Across Europe in the late 19th century popular pastimes were becoming formally structured spectator sports. Many of the sporting organisations had a broader cultural, imperial or national purpose.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, in 1884, when Michael Cusack convened the first meeting of the ‘Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes’ at Hayes’s Hotel. The objectives of the Association were to promote Irish identity, to give control of Irish athletics to Irish people, to end class divisions in Irish sports and to revive indigenous football, hurling and athletics.
Still a dominant force in Irish sporting, cultural and social life, the GAA played an influential role in the Irish cultural renaissance of the late nineteenth century and in Ireland’s struggle to re-establish its own political, linguistic and cultural identity.
Gaelic football is played by two teams of 15 players each on a rectangular pitch. The goalposts are the same shape as in rugby, with the crossbar lower than in rugby and slightly higher than in soccer. The ball can be carried in the hand for a distance of four steps and can be kicked or “hand-passed”, a striking motion with the hand or fist. After every four steps the ball must be either bounced or “soloed”, by dropping the ball onto the foot and kicking it back into the hand. You may not bounce the ball twice in a row. To score you must put the ball over the crossbar for one point or under the crossbar and into the net for a goal, the latter being the equivalent of three points.
First contested in 1887, the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is the premier competition in Gaelic football. Historically, the counties in each of the four provinces – Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster – played each other on a knockout basis and the four provincial winners met in the semi-finals. As in the past, the final is played in Croke Park, Dublin, on the third or fourth Sunday in September with the winners receiving the much-coveted Sam Maguire Cup.
Made of silver, the Sam Maguire Cup is modelled on the 8th century Ardagh Chalice. Simply called “Sam”, it is named after Sam Maguire, a Cork man who was a key figure in the GAA in London in the early 1900s. The original cup was first presented to Kildare in 1928. It was retired in 1987 and replaced by an exact copy.
Situated in North Dublin, Croke Park or “Croker” is the principal stadium and headquarters of the GAA. The GAA bought the site at Jones’ Road in 1913 and named it in honour of Archbishop Croke, one of the its first patrons. Redeveloped between 1993 and 2003, the stadium has a capacity of 82,300 making it the third largest sporting stadium in Europe, and the largest not primarily used for soccer.
There is an All-Ireland in this Galway team ran the headline of a Gaelic Weekly article the week after Galway lost to Dublin in the All-Ireland final in 1963. In fact, there were three successive All-Irelands in that Galway team!
From the early 1960s, the GAA was thriving, especially with television adding pictures (Black and White) to the famous voice of Mícheál O’Hehir whose radio commentaries had brought the big matches into the kitchens of the country from 1938 on.
A youthful Galway team lost the 1963 All-Ireland final to Dublin, and the 1967 Connacht semi-final to Mayo. In between, they won three successive All-Ireland finals, the 1964-65 National League and the 1966-67 “home” League final. In the process they captured the hearts of GAA fans everywhere. Under the guidance of John (“Tull”) Dunne, Brendan Nestor and Frank Stockwell, the Galway team developed a distinctive style, a fast, skilful, quick-passing game with methodical support play, especially in attack, and they also brought a new dimension to how GAA teams togged out and conducted themselves in public: Galway always looked fashionably neat and stylish; they were fiercely competitive by nature but they still managed to look like they were enjoying themselves; their enthusiasm was infectious, and huge crowds flocked to see them.
It was a magical time for youngsters taken by their parents to Connacht finals in Tuam and Castlebar, and on All-Ireland Final days Maroon and White flags were seen waving all around Croke Park.”