Brendan O Sullivan

Laune Rangers 1892 - The Final

November 4th, 2015
by Brendan O'Sullivan

The first All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin was the 1892 final, played in 1893. In those early years, clubs represented counties in the All-Ireland series and Killorglin's Laune Rangers dominated Kerry football. The club, set up in 1888 when the town's strong rugby team converted to the new gaelic code, won the first two Kerry championships in 1889 and 1890, but lost in Munster. However, although beaten in Kerry in 1891, they swept all before them in 1892. The championship was regained and, in Munster, they defeated Clondrohid of Cork in the semi-final and outclassed Dungarvan of Waterford in the final on December 4 on a snow-covered pitch at Fermoy by 0-12 to 0-0.

The Rangers were now in the All-Ireland final but would wait almost four months for an opponent. This championship had seen the introduction of rule changes. Teams were reduced from 21 to 17; a goal, which previously outweighed any number of points, was now equal to 5. In the 1891 final, Dublin, leading Cork by 2-1 to 1-9, had simply packed the goalmouth with players to prevent a goal being scored, an early form of blanket defence. Pitches were uneven, crowds lined the sidelines and encroached on the field, matches were often unfinished.

The Rangers' captain was J.P.O'Sullivan, known as the "Champion", a multi-talented sportsman, rugby-player, cyclist, footballer, athlete who, in 1891, became the All-Round Champion of Ireland in athletics. J.P. usually played at half-back or midfield. Another star was Tim Curran, recognised as the best full back in the first thirty years of the GAA. His two brothers played with him in the full back line and were an early version of Hell's Kitchen, although one had emigrated before the run to the All-Ireland final. A star forward was the red-haired, lightning-fast Jeremiah Hayes, who had an unfortunate tendency to clash with opponents and whose playing career was cut short by a serious leg injury in 1890.

The final was eventually fixed for Sunday, March 26, 1893 in Clonturk Park, Drumcondra, Dublin. The other half of the draw was only worked out in the two weeks preceding the final.

Dublin Young Irelands emerged as Rangers' opponents. They won Leinster on March 12, and the semi-final on March 19. They were the reigning All-Ireland champions, but their victory had been challenged in the committee rooms and a replay was still pending, over one year later. So, Laune Rangers were opposed by an experienced team, who had played in Clonturk Park on the previous two Sundays whereas the Rangers hadn't played a competitive fixture for almost four months. The match would be preceded by the All-Ireland Hurling final in a double bill, which had also happened a year earlier, when Ballyduff became hurling champions.

The Laune Rangers team left Killorglin by train at 9.30 on Saturday morning and arrived at Kingsbridge at 6.00. Allegedly, musicians played outside the team's hotel during the night in a deliberate attempt to deprive the players of sleep.

Tickets for the finals were on sale for 6d if bought in advance but 1/= at the gate. However, many spectators got in for free, the walls were easily climbed.

The hurling final between Davitt Faughs from Dublin and John Redmonds from Cork, scheduled for 11a.m, started at 11.45 and did not finish. Dublin disputed a Cork goal, their players left the pitch, a delay ensued, some players had to be at work at 1.30, the All-Ireland hurling final was abandoned.

There had also been an earlier break in play when a spectator sadly collapsed and died "on the slopes", as the report says. He was Mr Nevin, an old Gaelic man and a member of Davitt Faughs.

So, the day had already been eventful when the teams took the field for the football final. The GAA correspondent for the Dublin newspaper "Sport" describes the arrival of the Kerry team: "17 tall strapping, athletic Kerrymen, headed by J.P.O'Sullivan, and with determination knit on their brow, lined up in their picturesque costume of blue jerseys and white knickers". The same reporter is critical of the referee, Dan Fraher from Waterford – "a bit too easy going, not prompt enough in his decisions". Rangers were familiar with Dan Fraher, who had been Dungarvan's goalkeeper in the Munster final.

It was a sunny spring day, it was the first final between Kerry and Dublin. Kerry started well, attacking the Dublin goal repeatedly and scored two points. But a period of Dublin pressure resulted in them drawing level. Kerry attacked again and a J.P.O'Sullivan point put them into the lead. But, at half-time, it was 0-3 each. Kerry dominated the early part of the second half but the Dublin defence proved equal to all pressure. In a Dublin attack, a goal was scored. Kerry pressed for the equaliser, again the defence held firm, Dublin moved upfield to score another point, leaving the final score-Dublin 1-4, Kerry 0-3.

Reports indicate that the two teams were well matched. Kerry apparently conceded a soft goal but the team was extremely athletic, they were fine fielders and kickers of the ball. Dublin were more experienced and had better teamwork, their defence was outstanding; ironically, they were praised for their "catch and kick" style, as opposed to the "kick and rush" favoured by Kerry. Of course, Dublin had home advantage, their players could walk to Clonturk Park. Kerry had endured a long train journey on the previous day, they also faced a hostile crowd. The match was over – the controversy was beginning.

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