Brendan O Sullivan

Old Programmes - Part 2

by Brendan O'Sullivan

My father's programmes move into the 1940s.  He saw Kerry complete 3-in-a-row in 1941, and in the same year, Cork win the 1st of 4-in-a-row , with a young Christy Ring  winning his first medal. A later programme from 1956 is from Christy's last final where the famous save from Art Foley deprived him of a 9th medal.

There is a curious gap -between 1944 and 1954 as if he decided that some decluttering was needed and he would only keep the older programmes. The collection resumes in time for the famous 1955 final, my first All-Ireland but my father's programme. The Croke Park clock was a long way in the future so, as was his custom, he has written in match times. Scheduled to begin at 3.15,the match started at 3.17 and the first half finished at 3.47 ½. The second half didn't begin until 4.03, a long break of over 15 minutes. But the time of the final whistle is not recorded-he was obviously elated and relieved that Kerry had survived the late Dublin onslaught.

It is around here that his programmes and mine begin to merge. I find my childish writing on some of them, even for matches which I did not attend such as the Galway-Cork final of 1956. But from 1958 on, I was in Croke Park for all the September Sundays and the programmes are there, each with a memory attached.
1958 Dublin-Derry - Watching from the sideline seats behind the railway goal.

1966 Galway-Meath - The crush outside the  Canal End turnstiles when hundreds  pushed towards the entrances and there were no safety barriers or stewards or gardai. The GAA was lucky to avoid a Hillsborough type tragedy in those years because looking at the programme I relive my relief at  reaching  the safety of the turnstile.

1968 Hurling - the day before my final exams and I  had a rare stand ticket. From the front row of the Hogan, I marvelled at a superb first half exhibition from the Tipperary centre back Mick Roche, although he ended on the losing team as Wexford rallied in the second half.  I strolled onto the pitch after the game to view the celebrations and over 30 years later  watching the TG4 programme All-Ireland Gold  I was astonished to see myself clearly in the picture as the Wexford captain was shouldered across Croke Park with the cup.

1969 - I was on the field again to congratulate my cousin Mick Gleeson on being part of Kerry's victory over Offaly. Mick brought me into the dressing room where my programme was autographed by almost all the players who had just won Kerry's 21st All-Ireland
And so the years and the programmes roll on, moving towards the present day.

1986 Kerry-Tyrone My father's last All-Ireland final -  exactly 50 years after his first. He missed only 2- the Polo Grounds  and the   replay of the previous  when he was on his honeymoon -in Kerry, of course. And, very fittingly, and poignantly, his last trip to Croke Park was on St Patrick's Day  1996 to see his old club, Laune Rangers, became champions of Ireland. He was delighted with the result and pleased to report that the supporter beside him in the stand had 3 sons on the winning team, the Hassett brothers.

2 All-Ireland football programmes are missing from the collection-1989, when I missed the 1st final of my adult life, as the Mayo diaspora snapped up all the spare tickets and 1998 when the Kildare supporters did the same. My inability to obtain a ticket in 1998 was disappointing at the time but it resulted in my father and me watching another, and last, final together. In the vicinity of Croke Park, no tickets available, unwilling to deal with the touts, I abandoned the search and headed for the family home.  My father greeted me by saying I'd see more on the TV and we watched my mother's county, Kildare, lose to Galway in an entertaining game.

He saw one more Football Final. And when he was no longer there in 2000 I was acutely aware, especially when Kerry played, that he was not watching in front of the television. My tickets for the final, and replay, against Galway that year brought me to Hill 16. There was an empty space in place of the Hogan Stand. It had been levelled by the developers and so, silhouetted against the north Dublin skyline I had a clear view from the Hill of the Mater Hospital where he had died during the winter. My mind went back to all the matches, especially finals, that we had attended together over the decades. I could emotionally picture him somewhere up above, cheering Kerry on and, in my imagination, influencing the eventual Kerry victory.

And so, the programmes tell the story of 74 years following Gaelic games and Kerry football in particular. They develop from the basic 4 pages of the 1936 Leinster final into the 100 pages of the 2009 All-Ireland Final. And I hope that the collection has a long way to go.

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