The 1891 Hurling Final - The Aftermath

May 29th, 2014
by Brendan O'Sullivan

On 28 February 1892, Kerry won the 1891 All Ireland Hurling championship, beating Crossabeg of Wexford in a thrilling and controversial final, the only final which ever went to extra time.

The Kerry team was composed of players from Ballyduff, the county champions, and Kilmoyley, who had been runners up in 1891 and champions the previous year. The captain was John O'Mahony from Ballyduff; Jim McDonnell's organising skills were also important. The vice captain in earlier games, James Pierce, was unlucky as he could not travel to Dublin for the final. Scorers weren't named in those early match reports but the winning goal in extra time was apparently scored by Pat Quane from Kilmoyley, while kneeling on the ground. Pat and his brother Jack were among three sets of brothers on the team. 

Another player was Maurice Fitzmaurice, great grandfather of current Kerry football manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice. All the hurlers' names can be seen on commemorative plaques at the entrances to Austin Stack Park in Tralee and the GAA grounds in Ballyduff. The last survivor from the team was Paddy Carr, whose actual surname was O'Carroll, who died in 1960 when over 90 years of age.

The team was chaired from the pitch amid scenes of great enthusiasm after winning the All-Ireland. But then it was straight to Kingsbridge for the train to Kerry. Paddy Carr later remembered that the train didn't arrive into Tralee until 3 o'clock in the morning, there was no one to meet them and they went to the public house of Tom Slattery, chairman of the county board, in Rock Street and whiled away the time until 11am when the first train for north Kerry left Tralee. The train arrived at Lixnaw at 11.30 and there was no day off, many players had to work for the rest of the day.

But there were some celebrations. A report in the Kerry Sentinel says that the Ballyduff band met the train at Lixnaw, and festivities continued that evening, presumably when work was over for the day. It was Monday 29 February, Leap Year day. There were bonfires on the surrounding hills, a torchlight procession to a large bonfire outside the village, and dancing and other amusements carried on to a late hour, when, according to the Sentinel, "all retired well satisfied and proud of the victorious champions".

To what extent the players, or those among them who attended, enjoyed the occasion is hard to know. They had played a tough match, endured a long train journey and a sleepless night. What we do know in that disillusion quickly set in. The players had paid their own expenses for travel and accommodation and this was never repaid by the County Board. The amount mentioned was 16 shillings, which would have been around 2 months wages at the time.

Ballyduff defeated Causeway in the 1892 Kerry semi-final but that turned out to be the last time they participated in the county championship in the nineteenth century. They were scheduled to play Kilmoyley in the final on 22 September. The County Board planned to present the All-Ireland medals to the victorious hurlers on this occasion, but, in obvious protest against their treatment by the Board, the Ballyduff team did not turn up and gave a walkover.

Kilmoyley represented Kerry in the Munster championship and were drawn against Redmonds of Cork. The number of players on a team was down to 17 and, curiously, Kilmoyley invited 10 Ballyduff players to play with them and gave the captaincy to Jim McDonnell. The line out for the match in late October 1892 bears a striking similarity to the All-Ireland winning team from earlier in the year. But this was the end of the road, they lost by 4-3 to 2-5, not a huge margin, but the Kerry Sentinel described their attitude as half-hearted and stated that lack of practice was another factor in their loss. The Redmonds went on to win the All-Ireland, so, who knows what might have been? A more enlightened attitude by the County Board on expenses could have resulted in a team motivated to retain the All-Ireland, and if that second title had been won, the story of the GAA in Kerry might be totally different.

Hurling in Kerry never recovered, at least at intercounty level. One year later, Laune Rangers footballers almost emulated the Ballyduff hurlers when they played the 1892 All-Ireland final in Clonturk Park but lost to Young Irelanders of Dublin who thereby did retain their title.

The GAA went into a decade of decline in Kerry and it wasn't until 1905 that the footballers re-emerged to win the 1903 All-Ireland. By 1953, there were 16 football titles and a dinner was held in Killarney to celebrate the golden jubilee. The GAA President, as guest of honour, spoke at great length about the achievements of Kerry football. Eventually Paddy Carr, also a guest, shouted out "Say, young fellow, what about the hurlers? We were the first, you know - in 1891".
And the feisty Paddy was right, the hurlers were firs t- and the only Kerry All-Ireland champions of the nineteenth century but in the twentieth, they lived in the shadow of the footballers.

But now, well into the twenty first century, we look back at Kerry's thirty seven senior All-Irelands, one hurling and thirty six football, and realise the importance of each one -and honour the contribution of the hurlers of 1891 to the history of the GAA in Kerry.

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