1955 - Kerry vs Dublin - My First Final

April 20th, 2016
by Brendan O'Sullivan

This was one of the most famous finals of all. It was the classic city against country clash, the jackeens versus the culchies. Although they had contested the previous two finals, winning one, losing one, Kerry were complete outsiders. Dublin hadn't played in a final for thirteen years but their new policy of selecting native Dubs only seemed successful.

Dublin were seen as a machine. They were National League and Leinster champions, overwhelming All-Ireland winners Meath in both finals. Their outstanding and unorthodox full forward Kevin Heffernan roved out the field and terrorised opposing defences.

Kerry were the team with tradition. They had won seventeen All-Irelands, an average of one in every three years since their first victory in 1903. But many felt that their catch-and-kick style was outdated and they would be out-thought and outrun and outplayed by the slicker, skilful, faster, interlinking Dublin forwards. Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan, legendary Kerry trainer, didn't think so. In collective training, he stressed that every player should keep to his position on the field and that they should remain faithful to their traditional style.

There was an electric build-up to the match and huge crowds arrived in the capital. Saturday saw the appearance of the advance guard and a "Kerry set" was danced at the foot of Nelson's Pillar that evening.  A procession of Dublin followers, led by a man in a blue jersey on a white horse, paraded through O'Connell St after 11 o'clock.

Special trains from all parts of Ireland converged on Dublin. British Rail even ran a special from London to Holyhead, such was the interest. The famous "ghost train" left Cahirciveen in south Kerry at ten to eleven on Saturday night, arriving at Kingsbridge at 6.40a.m.

Most previews predicted a Dublin win. Paddy McDonnell, Dublin captain from the 1920s, wrote in the Sunday Express, "it will not surprise me if Kerry are beaten by ten points". Even former Kerry star, Paul Russell, stated in the Sunday Press, "for sheer speed, stamina, and football, my choice is Dublin". Mick Dunne, in the Irish Press, predicted, "Kerry will go under-and by at least 5 points".

Crowds thronged towards Croke Park on Sunday morning. Long queues waited for the gates to open. Tickets were only required for the stands and sideline seats and the terraces filled quickly. The gates were broken down around 2 o'clock and thousands more than the official attendance of 87,102 saw the match. People sat on top of the Long Stand, others watched from the wall behind the railway goal.

It was my first All-Ireland final. At the age of seven, I sat in the Cusack Stand with my mother, safe from the crowd and the crush. I marvelled at the occasion. We were in our seats long before the minor match started -- and it ended with victory for Dublin over Tipperary. Tension rose in those interminable minutes before the start of the senior game. As the teams paraded behind the Artane Band, there was a moment of levity when a man dressed as Biddy Mulligan, the 1950s version of Mrs Brown, emerged from the sideline seats and joined the Dublin team. Then, Faith of our Fathers, the National Anthem, and the Bishop of Kerry threw in the ball to start the match.

Within seconds, Kerry's star forward, Tadghie Lyne, had scored a point. Dublin replied with two, but at half time, it was Kerry 0-5 Dublin 0-3. The game wasn't going according to script, Kerry were more than equal to the favourites. In the second half, Kerry stretched further ahead. Corner forward, Dr Jim Brosnan, who had been flown home from New York to play, scored the first two points of the half and with five minutes to go, Kerry led by 0-12 to 0-6. The game seemed over but a dramatic goal from a 14 yard free by Ollie Freaney left the margin at three points. Dublin attacked frantically in the last minutes but Kerry held firm, corner back Jerome O'Shea making catches under the crossbar.

Kerry had won their eighteenth All-Ireland football title. The Dublin machine had malfunctioned. Catch and kick had triumphed. John Dowling, the Kerry captain, brought Sam Maguire home to his club in Strand Road, Tralee and to sit in the window of his new shoe shop in the town.

I went home with my mother, a short walk as we lived in the shadow of Croke Park. I'd experienced my first All-Ireland final, and have always been able to claim that my first final was one of the most memorable in GAA history and a famous Kerry victory.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom