)