The Croke Cup 1913

September 11th, 2013
by Brendan O'Sullivan

In this year 2013, we remember 1913, a momentous year in GAA and Kerry football history. Dr Thomas Croke, the association's first patron and key figure in its early years had died 11 years earlier and the GAA was still searching for a suitable way to commemorate him. A memorial in Thurles was the plan- but the events of 1913 meant that the commemoration took a totally different turn.

A competition called the Croke Cup was run in football and hurling, with proceeds from the gates to go to the Dr Croke fund. There were previous and subsequent competitions of the same name but the most memorable by far was that of 1913. Kerry and Louth qualified for the football final. This was a very glamorous pairing because there was history, as they say, between the counties. 4 years earlier, Kerry had beaten Louth in the 1909 All-Ireland Final. In 1910, both teams qualified for a repeat final- a match which never took place.

A dispute had been brewing between the Kerry Co. Board and the Great Southern transport company over the facilities provided on trains bringing teams and followers to matches. The company refused to reserve a carriage for the team, resulting in players and supporters being herded together like cattle on the slow train to Dublin. A crisis developed when the County Board decided to take a stand in the days preceding the All-Ireland final. No resolution emerged, the Kerry team did not travel and the All-Ireland Final of 1910 was not played.

The Central Council adjudicated. There was annoyance that Kerry hadn't fulfilled the fixture and a 5 year suspension from all competitions was proposed but defeated. A more conciliatory suggestion to reschedule the game was also defeated and the All-Ireland was awarded to Louth by a vote of 7-6. There was huge dissatisfaction in Kerry with this decision and unhappiness that Louth hadn't agreed to a re-fixture. Insults were traded between the counties and the bitterness did not go away.

So in 1913 when Kerry and Louth qualified for the Croke Cup final, there were old scores to settle. Although Kerry had reached the final with a weakened team, it was a case of "all hands on deck" for the crunch match. Trials were held and the great Tralee corner-back, Maurice McCarthy, came out of retirement.

What we would now call hype surrounded the match. The controversial events of 1910 were revisited. Louth were All-Ireland champions again, having defeated Antrim in the 1912 final. Both teams trained specially. New rules were implemented; the number of players on each team was reduced from 17 to 15.

The final took place at Jones's Rd on May 4, 1913, a gloriously sunny day, before a crowd of 25,000, the largest ever recorded at the venue. The railway dispute had been settled and approximately 6,000 travelled from Kerry. Louth, playing ground football, scored an early goal but Kerry hit back with 3 points to leave the teams level at half-time. Kerry dominated the second half but could only score one point. A late Louth equaliser left the score at 1-1 to 0-4, a scoreline typical of that era.

The replay took place 8 weeks later on June 29, also at Jones's Rd. Louth had gone into collective training with professional soccer coaches. Kerry also trained collectively under the guidance of athletics coach Jerry Collins and gymnastics coach Bill O'Connor. If there was hype for the first match, it was as nothing compared to the replay. Frank Dineen, owner of Croke Park, put in extra accommodation for spectators and the crowd was estimated at 32,000. A huge crowd travelled from Kerry and the Kerryman reported "distant places like Ballyferriter, Waterville and Ballinskelligs furnished contingents who had to endure great hardships to make the journey". On another glorious day, Louth again played ground football, Kerry kept the ball in the air. At half-time, the teams were still level, Kerry 1-0 Louth 0-3. Louth led early in the second half but Kerry, seemingly fitter, took over and won by 2-4 to 0-5.

There was euphoria in Kerry and the celebrations were extensive. Bonfires were lit in every town and village, bands marched, public bodies passed resolutions congratulating the team. For the first time ever, "moving pictures" of the game were shown in Tralee's Theatre Royal and the Killarney players traveled to see themselves on film.

The gate receipts for the first match had been £750, a record and, for the replay, £1183, obviously another record. A total of £2734 had been gathered from all matches in the Croke Cup. The GAA now had to decide how to use this fund to commemorate Dr Croke. It was decided to purchase a sportsfield and develop it as a national stadium named after him. Jones's Rd was chosen in preference to Elm Park on the southside of Dublin and, with the addition of a bank loan, was bought from Frank Dineen for £3500 and renamed Croke Memorial Park.

The people of Thurles were not happy but were given £300 towards their confraternity hall. The first football final at the Croke Memorial Park took place in December when Kerry defeated Wexford to win their fourth All-Ireland. Two major championships had been won in 1913 and the now-forgotten Croke Cup, settling that old score with Louth, gave as much, if not more, satisfaction to the people of Kerry as the All-Ireland victory.

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