The 1923 All Ireland final:
September 28, 1924, Croke Park, All Ireland Final (1923):
Dublin 1 – 5 Kerry 1 – 3 Attendance 18,500 (official)
As the big day approached it was clear that interest in Kerry was huge and that the team was the focus of massive support. A large amount of money was collected to ensure that players would be reimbursed for attending training in the last few weeks leading to the big game.
Training took place in Tralee under the supervision of Jerry Collins and appears mainly to have consisted of practise matches. They were reported as having shown improvement since the Dublin challenge match and confirmed that by beating Cork in the 1924 Munster semi-final on September 7.
P.J O’C was also doing his best to higher the psychological stakes. He referred to a rumour that Dublin were not taking Kerry seriously and that they were putting it about that Kerry had refused to play in 1923, not because of the prisoners, but because they knew that they would have been beaten. It is therefore up to our men to wipe out this implied insult. Cunningly he also appealed to more than county pride.
Alluding to Dublin’s proud record he contrasted their attitude to that of some Kerry players of whom, he claimed, “a good many fancy they have nothing else to learn about football and their presence in the field is enough to ensure victory.” Micko would have had him in the dressing room for sure.
The Dublin newspapers, casting themselves as impartial observers, reflected less well the feelings of GAA followers. You get little sense from them of the keen anticipation that also existed among Dublin Gaels. In the week leading to the final the main story concerned the Boundary Commission that had been set up as part of the Treaty to adjudicate on disputed territory between the Free State and Northern Ireland. British members of the Commission had come to Dublin and Unionists were organising a mass campaign vowing to surrender “Not an Inch” to Dublin, the Free State government that is, not the footballers.
News stories proved that the country was not “half settled” over a year after the end of the Civil War. There were regular crimes that would have been unthinkable a few years earlier, many of them involving guns. In one such two Northern Bank officials were held up by armed men, one of whom wore a Free State Army uniform and brandished a service rifle, near Moynalty in County Meath. They were relieved of Â£1,200.
Then there was the case of the 14 year-old Derry girl who was charged with fraud. That had consisted of her buying items for 2 or 3 old pence and then claiming that she had handed the shopkeeper two shillings. If disputed, she would create a scene. She told the court that she had spent the proceeds of her nefarious crimes on “the pictures and fish suppers.” A bould yoke.
Twenty nine special trains were put on to bring supporters from all parts of the country to Croke Park for the final. This was before the famous Night Train from Kerry made famous by Sigerson Clifford and chaps in Ardfert could rise at a civilised hour in time for the 7.25 train that journeyed on through Tralee and Killarney.
The Irish Independent predicted that the final would be a classic. Kerry’s recent sojourn in the doldrums, not having won an All Ireland since 1914, was put down to the effect of “troubled times” and a lack of funds although they were believed to have made great progress in training. Dublin had the more experienced team with a forward line that was Â described as “fast and scientific.” The Freeman’s Journal said that few county’s appearance in a final “excites a greater stir” than Kerry, and attributed this to their great battles with Kildare, including the1903 final, which Kerry eventually won after three games.
The Kerryman published the day before the final provided detailed pen pictures of the team. The average age of the team was 25, with the youngest player, Paul Russell, being only 18. Russell played in seven All Ireland finals and was only on the losing side once, in 1923. He was still only 27 when he won his sixth medal in 1932. Their weights are also included and averaged around 12 stone which suggests that they were smaller, or at least less well nourished and conditioned, than modern footballers.
P.J of The Kerryman continued to apply the sports psychology. According to him, Kerry were only partially trained. The Dublin forwards would be playing for frees, from which they were “deadly accurate.” He also described Dublin as a “rough team” that would employ any means necessary in order to win. He also returned to his pet hate of the oul hand passing, which, “while it might appeal to the gallery, it is not football.” Dublin’s roughness and basketball style have remained recurring themes.
A poem published by The Kerryman on the eve of the final struck a more poignant note:
Let not politics divide you,
When the foe line up beside you,
Bury deep that piercing hatchet,
That has rent our land in twain.
The Kerry team spent the night before the match in Barry’s Hotel, having been entertained on the Saturday in Dunboyne House where they were called upon by Eamon de Valera, perhaps in gratitude for their having refused to play until he was left out of prison. Presumably he did not share with them his allegedly low opinion of gaelic football.
A big crowd turned up for the final. GAA records give it as 18,500 with a gate receipt of £1,622. However, the Freeman’s Journal estimated the crowd at between 35 and 40,000 and described Hill 16 as a “huge living pyramid,” which belies the myth that the Hill was spawned by imitation of the Kop or the Stretford End. The crowd was described as good-humoured and well-behaved, despite the fact that “the enormous multitude was strongly divided into partisans of Kerry and Dublin and did nothing to conceal their partisanship, such a concourse of red enthusiasts as has seldom, if ever, been surpassed in Irish football history.”
The 1923 final has been cited by GAA historians as evidence of the return to normality following the Civil War and so it was seen at the time. Political and party distinctions, too, seemed to have been wiped out for the occasion, and one literally saw all sides in the gathering. However, as with the false reports of the meeting between “Free” Murphy and Mulcahy in Tralee, such must be taken with a certain grain of salt. Kerry and Dublin republicans and Free Staters hardly had any more regard for one another simply because they all happened to be shouting for the same team.
The game itself was marred to a certain degree, as finals sometimes are, by a strong wind. Dublin began the stronger but failed to score. Joe Stynes missed a chance and other attacks finished in wides by Johnny Synnott. Kerry’s first point, after 12 minutes, came from John Ryan after he received a pass from John Joe Sheehy. Kerry began to get on top and Ryan kicked another point on 20 minutes to put them two ahead.
An outstanding feature of the match was the midfield tussle between Dublin’s Johnny Murphy and Kerry’s Con Brosnan, and it was Brosnan who scored the first goal which came from a 50 yards free that beat Johnny McDonnell in the Dublin nets. Dublin responded and when Stynes was fouled Johnny Synnott kicked Dublin’s first point from a free to leave the score 1 – 2 to 0 – 1, to Kerry’s advantage, at half time.
Dublin began well after the break and made better use of their possession. Having hit the crossbar earlier, Pat Kirwan of Keatings scored a goal after five minutes. There was now only a point between the teams but Kerry extended that briefly with a Sheehy point on 14 minutes. Dublin struggled to get the upper hand and there were only ten minutes remaining when McDonnell kicked their first point of the half. Kerry objected strongly as Con Brosnan had been knocked out as Dublin advanced and he lay unconscious on the ground, but the score stood.
Johnny Murphy brought Dublin level with five minutes left on the clock and Stynes gave them the lead following a move that involved Larry Stanley, and Martin Shanahan of Marys of East Wall. Dublin’s superior fitness seems to have told in the latter stages and Stynes extended the lead to two. Dublin also had a point disallowed for an infringement in the parallelogram.
The general feeling was that Dublin had deserved to win, but P.J of The Kerryman was not convinced. Sarcastically he claimed that Dublin had evinced the “most kindly feelings” for the Kerry lads. They got so fond of that it was “nothing unusual to see a Dublin player clasping a Kerryman round the neck, playfully pucking him in the back, catching him by the hand or jersey in order that the man for Kerry would not hurt the ball.” He further claimed that a Dublin man had been in the square when they scored their goal and that the game should have been stopped when Brosnan was knocked out. Even the referee’s hopping of the ball apparently favoured Dublin. Kerry, in contrast, had played “clean football.” Don’t they always.
Kerry avenged that defeat in the 1924 final, held on April 25 1925, and the great rivals would not meet again in a decider until 1955. Over the intervening years they met in three semi-finals with Kerry winning two, in 1932 and 1941, and Dublin the other, in 1934. Despite, or perhaps because of, the relative rarity of championship encounters, no other two counties excite the pulse as much when they meet as Kerry and Dublin. Much of that can be traced back to the 1923 and 1924 finals and was elevated to mythical status in the 1970s.
Dublin: J. McDonnell (O’Tooles), J. Reilly (O’Tooles), P. McDonnell (O’Tooles), J. Murphy (Keatings), J. Norris (O’Tooles), Joe Synnott (O’Tooles), P. Carey (O’Tooles), P. Kirwan (Keatings), J. Stynes (McCrackens), F. Burke (Collegians), John Synnott (O’Tooles), M. Shanahan (St. Marys), J. Sherlock (Garda), P. O’Beirne (Kickhams), L. Stanley (Garda).
Scorers: Kirwan 1 – 0, Stynes 1 – 2, Murphy, P. McDonnell, John Synnott 0 – 1 each.
Kerry: J. Sheehy, J. Barrett, P. Sullivan, E. Moriarty, P. Russell, T. Kelleher, J. Moriarty, C. Brosnan, P. McKenna, Â J. Ryan, J.J Sheehy, D. O’Donoghue, John Baily, James Baily, W. Landers.
Scorers: Brosnan 1 – 0, Ryan 0 – 2, Sheehy 0 – 1.
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.
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