Brendan O Sullivan

Kerry's Defeat by Waterford in 1957

June 22nd, 2011
by Brendan O Sullivan

There was no "Sunday Game" then, there were no on-the-spot radio reports from around the country. So, when GAA scores were announced on Radio Eireann in the evening of June 2, 1957, many people felt it was a major mistake. The result of the Munster championship match played in Dungarvan that day was---- Waterford 2-5, Kerry 0-10.

But it was no error, the result was correct-and a sensation in the GAA world. This match had been regarded as a formality. Kerry had dominated Munster football for the entire twentieth century. Waterford had beaten a weakened Kerry team in 1911 by 1-2 to 0-1 but otherwise had little success.

It was a successful period for Kerry football. All-Irelands had been won in '53 and '55, they had reached the '54 final but lost to Meath. In May 1957, Kerry had played in the League final, which they lost to All-Ireland champions Galway by 1-8 to 0-6, a score which flattered Galway as the teams were level 5 minutes from the end.

Two weeks later, Kerry played Waterford. The team was selected and notified by post as was the custom in those days. There was no team bus so they travelled in 5 cars from different parts of the county. When they arrived at Dungarvan, out of the selected 15 players and 6 subs, only 16 were present. One of these, Dinny O'Shea, was injured and unable to start. John Barrett, there to report on the match for the "Kerryman" newspaper, was asked to tog out in case of emergency.

It was still a strong Kerry team. Heroes from the famous 1955 team-John Dowling, Jerome O'Shea, Ned Roche, Paudie Sheehy and Tadhgie Lyne were joined by emerging stars Mick O'Connell, Mick O'Dwyer, Tom Long and Tim "Tiger" Lyons.

Kerry started well, dominated the first half, and, with 40 of the 60 minutes gone, led comfortably by 0-8 to 0-2. But Waterford got a rather fortuitous goal when stand-in goalkeeper Tim Barrett failed to control a free-kick ironically taken by Kerry-born Waterford player Georgie Whyte. Points were exchanged but Kerry had lost momentum. In the final minutes, a high ball dropped into the Kerry square and the goalkeeper was driven into the net by the onrushing forwards. Tom Cunningham, better known as a hurler, scored a point to give Waterford the lead. Kerry worked the ball forward in the final minute, it ended with Paudie Sheehy in a scoring position, but he shot wide. Waterford had achieved their most notable football success.

The Waterford team and fans were delirious. The Kerry mood was one of devastation. A quick team meal was followed by a slow journey home."We will have to wait until they're all in bed in Tralee before we can go home" one Kerry official was quoted as saying.

In his report in the "Kerryman", John Barrett, whose services as a sub had not been required, was critical of the team's performance. The headline read, "Over Confidence Cost Kerry a Victory". If the Kerry players had rated their ability a little less highly, they would have won, he wrote. When leading by six points, they relaxed and deteriorated rapidly when Waterford got some scores. In the same paper the famous writer PF describes the result as "the greatest football surprise of the century".

The County Board asked the five players who had not turned up to provide written explanations. When the next meeting convened on June 7, three letters had been received. Seamus Murphy, selected as a sub, was doing exams. Tom Moriarty, who had played in the League Final two weeks previously, had retired.

Goalkeeper Marcus O'Neill had not travelled to Dungarvan because of a dispute in South Kerry over the captaincy of the Kerry team. St. Mary's Cahersiveen had nominated Ned Fitzgerald to be captain in 1957. If Ned wasn't selected, the captaincy would revert to Jerome O'Shea who'd been captain in 1956. Marcus, also a St. Mary's player, felt that it should rotate, not necessarily to himself. His letter to the County Board was unapologetic and less than diplomatic.

The Board discussed the matter. The chairman, Frank Sheehy, stated that local differences in South Kerry should not affect the county team and that the system of leaving the captaincy to the clubs should be changed. A suspension of six months for Marcus O'Neill was proposed and, although the chairman commented on how many members stayed silent, this suspension was imposed.

It could be argued that Marcus was the scapegoat for the defeat, as there were no other suspensions. But there was no goalkeeper among the sixteen players who assembled in Dungarvan, leading to Tim Barrett, a defender with no goalkeeping experience, being asked to take the number one jersey. In fact, when emotions had cooled somewhat, Marcus O'Neill's suspension was reduced to four months.

The defeat by Waterford was an extremely embarrassing episode in the history of Kerry football. The organisation and management of the county team was shown to be chaotic and slipshod. When they next met in 1960, the score was Kerry 3-15 Waterford 0-8. In fact, the week after Dungarvan, almost the same Kerry team which lost to Waterford played Dublin in the Collins Cup tournament in Killarney and won by 2-7 to 1-8. So, the result was an aberration, a literal once-in-a-century sensation. And, from the perspective of 54 years later, who can begrudge the footballers of Waterford the greatest day in their history.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom