The first All-Ireland football final was played in 1887 but, it took sixteen years for Kerry to win their first title in 1903. By then, Dublin had won eight finals and within forty years Kerry had surpassed them, and now hold a comfortable lead. For the first twenty years club teams represented their respective counties after winning the county championship in the All-Ireland series. Kerry’s first All-Ireland championship was in 1892 when the Laune Rangers, captained by J.P. O’Sullivan were beaten by Dublin in a controversial final. Football participation in Kerry declined in the 1890s because of economic depression, mass emigration and young men playing “foreign games”. But in 1903 an effort was made in the county to revive gaelic football. Kerry player and secretary of the county board Austin Stack suggested that the county team shouldn’t be just club representatives and said they should select the best players in the county. So the 1903 team comprised of 8 players from the strong Tralee Mitchels club, 6 from Dr Crokes, 2 Castleisland and 1 from Cahirsiveen. For the 1903 season there were 17 players on a team, whereas before 1892 a team had 21 players and in 1913 the number on a team was reduced to 15 players. Kerry began their championship run in June 1903 by beating Waterford, Clare and Cork to win their second Munster final 1-7 to 0-4 in October. In the semi-final Kerry easily beat Mayo 2-7 to 0-4 to advance to the “Home Final”.

July 23, 1905 saw the first of a three game epic All-Ireland final with Kildare in Thurles. Unfortunately this game did not finish after Kerry supporters invaded the pitch before the end of the game and it had to be replayed. These games were an instant success attracting huge numbers to witness fast, skillful, and attractive football. The replay was a titanic battle fought on the hallowed turf of the Athletic Grounds in Cork on August 27, 1905. A record 12,000 fans watched as it ended in a draw. The third and deciding game on the banks of the Lee was played on Oct 15, 1905. The Kerry team was the comfortable winner of the Home Final with a score of 8-2 over Kildare. The game was enjoyed by over 20,000 fans and the GAA was now coming of age. In the early 1900s there was an Away Final. The All-Ireland champions played the All-England champions. The English football representatives were London Hibernians captained by Sam Maguire. The game was played in Jones Road now Croke Park on November 12, 1905. 10,000 watched as John McCarty of Kilkenny refereed the game. Kerry won 11-3 for their first All-Ireland senior football championship. Kerry played four games to get to the final and played four All-Ireland finals to decide the eventual winners. Kerry, captained by Austin Stack, beat Dublin in the All-Ireland championship in July 1906. It was Kerry’s first time beating Dublin in championship football. Kildare won the final in June 1907, taking another two years to run off the championship. In the 1905 final, Kerry wore red jerseys with green cuffs and green collars, the colours of Tralee Mitchels. Kildare, the Lily Whites, wore their traditional all white uniform. They even painted their boots white.

The captain of the 1903 Kerry team was Thady Gorman Tralee and he played along side his twin brother James, they were the first twins to play in an All-Ireland final. J.P. O’Sullivan was the trainer of that Kerry team, which included the great Dick Fitzgerald after whom the stadium in Killarney is named for. Also on that team was Austin Stack whose name was given to the stadium in Tralee and at the Killorglin football field there is a monument dedicated to J.P. O’Sullivan. This is great recognition for three great men who were essential to the team that won Kerry its first All-Ireland title. The Kildare players were recognised by the Central Council of the GAA and were presented with a set of gold medals in recognition of these three encounters with Kerry. Sam Maguire, who played with London in the Away Final in 1903, died in 1927 and is remembered as the eponym of the Sam Maguire Cup, given to the All-Ireland Senior Champions of Gaelic football. Sam was first presented to All-Ireland football winners Kildare in 1928. More about Sam Maguire can be found on his wikipedia page.

No big trophies in 1903 but, your first win is special, so these trailblazers, pioneers and ground breakers take a special place in football history. It is important that we do not allow Kerry’s first All-Ireland victory to be lost in the realms of mythology. Ciarrai Abu!

We salute the team of 1903: T Gorman (Captain), J. Gorman, D. Curran, M. McCarty, J. Buckley, C. Healy. J.T. Fitzgerald, A. Stack, D. Fitzgerald, P. Dillon, W. Lynch, D.McCarty, J. Myers, D. Kissane, D. Breen, F. O’Sullivan and from Renard Point in Cahirsiveen, E. J. O’Neill.


Here is an extract from a poem written in praise of our 1903 team.

They conquered brave Limerick, Tipperary and Clare,
The boys of old Cork and Waterford fair,
And they dealt a hard blow to the men of Kildare,
And to the exiles of London who came.
They are champions of Leinster and Ulster we know,
They are champions of Ireland wherever they go.
“Up Kerry” is true to their name.

Anon

These are the medals given to 1903 team member, E.J.O’Neill.

A Kerry Dublin All-Ireland Final is the stuff dreams are made of, especially over the past forty years. When they meet in the replay of the 2019 All-Ireland final it will be their 15th encounter in an All-Ireland final since the formation of the GAA. To date Kerry lead eight titles to Dublin’s five and they have drawn once in 2019. With regards to the total number of All-Ireland’s won, Kerry’s lead is 37 to Dublin’s 28 titles. The winners of the replay will have one more win, bringing their combined total to 66 wins. This is the 132nd All-Ireland and Dublin and Kerry hold as many titles as the rest of the other counties added together. Kerry has the lost most finals with 22, and Dublin has lost 13. The All-Ireland football final has ended level 14 times since 1894 when Dublin and Cork ended on parity. Kerry have been involved in 8 of those draws, going on to win 5 and loosing 3. First to Galway in 1938 and then in 1972 to Offaly and now this one on Saturday. The 5 replays they have won go back to 1913 when they beat Wexford, 1926 Kildare, 1937 Cavan, 1946 Roscommon and they beat Galway in 2000 in the first All-Ireland to be played on a Saturday evening. An All-Ireland football final has never gone to a second replay unlike the hurling final in 1931 when it took Cork 3 games to conquer Kilkenny. Football has gone through an evolution since its inception. Up to 1892 a team consisted of 21 players then reduced to 17 and from 1913 15 players have made up a team. In the early days a goal outweighed any number of points, back then a goal was equivalent to 5 points and since 1896 a goal is 3 points. County champions at the beginning represented their county in the All-Ireland series. We have had the 60, 80, and now the 70 minute finals. Kerry’s Brendan Lynch has the distinction of winning an All-Ireland medal in all 3. Winning an All-Ireland championship is the ultimate honour and sometimes it is linked with a memorable incident. Something is linked with the match that helps you remember it more clearly, like memory by association. The 1947 Polo Grounds final, the 1975 Kerry bachelors final, the 1982 Seamus Darby final, the 1983 twelve man Dubs team that beat fourteen man Galway final, and now the “drive for five” final. In 1946 the All-Ireland was delayed to allow farmers to save the crops due to a wet summer, it is known as the “Save the Harvest” final. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease delayed the game in 1941, and 1948 was the year of the “Big Wind”, it was a game of two halves due to strong winds. The 1961 Down versus Offaly had an attendance of 91,000 officially but estimates put it at almost 100,000 unofficially. In 1962 Kerry’s Gary MacMahon scored the fastest goal in an All-Ireland after 35 seconds. The newly named Sam Maguire Cup was presented to the champions for the first time in 1928. In 1910 the “Walk Over” final when Kerry refused to travel to Dublin to play Louth because the railway company refused to sell tickets to Kerry fans at a reduced rate. At the 1957 hurling final, actor John Gregson paraded with the Kilkenny team before playing Waterford as part of his role as a GAA player in the film Rooney. At the 1946 hurling final Jack Lynch won his sixth consecutive All-Ireland medal. Wexford beat the Cork hurlers in 1956 and as a gesture of good sportsmanship Wexford shouldered Cork’s outstanding player, Christy Ring, off the field. Both finals were delayed that year due to an outbreak of polio. After a memorable hurling final between Kilkenny and Cork in 1939 in serious weather, the game is called the ” Thunder and Lightning” final. Two days after Germany had invaded Poland and hours after England declared war on Germany to start World War II. The 1995 Clare team won the hurling championship after 81 years. The hurling final in 1937 was played in Killarney. In 1901 London won the All-Ireland championship and back in 1891 Kerry were crowned hurling champions. On a sad note Galway won in 1964 and as captain John Donnellan was receiving the Sam Maguire cup his father died of heart failure in the stadium. Another death linked with an All-Ireland was in 1926 when Cahirsiveen’s Jack Murphy died of pneumonia within a few weeks after putting on his clothes over his wet playing gear. When the Kerry team came out on the field for the 1924 All-Ireland final they knelt and prayed on the spot where Michael Hogan was shot on “Bloody Sunday”, November 21, 1921. The Hogan Stand was built and named in his honour in 1924. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the Kerry team knelt and prayed in front of Hill 16 before they play Dublin next weekend.