Laune Rangers 1892 - The Legacy

November 5th, 2015
by Brendan O'Sullivan

The All-Ireland Football Final of 1892, played in March 1893, was over. Dublin Young Irelands had defeated Kerry's Laune Rangers by 1-4 to 0-3. The match was over but the controversy was beginning.  Reports in Cork and Kerry newspapers complained bitterly about the atmosphere in which the game was played. Dublin supporters had hooted and groaned at the efforts of the Kerry players throughout the match, demoralising them. There are also suggestions that the crowd encroached on the pitch towards the end, causing the referee to end the game prematurely.

The Dublin-based, though not necessarily Dublin-biased, newspaper "Sport" dismissed the complaints, blaming them on a knot of youngsters and so-called "wall-climbers", who didn't understand the rules and booed the referee when he awarded three quick frees to Kerry in the second half.

What is certain is that J.P.O'Sullivan, the Kerry captain, renowned for his sportsmanship, was extremely angry. He wrote a letter to the newspapers, challenging Young Irelands to replay the match at a neutral venue, halfway between Kerry and Dublin. He was unhappy with the way in which the match ended. His phrase "in consequence of the unsatisfactory manner in which the matches terminated" indicates there may have been a pitch invasion. He suggested three possible referees for the replay, the names do not include Dan Fraher.

Jack Kennedy, captain of Young Irelands, replied. His team had other fixtures to attend to, he claimed that they were willing to play Laune Rangers, but in Athenry, Co. Galway.

A series of letters followed, the tone becoming increasingly bitter. J.P, taking up a word used by Kennedy, described the Young Irelanders as "dogs, dogs against the Laune Rangers but also dogs against all the teams they ever came in contact with". There is no suggestion of dishonourable play in any of the contemporary accounts of the match so the controversy seemingly took on a life of its own.

There was no replay and Young Irelands of Dublin are recognised as All-Ireland champions of 1892. The replay of the 1891 final never took place, that title was awarded to them and in 1894, they added a third in four years. So, although all three were won in controversial circumstances, perhaps there was no disgrace in Laune Rangers losing to them.

Unquestionably, the Laune Rangers have left the greater legacy. They retained the Kerry title in 1893 but failed to fulfil their fixture in Munster. Their players continued to be remembered and honoured throughout the decades. J.P.O'Sullivan, who retired from Rangers in 1893 and subsequently played with Firies, was paid the following tribute, many years afterwards, by the well-known gaelic sports writer "Celt": "Never had a team a finer captain than he who led Kerry that day against Dublin. I can still see that magnificent form dominating a field of thirty-four". J.P continued to be involved with Kerry football and is one of the Co Board officials in the photograph of the first All-Ireland winning team of 1903.

The next superstar of Kerry football, Dick Fitzgerald, who won the first of five All-Ireland medals with that team wrote; "I think it was the deeds of the Laune Rangers which set my blood a tingling. It was left to a later generation to bring the championship to Kerry but it was the Rangers who gave the lead that others followed unerringly…..The story of their daring and prowess…..was a theme over which I gloated, and longed for the time when I could go and…. do likewise".

J.P. O'Sullivan and Dick Fitzgerald were both to die at relatively young ages, J.P in 1909 and Dick in 1930, and both were to be honoured in the towns most associated with them.  

In 1936, Fitzgerald Stadium was opened in Killarney. The driving force behind the building of the stadium was Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan, J.P'S son. By then, Kerry had won 11 football All-Irelands but pride of place in the parade around the pitch at the opening ceremony went, not to the Ballyduff hurlers, not to the survivors of the 1903 team, but to the Laune Rangers stalwarts of 1892.

Nine men, parading in blue jerseys, led the players with All-Ireland medals to their names. Five had played in Clonturk Park – John Phil Murphy, Dan P.Murphy, Moss O'Brien, Bill O'Sullivan and John O'Reilly. Bill O'Brien, secretary of the old Laune Rangers and brother of Moss, was with them and the remaining three were Jimmy Doyle, Pat McGillycuddy and Eddie O'Sullivan who'd lined out with the Rangers at other times. An account in the "Kerryman" newspaper, reproduced in the wonderfully comprehensive Laune Rangers website, graphically describes the men meeting on the sideline –"the words of greeting, the smiles of gladness, the eyes of mirth, the happy reminiscences, the lifting of the veil of years as little incidents were discussed, as old matches were replayed and old friends spoken of, were all too personal and too sacred to write. A shade of sadness came over them all as John O'Reilly said "Well, I suppose we have put on our beloved old blue for the last time"". Immediately behind the Laune Rangers contingent in the parade came two members of the Young Ireland team, including J.P.O'Sullivan's old adversary, Jack Kennedy.

Laune Rangers declined in the 1940s, focussing more on hurling than  football. The club had no regular home ground, and, after much soul-searching and negotiation, purchased the Killorglin greyhound track and the acquisition was named the J.P.O'Sullivan Memorial Park. So, J.P. was fittingly honoured by the club whom he had led to such glory. His son, Dr Eamonn, who trained Kerry to win 8 All-Ireland titles between 1924 and 1962, was also involved in advising on this project.

So J.P's legacy, and the legacy of the 1892 Laune Rangers team, was long and lasting. The football club recovered, won four Kerry titles from 1989 to 1996, and represented Kerry in the club championships.

On St Patrick's Day 1996, almost 103 years to the day after Laune Rangers had first contested an All-Ireland final, they were in a second. The venue was Croke Park, around one mile from Clonturk Park. So, Laune Rangers were again playing an All-Ireland final in March, in Drumcondra, Dublin.  And, this time there were no wall climbers, there was no ineffectual referee, no pitch encroachment and no premature ending as Laune Rangers defeated Eire Og from Carlow by 4-5 to 0-11 to become All-Ireland club champions. History had come full circle and the legacy of the men of 1892, trail blazers for Kerry football, was complete.

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