HE sense of anticipation around Kildare gaelic football circles in early 1928 must have approached fever pitch.
The Lilywhites had clinched their third All-Ireland title the year before and would have all of that starting fifteen available for the season ahead, although there was to be no return for Larry Stanley, who missed 1927 and was continuing to concentrate on athletics.
A good league campaign saw them through to meet arch-rivals Kerry in the ‘de-facto” final in April. The league was decided by a three-way round-robin but with both teams having beaten Mayo, Kerry agreed to bring the third game to Croke Park despite having “home” advantage.
The Kerry-Kildare rivalry over the previous two years had enthralled football fans everywhere and drew ever-increasing audiences to the games. It was the first great football rivalry.
Kerry won in 1926 but Kildare got their revenge a year later and it was expected that 1928 would provide a “decider” with the sides scheduled to meet at the All Ireland semi-final stage.
Kildare’s mood was boosted by an invitation in January to visit the United States in May of that year. It came from Ned “Sapper” O’Neill on behalf of the Men’s Association of New York. Ned was an Athy man who had played junior for Kildare the year before.
Despite the long boat journey involved, such tours were not uncommon in those days. Tipperary hurlers and Kerry footballers had toured in the previous two years so Kildare naturally felt there was little doubt permission would be given by headquarters.
Indeed provisional permission was granted quickly enough when the American organisers provided financial guarantees and Kildare set about raising the cost of the trip. A reception and dance was held in the New Hall, Newbridge on 19 February which doubled up as a presentation ceremony for the team’s All Ireland win of the year before.
Kildare had costed the trip at £150 and it was calculated that £26 per week would have to be provided to the dependents of thirteen of the players while their men were in the United States. High finance!
But Kildare’s world caved in on 28 April. It was the day before the League “final” and only eight days before the team was due to sail from Cobh.
A Central Council meeting that day decided, seemingly out of the blue, that permission for the trip was to be withdrawn. While issues around the financial guarantees were discussed, the real reason was dissatisfaction with the different bodies in the US who organised Gaelic Games with little or no reference (or deference perhaps) to Central Council. The motion banned all teams from travelling.
Kildare players, who heard the news at Barry’s Hotel, where they were staying ahead of the match the following day, were “dispirited” and “down-hearted”, and the feeling was that it was the major contributing factor to their 2-4 to 1-6 defeat.
In front of a crowd of 10,000 the game itself was a high-quality affair, deemed at least as good as those played in the previous two championships, but “goals win games” and Kerry edged Kildare out.
Within hours of the final whistle, Kildare were embroiled in further controversy, though, this time over their treatment by Kerry in relation to gate receipts from the game.
As Kerry were technically the home team they were responsible for organising the game and the division of receipts was set down in the rules, whereby Kerry were entitled to 60%, Kildare 35% and Central Council 5%.
Kildare’s share (£178 as it turned out) was to be lodged with a Bank Official in Dublin, but with Kildare County Board Chairman Tom Lawler expecting a cheque to be handed over before leaving Dublin, his Kerry counterpart refused to part with it having received instructions to bring the cash back to the Kingdom and a cheque would be “in the post”.
There were also some aspersions cast on Kildare for not assisting with advertising, but Kildare pointed out that this was Kerry’s responsibility under the rules as the home team.
Two hours into the argument, Kerry captain J.J.Sheehy thankfully intervened and matters were resolved in relation to the cheque.
But relations had been soured and Kildare promptly declined a previously-issued invitation to visit Killarney for a challenge match on Whit Weekend.
It set the scene for a fascinating and eagerly-awaited re-match in the summer. Sadly that never came about, through no fault of Kildare.
With the championship on the horizon and plans to travel to the US cancelled, it must have taken every effort for Kildare to motivate themselves for another Championship campaign.
Only three weeks after the League Final, on 20 May, they opened the Leinster Championship with a quarter-final clash with Leix in Athy. Brown fisted a goal for Laois that put the cat among the pigeons in the first-half but Kildare roused themselves sufficiently for Tom Kehoe to provide the winning point on a 0-4 to 1-0 scoreline.
The team was back in the mood by the time of the semi-final against Longford on 10 June. Kildare were missing Paul Doyle, Joe Loughlin and Jack Hayes from their All Ireland winning side and Longford’s win against Meath in the previous round saw them given them room for optimism.
Kildare’s passage to the final was smoother than expected, though, as Pat Ryan from Milltown scored two goals and Peter Pringle of Rathangan a third in a 3-6 to 0-2 success in Croke Park.
Dublin beat Wexford in the other semi-final but the big news came out of Munster where Tipperary pulled off the shock of the decade to beat Kerry in the Munster semi-final. It was Kerry’s first defeat in Munster for six years and the local Kerryman newspaper were clearly unimpressed.
Rather than praise Tipp they put the blame firmly at the door of a Kerry team who were “hopelessly bad” and “croaked” on the day.
The Leinster Final was an exciting affair at Croke Park. The wording from the Irish Independent would make you laugh today: “Dublin held the All-Ireland champions Kildare to a point”.
Kildare edged home by 0-10 to 1-6 but for much of the game it was a lot more comfortable than that. Kildare’s forwards were exceptional in the first-half and went in at the break 0-7 to 0-0 ahead with Doyle, Paddy Loughlin and Joe Curtis particularly to the fore.
Dublin had renewed energy after the break but still fell a further two points behind.
Then, injury to Jack Higgins hampered Kildare and a soft goal scored by Durnin from the wing gave the Dubs hope and to be fair they put in a mighty second-half effort, despite the sending off of McDonnell for striking Bill “Squires” Gannon.
In the end a pointed free from Doyle was the crucial score that kept Kildare noses in front and secured their third successive Leinster title (by 1931 they would extend that to six).
With Kerry out of the picture, Tipperary failed to build on their great shock in Munster, and Cork convincingly beat them in the final for a first provincial crown in twelve years.
Meanwhile, an inexperienced Sligo came through Connacht for their first provincial title, and in Ulster Cavan regained the crown from Monaghan.
Kildare were the only provincial champions still standing and the way had opened up for them to retain their title.
They had to travel to the Athletic Grounds in Cork for the semi-final against the Munster champions and 20,000 crammed in to see a game that was expected to be tight. It wasn’t. Inspired by Doyle and Bill Mangan in attack and with Gus Fitzpatrick, Jack Higgins and Matt Goff on top in defence, Kildare were not flattered by a fourteen point massacre (3-7 to 0-2). Mangan, from the Kildare club, scored a hat-trick of goals with Doyle getting five points.
Cavan arrived in the final un-heralded, despite having dominated Ulster along with Monaghan for the previous fourteen years, and many felt Sligo would have beaten them in the semi-final.
There was clearly some complacency among Kildare fans, with the Breffni supporters in the majority among a 24,700 crowd at headquarters, 12,000 down on the Kerry/Kildare clash the year before.
Kildare lined-up with the same fifteen as the year before, although there-in lies a story we covered in last week’s Nationalist. Pringle was due to replace the injured Curtis but while he was getting prepared in the dressing room, Cavan provided photographic evidence of the Rathangan man playing illegally in a game in Laois.
Curtis, reportedly suffering from broken ribs from a cycling accident, was strapped up, given a swig or two of whiskey and sent into the fray.
The underdogs raced into a three point lead but Mangan carried on his goalscoring form from the semi-final and raised a green flag to help the champions into a two-point half-time lead, finishing to the net after a move involving Doyle, Kehoe and Paddy Loughlin. Loughlin’s brother Joe had gone off earlier to injury, to be replaced by Dan Ryan of Naas.
Kildare struggled to get any fluency into their hand-passing game in a second-half that continued tight, with the scoring rate increasing. A Devlin goal from a slick move brought Cavan level at 1-4 apiece before Smith edged them a point ahead.
Controversy landed at Kildare’s door once more as Doyle’s long free in was finished to the net by Paddy Loughlin. It was something of a “Joe Sheridan” moment with Cavan arguing that Loughlin had thrown the ball into the net but the referee having none of it. Kildare ahead 2-4 to 1-5.
Doyle, who was having another superlative game on the wing, nipped in for a point to leave a goal between the teams and the pace was now frantic. Despite the lead, Kildare were under huge pressure with Cavan “doing wonders”.
Kildare’s defence and ‘keeper Martin Walshe had held firm under intense pressure but finally they cracked, Young gaining possession from Walshe save, slipping it to Farrelly and on to Devlin for his second goal. Level! 2-5 apiece. Five minutes to go.
Again, Kildare defended heroically and a break from Doyle along the wing saw him link up with Mangan who steadied and shot the winning point.
Cavan returned for more but Fitzpatrick and Mick Buckley saved the day at the back and the long-whistle brought undeniable relief to the champions.
The Sam Maguire Memorial Cup had been presented to the GAA by Dr. Pat McCartan and “Squires” Gannon was honoured to become the first captain to receive it. It was brought home to be displayed in Conlan’s shop in Newbridge.
The story goes that Joe Curtis was offered the first drink out of the cup that night in Barry’s Hotel but that he handed the cup to a great supporter, Charlie Purcell from Naas, who took that particular honour.
Another story suggests Gannon didn’t stay long at the celebration, and is said to have milked fourteen cows back home that evening. Different times.
Of course, despite winning three more Leinsters in a row, Kildare failed to add to that fourth All Ireland title, losing to Kerry in the 1929 final as normal service was resumed between the “big two”. Kildare went down to Monaghan in the 1930 semi-final before Kerry did for them again in the 1931 final.
Cavan would eventually win Sam in 1933, beating Galway in the final, and gained revenge against Kildare in 1935 in what proved to be the Lilywhites’ last final for 63 years.
As we know Sam has steadfastly refused to spend a winter in Kildare since he first went on his travels in 1928.
Kildare’s 1928 Championship Campaign
Leinster Quarter Final
20 May 1928 (Athy)
Kildare 0-4 Leix 1-0
Kildare: Martin Walshe; Mick Buckley, Paddy Martin, Gus Fitzpatrick; Frank Malone (0-1), Jack Higgins, Jack Hayes; Paddy Loughlin, Martin Connor; Joe Curtis, Bill Gannon, Albert O’Neill (0-1); Bill Mangan, Joe Loughlin (0-1), Tom Kehoe (0-1).
Leinster Semi Final
10 June 1928 (Croke Park)
Kildare 3-6 Longford 0-2
Kildare: Martin Walshe; Mick Buckley, Matt Goff, Gus Fitzpatrick; Frank Malone, Jack Higgins, Martin Connor; Paddy Loughlin (0-1), Bill Gannon; Joe Curtis (0-1), Paddy Martin (0-2), Tom Kehoe (0-1); Bill Mangan, Peter Pringle (1-0), Pat Ryan (2-1)
22 July 1928 (Croke Park)
Kildare 0-10 Dublin 1-6
Kildare: Martin Walshe; Matt Goff, Mick Buckley, Gus Fitzpatrick; Jack Higgins, Jack Hayes, Frank Malone; Joe Loughlin, Bill Gannon; Paul Doyle (0-4), Paddy Martin (0-1), Bill Mangan; Joe Curtis (0-2), Tom Kehoe (0-1), Paddy Loughlin (0-2). Sub: Frank O’Toole
All Ireland Semi Final
2 September 1928 (Athletics Ground, Cork)
Kildare 3-7 Cork 0-2
Kildare: Martin Walshe; Mick Buckley, Matt Goff, Gus Fitzpatrick; Frank Malone, Jack Higgins, Jack Hayes; Joe Loughlin, Bill Gannon; Joe Curtis (0-1), Paddy Martin, Paul Doyle (0-5); Bill Mangan (3-0), Paddy Loughlin (0-1), Tom Kehoe.
All Ireland Final
30 September 1928 (Croke Park)
Kildare 2-6 Cavan 2-5
Kildare: Martin Walshe; Mick Buckley, Matt Goff, Gus Fitzpatrick; Frank Malone, Jack Higgins, Jack Hayes; Joe Loughlin, Bill Gannon; Paddy Loughlin (1-0), Paddy Martin, Paul Doyle (0-5); Bill Mangan (1-0), Joe Curtis, Tom Kehoe (0-1). Sub: Dan Ryan (for Joe Loughlin, injured).
BY RICHARD COMMINS