slaying goliath We look back at the greatest upsets in the GAA Football Championships
IRELAND’S love of the underdog is part of our DNA. On the sporting fields David occasionally slays Goliath and we celebrate the moment in story and song.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the 2020 All-Ireland championship is back to its once-sacred straight knock-out format. There are no second chances – for anyone. One strike and the season is over.
Though we like to believe otherwise, history does not support the theory that the minnows had a better chance of pulling off a shock result under the old system.
Indeed, there have been more upsets in the All-Ireland qualifiers in the last 20 years than in the previous 113-year history of the championship. Prior to 2001 the number of shock results in the provincial and All-Ireland series could be counted on one hand.
What changed under the new system is that the better teams made optimum use of their second chance with Galway (2001), Tyrone (2005, 2008), Kerry (2006, 2009) and Cork (2010) all winning the title via the back door.
Still, the pick of the historic upsets are worth recalling, if only to refresh our memories and rekindle the romantic – if entirely bogus – notion that there was ever any romance in the All-Ireland series. Well, maybe there was a little.
1. June 2, 1957, Munster SFC Championship, Dungarvan
Waterford 2-5; Kerry 0-10
There were no live updates in those days but radio listeners probably assumed the announcer had made a mistake when he read out the result. Mighty Kerry had lost to Waterford. It was unthinkable. Two weeks previously Kerry had lost to Galway in the League final but nobody expected them to exit the Munster championship in Dungarvan.
Kerry’s problems began before the game. As was the custom in those days the Kerry players were notified by post of their selection. There was no team bus, so they travelled in five cars from different parts of the county.
On arriving in Walsh Park, it was discovered that only 16 of the squad had turned up. John Barrett, there to report on the match for the The Kerryman, was asked to tog out and sit on the bench.
Still, they fielded a formidable side including John Dowling, Jerome O’Shea, Ned Roche, Paudie Sheehy and Tadhg Lyne who had played in their famous 1955 All-Ireland final win over Dublin. Future stars like Mick O’Connell, Mick O’Dwyer, Tom Long and Tim Lyons also featured.
Ten minutes into the second half Kerry led by six points but their stand-in goalkeeper gifted Waterford a goal directly from a free kick, ironically taken by Kerry-born Waterford player Georgie Whyte.
Then in the dying minutes a high ball dropped into the Kerry square and the goalkeeper was driven into the net by the on-rushing forwards. Tom Cunningham, who won an All-Ireland hurling medal two years later, then scored a point to give Waterford the lead for the first time.
Kerry worked the ball forward in the final minute, it ended with Paudie Sheehy in a scoring position, but he shot wide. Waterford had taken the most prized scalp imaginable.
Gerry McCarthy, the Waterford goalkeeper, later had a distinguished career as a sports reporter with the Irish Press newspaper. On quiet afternoons in the newsroom, he often regaled us with the story of how the Deise slayed the Kerry dragon. Alas there was no fairy-tale end to the story as Waterford were subsequently beaten by Cork in the Munster final.
2. July 19, 1992, Munster SFC Final, Limerick
Clare 2-10; Kerry 0-12
Matches are won on the field of play. Nonetheless, Clare’s historic achievement owed much to the work of Noel Walsh, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
After years of campaigning, he finally cajoled the Munster Council into introducing an open draw in their provincial football series, which give the minnows a chance of challenging the sharks of Kerry and Cork.
Walsh was also a Clare selector in 1992 but it was their young manager John Maughan who masterminded the famous win.
Clare missed a penalty but goals from Colm Clancy and Martin Daly (inset) sealed a famous win to give Clare their first Munster title since 1917.
The legendary Jack O’Shea retired after the game while the Kerry manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan also stepped down.
3. June 18, 1967, Leinster SFC, Tullamore
Westmeath 1-6; Dublin 0-8
Even though a Dublin side which featured Paddy Cullen and Jimmy Keaveney were not anything like the force they became under Kevin Heffernan in the 1970s, they were still a formidable side.
They were All-Ireland champions just four years previously and had lost to the Galway three-in-row team in the 1967 home league final three weeks’ previously.
Before an attendance of 8,049 Dublin looked set for a routine win, leading 0-5 to 0-2 at the break. But a reshuffled Westmeath dominated the second half and Tom Dolan got the match-winning goal after a sideline from Pat Buckley.
The poverty of the Dublin performance was underlined by the fact that only three of their eight points came from play. Jimmy Keaveney hit 0-5 from frees. Westmeath were beaten by the eventual All-Ireland champions Meath in the provincial final.
4. June 8, 1975, Connacht SFC, Sligo
Sligo 1-13; Galway 0-6
Galway were the ‘Mayo’ of Gaelic football in the first half of the 1970s.
They reached three All-Ireland finals in four seasons between 1971 and 1974 but lost to Offaly (1971), Cork (1973) and Dublin (1974). Nonetheless, they were favourites against a Sligo team still powered by their veteran forward Mickey Kearins.
But what is often forgotten is that Sligo were desperately unlucky not to beat Galway in the 1971 Connacht final. The Tribesmen prevailed by a point in a replay.
The Yeats County finally exacted revenge three years later when they hammered the Tribesmen in Markievicz Park by ten points.
Kearins chipped in with a 0-10 tally while Des Kearins scored the goal. And later that summer Kearins finally secured a much-deserved Connacht championship medal when Sligo beat Mayo in a provincial final replay to lift the Nestor Cup for the first time since 1928.
5. August 11, 1974 All-Ireland SFC semi-final, Croke Park
Dublin 2-11; Cork 1-8
Coached by their goalkeeper Billy Morgan, Cork were the defending All-Ireland champions. After emerging from the wilderness to win their first Leinster title since 1965, Dublin were the underdogs.
There is a story told that a week before the game Jimmy Keaveney was visiting Morgan in his home in Cork. The pair were friends due to a connection between their clubs, St Vincent’s and Nemo Rangers.
Just before Keaveney left, Morgan – who had captained Cork to their All-Ireland win the previous year – showed his guest the Sam Maguire and told him that would be the nearest he would get to it in 1974.
The Dubs, led by Kevin Heffernan, executed a classic football ambush.
Before an attendance of just over 42,000, Dublin blew away the Rebels. Goals from Brian Mullins and the late Anton O’Toole (inset) and an 0-4 return from Keaveney paved the way for a comfortable victory.
In the final against Galway, Dublin captured the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 11 years. And Gaelic football was never the same since.