Action replay: Reeling in the championships of yesteryear

As we prepare to throw in on another summer this weekend, Oli Skehan reflects on the hurling and football championships of 10 years ago. And those of 20, 30… you get the picture.

John Leahy in full flight in the 1991 final against Kilkenny.
John Leahy in full flight in the 1991 final against Kilkenny.
Image: Inpho

1971 All-Ireland Championship


Tipperary 5-17 Kilkenny 5-14

Despite the fact 1969 winners Tipperary and 1968 runners-up Kilkenny were the two teams on show, the 1971 All-Ireland final saw the smallest crowd at Croke Park since 1958, thanks in part to the match being televised in colour for the first time.

Tipperary had laboured in their semi-final defeat over Galway, with Michael ‘Babs’ Keating getting 2-12 out of their impressive tally of 3-26. A strong second-half display by the Cats saw them past London in the other semi-final after they had beaten Wexford on a remarkable scoreline of 6-16 to 3-16 in the Leinster final. Down south, the Munster final also saw 41 scores as Tipperary scraped over the line against form team Limerick in Killarney – 4-16 to 3-18.

Kilkenny’s Eddie Keher broke the scoring record in an All-Ireland final on that fateful September day but the Rower-Inistioge clubman’s remarkable haul of 2-11 was not enough to see the Cats over the line as Roger Ryan’s two-goal salvo and Dinny Ryan’s famous late goal proved decisive.

Many remember that when Sean Treacy’s most famous son turned away to celebrate, he suddenly went down injured. The recently-retired legend of broadcasting, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, often joked that ‘little Dinny’ that day invented the hamstring.


Offaly 1-14 Galway 2-8

Offaly were appearing in their third All-Ireland final and their second in three years. The men from the west were back at Croke Park on the third Sunday in September for the first time since winning the three-in-a-row five years beforehand.

The Midlanders, who lost out to Munster champions Kerry in 1969, were widely acknowledged as a coming team and had seen off the challenge of a highly-rated Cork side in the semi-final on a 1-16 to 1-11 scoreline with the Faithful County’s power in the middle proving the difference.

Galway’s speed, work rate and tight defence enable them to account for Down in the last four and they went in as favourites with their minds focused on winning an eight All-Ireland title.

However, it was not to be as the woodcutter from Walsh Island, Willie Bryan, led Offaly to the promised land for the first time.

Winning is a habit and an exceptional Offaly side followed up that success a year later when they beat Kerry in a replay – 1-19 to 0-13.

1981 All-Ireland Championship


[caption id="attachment_136056" align="aligncenter" width="630" caption="Galway's John Connolly gets past Eugene Coughlan of Offaly in the 1981 decider. "][/caption]

Offaly 2-12 Galway 0-15

This was a significant year in the championship with Offaly becoming the first county in 43 years to make a debut appearance in an All-Ireland final. Having retained the Leinster title they won so sensationally the previous year, the Midlanders, led by Padraig Horan of St Rynagh’s, faced reigning champions Galway, who bridged a 57-year gap the previous September, in the hurling decider.

Making it even more significant for Offaly was the county’s chance of winning a hurling and football double – a feat not achieved since the turn of the century.

As it transpired, a decade after the footballers had brought All-Ireland success to the Faithful County for the first time, the hurlers did likewise in front of a bumper crowd of 71,348.

Offaly defeated Wexford in the provincial decider and went into the final fresh while their opponents needed two bites of the cherry before seeing off Munster champions Limerick.

Goals from Pat Carroll and John Flaherty, who both went on to win All Stars, turned the game in Offaly’s favour and triggered scenes of unbridled joy on the hallowed Croke Park sod.


Kerry 1-12 Offaly 0-8

A fortnight after the Offaly hurlers had created their own piece of history by winning their first All-Ireland crown, the county’s footballers squared up to Munster kingpins Kerry in the football decider – the first great rivalry of the decade.

Nine years had passed since the counties last met in a final and that was only settled after a replay – Offaly came out on top and in the process recorded back-to-back All-Ireland wins.

A year earlier, the Midlanders, spearheaded by the incomparable Matt Connor, never gave up in their pursuit of the champions in a vibrant, high-scoring last four encounter.

With Leinster retained and Down accounted for in the semi-final, Offaly looked like a team capable of applying the lessons learned but it was not to be as Kerry went on to record only the third four-in-a-row in football history.

Inspired by the driving presence of Jack O’Shea, the men from the Kingdom, who put Connacht champions Roscommon to the sword a month earlier, proved too strong for their Leinster counterparts and ran out seven point winners with the colossus that was O’Shea netting for the aristrocrats of football.

The elusive five-in-a-row never came to pass. Seamus Darby will fill you in.

1991 All-Ireland Championship


Tipperary 1-16 Kilkenny 0-15

The 1991 All-Ireland hurling final was the first championship decider between great rivals Tipperary and Kilkenny in 18 years. Michael ‘Babs’ Keating’s men were looking to take Liam MacCarthy back to the home of hurling for the second time in three years following their demolition of surprise finalists Antrim in 1989.

The Premier County went into the showdown on the first day of September as firm favourites, having come through a replay with reigning All-Ireland champions Cork to win the Munster title, followed by a routine win over Galway at the semi-final stage.

Kilkenny, however, had only progressed after a far from convincing two-point win over Dublin in the provincial final and a laboured win over Ulster champions Antrim in the last four. A fairly lacklustre final ensued and Michael ‘Skippy’ Cleary’s mis-hit 21-yard free, which found its way into Michael Walsh’s goal swung the game in Tipperary’s favour and the Munster outfit, led by Holycross-Ballycahill clubman, Declan Carr, held on for a four-point success.

Improbable though it may have seemed, it would take Tipperary 10 years to win another All-Ireland title.


Down 1-16 Meath 1-14

An enthralling season of football reached its climax at Croke Park on the third Sunday in September. Meath were playing their 10th match of the season following their epic four-match saga with Dublin in the first round of the Leinster championship while Down, fresh from becoming the first Ulster county to defeat Munster opponents in the championship since 1961, were contesting their first football final since 1968.

Kerry were Down’s opponents in that final, 23 years previous, and the Kingdom were, once again, the team that fell to Pete McGrath’s men in the semi-final stage 23 years on. For their part, Meath, under the guidance of Sean Boylan, had won the All-Ireland in 1987 and 1988, and lost the 1990 decider to Cork. The two sides had clashed in the league final a year earlier, with the Royal County coming away with a 2-7 to 0-11 victory.

Two points proved to be the margin again this time around. Barry Breen’s goal pushed his side 11 points clear with 20 minutes to play and despite a late Meath surge, instigated by Liam Hayes, the Mourne men clung on with Paddy O’Rourke collecting the prize from fellow Ulsterman and then president of the GAA, Peter Quinn.

Down’s exploits acted as a catalyst for Ulster teams’ domination, with the province winning four All-Ireland crowns in a row – Donegal in 1992, Derry a year later and Down again in 1994.

2001 All-Ireland Championship


Tipperary 2-18 Galway 2-15

The Premier County got their hands on the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the 25th time following a three-point win over Galway in the hurling decider on 9 September.

Led by Toomevara’s Tommy Dunne, who contributed 0-5 to Tipperary’s final tally, and managed by Tipperary legend Nicky English, the Munster kingpins were pushed to a replay by Wexford in the semi-final before advancing to the final where a brace of goals from Kilruane’s Mark O’Leary set the men from Tipperary on their way.

Galway, who beat Derry at the quarter-final stage, had got the better of reigning All-Ireland and Leinster champions Kilkenny in the other semi-final but that proved to be as good as it got for the Tribesmen as their 13-year wait for a 5th All-Ireland hurling title continued.

In contrast, it was a year to remember for Tipperary, who had collected their 18th league title at Clare’s expense just over four months earlier before going on to narrowly beat the same opposition in the Munster semi-final en route to a two-point defeat of Limerick in the provincial decider at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.


Galway 0-17 Meath 0-8

Galway upset the formbook in 2001 as they brushed aside the challenge of Leinster champions Meath in the All-Ireland football final. All 15 Galway players were heroes on the day but man-of-the-match Padraic Joyce, who produced an indifferent display in the opening 35 minutes, effectively proved to be the difference after the break – his tally of 0-10 a remarkable return on the biggest stage of all.

The Tribesmen, managed by Mayo native John O’Mahony, had beaten Derry by three points at the semi-final stage and prior to that had got the better of rivals and neighbours Roscommon, who had knocked Galway out of the Connacht championship at the quarter-final stage, in the last eight.

Wicklow, Armagh and Cork had been Galway’s victims in the qualifiers, in its first year, but their circuitous route to Croke Park on September 23 proved worthwhile as Gary Fahy became the ninth Galway man to lift Sam Maguire.

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About the author:

Oli Skehan

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