Brendan O Sullivan

The 1891 Hurling Final

May 22nd, 2014
by Brendan O'Sullivan

The date - 28 February 1892, the venue - Clonturk Park, Drumcondra, Dublin, the occasion - the All-Ireland Final, the teams - Wexford and Kerry, the sport - hurling.

Yes, Kerry were in the All-Ireland Hurling final. The GAA was less than 8 years old, the county and All-Ireland championships even younger. Kenmare had been the first Kerry hurling champions in 1889, they were succeeded by Kilmoyley in 1890 and in May 1891, Kilmoyley lost their title to Ballyduff on the unusual score of 1-0 to 0-2.

Ballyduff went on to represent Kerry in the Munster championship, defeated Blackrock from Cork in the semi-final and met Treaty Stones from Limerick in the final. The Limerick team won by 1-2 to 1-1 but Ballyduff objected as, just before the final whistle, they scored an equalising point which wasn't allowed by the referee because, in his opinion, time was up. The GAA Central Executive ordered a replay which took place in Abbeyfeale on 31 January 1892. Ballyduff won comfortably by 2-4 to 0-1 and, when they arrived home, a band met the players and the village was en fete with bonfires and illuminations.

Ballyduff, as Munster champions, went straight into the All-Ireland final and their opponents were Crossabeg from Wexford. The game was played at Clonturk Park on 28 February 1892 and was the middle game in an extraordinary triple header. In the first game, scheduled for 11 o'clock in the morning, Young Irelanders of Dublin were victorious over Cavan Slashers in the All-Ireland football semi-final. After the Kerry-Wexford hurling final, Dublin took the field again for the All-Ireland final and defeated Clondrohid of Cork by 2-1 to 1-9. Dublin were the winners because a goal outweighed any number of points at the time, but the result was disputed by the Corkmen as they had scored a second goal which was disallowed by the referee.

Before the hurling final started, Kerry objected to the referee, Mr Larkin from Galway, probably as a consequence of a tempestuous challenge game played between Kerry and Galway one year earlier. Dick Tobin, the secretary of the GAA, was accepted as referee. A rule change since the Munster final also benefited Kerry and Ballyduff were able to call on players from Kilmoyley club. It was the last year when teams were 21-aside, Kerry wore grey jerseys with "Up Kerry" printed on them but played in their everyday trousers and bare feet. At half-time Kerry led by 0-2 to 0-1. The first score of the second half was a Kerry goal. "Both sides were playing with extraordinary determination, swiftness and all-round brilliancy" according to a contemporary account. With eight minutes to go, Wexford scored a goal and three minutes later they equalised. Wexford were on top and were awarded a free late in the game. From this, the ball went between the uprights but for Ballyduff, it was déjà vu with regard to late  points. This one was disallowed as the referee had blown the final whistle as the free was taken.

Extra time was scheduled. It would seem that Wexford should have been the team with a grievance but, in fact, Kerry had to be persuaded to take part. Why were they reluctant to play? There are two separate reports on the match in the Kerry newspaper the Sentinel. The first states that the Kerry players thought that one of their points was actually a goal and that they had won the match. The second states they considered the Wexford goal to be illegal as the ball had gone through the Australian Rules-type posts for a point and been kicked back by a spectator before the goal was scored. But they eventually did line up in what turned out to be the only extra-time ever played in an All-Ireland final, on all other occasions there was a replay. Kerry scored a goal and a point in extra time and Wexford scored three points so Kerry were All-Ireland hurling champions.

Not surprisingly, the losers in both football and hurling finals objected at a Central Council meeting held later that Sunday. The Wexford objection over the disallowed point was overruled but Cork's objection over their disallowed goal was  referred to a future meeting.  Eventually, Dublin were declared champions and so, it is an interesting historical fact that Dublin won their first football All-Ireland on the same day and in the same park that Kerry won their hurling title.
Yes, Kerry were All-Ireland hurling champions and won by playing hurling of the highest quality. Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA, is reported as saying to a Kerry friend, "I have never seen a finer exhibition of hurling in all my life. You should be proud of Kerry".

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom