Dublin’s Lean Years

Matt Treacy looks at the lean years for Dublin.

(Dublin’s All Ireland winning team in 1942)

Following the completion of the three-in-a-row against Kerry in the 1923 final, Dublin endured an unprecedented barren spell which lasted for 19 years before they again won an All Ireland in 1942. The only similar droughts were the 16 years between 1942 and 1958, and the same 16 year hiatus that followed the 1995 title.

The national football league, which began in 1925, was equally unrewarding. Dublin did reach the final in its first year, but were beaten by Laois. They got to the final again in 1934 but fell to Mayo. Dublin had a rare victory over Kerry in the 1941 league semi final, but again lost to Mayo in the decider. In 1952 they were beaten by Cork in the “home final.” Dublin’s 1953 league victory marked the beginning of a relative golden age for Gaelic football in the city but belongs in the next part of our story.

In the championship Kerry had immediate vengeance in 1924 when overcoming the Dubs in the final. Dublin were not to win another Leinster until 1932, as the great Kildare team which won the 1927 and 1928 championships dominated the province, beating Dublin in the Leinster final in 1927 and 1928.

Dublin had not entered the 1930 championship because of a dispute that involved a league match against Laois. St. Josephs were Dublin county champions that year and when they had the selection of the team withdrawn from them for their prominent role in the incident, which apparently involved an assault on the Laois dressing room, O’Tooles who they had beaten in the county final refused to pick a team that did not have Joeys players on it.

Dublin won three Leinsters in a row between 1932 and 1934. They lost to Kerry in the 1932 semi final, to Galway in the 1933 semi final, and again to Galway in the 1934 final, having overcome the Kingdom in the semi final. Dublin beat Carlow in the 1941 Leinster final, only to have their hopes shattered by their nemesis in the semi final.

1942 at last brought an end to the drought. Dublin again beat Carlow in the Leinster final, Cavan in the semi final and Galway in the final. The semi final had been attended by a paltry 8,059 people.

One of the reasons for this was that very few native Dubs were playing for Dublin county teams, the sole Dub on the 1938 All Ireland hurling final winning team was Jim Byrne from Eoghan Ruadh, and so most Dubs had little interest in the teams. By contrast when Shamrock Rovers won the FAI Cup in 1940 there had been over 38,000 in Dalymount.

There were only six Dubliners on the 1942 team, along with six from Kerry, and one each from Cork, Sligo and Longford. The county championships were dominated by teams like Garda, Civil Service, Faughs and UCD. St. Vincents finally broke that stranglehold in football in 1949, and Eoghan Ruadh likewise in hurling in 1951.

The reason for the predominance of country players, including a significant number who had played for the top county teams of the period, was that the GAA had a rule which meant that a player had to play for the county in which he resided. Many of the country players of the period were members of the Gardaí, Civil Service, and teachers and had been transferred or been drawn to Dublin by their professions.

Few Dublin clubs could compete with that, and hence a decreasing number were selected for county teams through the 1930s and 1940s. Ironically while some point to the dominance of the county teams by countrymen at this time as evidence of Dublin’s debt to them, it was the most fallow period in the entire history of the GAA in the county.

Ironically the Dublin county board were at first in favour of the residency rule on the basis that in the mid 1920s there were dozens of Dublin club players who were declaring for their county of origin. However, when the implications of the change became evident in the decline of the games in the city, they changed tack and in 1947 passed a motion “That no inter county hurlers transferred to Dublin should ever be considered for the Dublin hurling team.” The same rule came to be applied to the football team and that, along with the ascendency of Vincents, was key to the revival of fortunes in the 1950s.

The county board minutes from those years also reflect the ongoing political influences, with the board approving of support for republican prisoners and participation in anti Partition marches. Possibly the first ever encounter between the Dublin and Tyrone footballers was a match played in 1943 to raise money for the Green Cross which supported the families of IRA prisoners. In 1953 it was noted that St. Vincents, several of whose leading players were in the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, were the largest contingent on a county board approved anti partition march. In 1955 Dublin played Wexford in a hurling match to raise funds for republican prisoners.

One of the key decisions made by the county board in the 1920s and 1930s had been the procurement on an extended 99 year lease of Parnell Park as the county grounds. The initial yearly fee was £50, but that was reduced by the board receiving money for grazing rights on the land.

Another long bleak interlude followed the 1942 victory. Dublin only managed to reach one more Leinster final between then and the breakthrough in 1955. They lost to Carlow in the 1944 decider. That was the longest period Dublin have ever endured without winning a Leinster senior football title.

However, the seeds were already been sown in the late 1940s. Vincents were beaten by Garda in the 1948 Dublin final, but went on to win the next seven counties. Another hopeful portent had been the minor All Ireland victory in 1945.

Matt Treacy’s book on Dublin’s quest to win the All Ireland in 2013, The Year of the Dubs, is available on

Matt Treacy blogs @ Brocaire Books. 

Follow Matt Treacy on Twitter @MattTreacy2

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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