by mariocorrigan on August 25, 2007

Kildare Voice 15 June 2007
Centenary of Kildare’s first All Ireland victory
June 16 1907, a hundred years ago was when Kildare won the first of their four All Ireland titles and an important date in forging the identity of our county.
The first of our four All Ireland football championships was won with the minimum of fuss and with little impact compared with the razzmatazz connected with such occasions nowadays.
The creation of parliamentary constituencies (North and South Kildare both elected one MP to the English House of Commons) and local elections of 1898 had helped initiate something resembling a Kildare identity.
But it was the GAA that elevated our counties something more than lines on a map. And it was the surge of popularity created by Kildare’s performances in four big football matches against Kerry that enabled the GAA to do so, placing it at the heart of popular culture for the first time a century ago.
Three of these matches were played in 1905, for the All Ireland “home” title of 1903 because the chaotic GAA championship ran two years late in those days.
Kildare lost at the third attempt, having filled newspaper columns, special trains, makeshift stands in borrowed agricultural showgrounds, and the coffers of the GAA in the meantime.
The same counties were back playing the 1905 final two years later, on June 16 1907, exactly a hundred years before the launch of this paper.
There was a sense of unfinished business for both counties. The customary wrangle over the venue for the final took three Central Council meetings to resolve. Kildare initially refused to travel to Munster to play and at one stage the title was awarded to Kerry on a walkover.
Eventually they went to Thurles and won, invoking the spirit of Wolfe Tone and his grave in Bodenstown in the dressing room pre match address.
Who were these men? Writing the Centenary History of the GAA in Kildare I tried to encounter them through the memories of half a dozen or so old men who had witnessed some of those games.
None of the players were alive, and a bit like a boy in a Dickens story, I started with an evening visit to Mainham graveyard to imagine their football heroism through tombstone inscriptions.
The graveyard analogy was apt. These were solid men who did something today’s heroes would love to emulate.
Was it easier then? Probably. Fewer counties competed. Ulster was a pushover. When Kildare played the semi-final some of the selected Cavan team did not show up and a newspaper columnist concluded "Cavan would not even win the junior championship of Kildare.”
Dublin and Kerry were Kildare’s only real opponents. Kildare’s own club structure was undergoing a bit of a revivial, new clubs were springing up all over the flatlands, but the experience of the men of Newbridge Sarsfields, or rather their predecessors Roseberry, and Clane meant those clubs dominated the local championship.
A bit like the way Munster’s forwards and Leinster’s backs make up the current Irish rugby team, the two clubs balanced each other out to make up the winning 17 – the 15 a side game was not introduced until 1913.
Joe Rafferty, the captain and mentor of 1903 was in command of operations from midfield, and he apparently picked his 17 with breath-taking simplicity, Roseberry men in the backs, Clane men in the forwards.
The trains to Thurles stopped at stations along the Kildare line that have long been closed. Some of the spectators still had excitement in their voices as they recalled the crush of that journey.
Trains were cheap but wages were low. It could cost most of a labourer’s salary to get there and back. We can estimate that 15,000 showed up, not much more than a county final nowadays.
A telephone was used for the first time to send the result back to ecstatic Kildare. Bonfires were lit at the crossroads so the returning spectators saw the heather blazing in the midsummer light.
We don’t know much about the game itself. Newspapers credit Kildare’s victory on their wing play with a newcomer Tom Kelly the apparent star of the show.
The ball was heavier in those days and football, if the rules of the time were followed, was more likely a pushing game than the high fielding propulsion game we have today.
Kildare lost the toss. But when Kerry chose to play against the breeze Kildare went 0-6 to 0-1 up at half-time and never lost the lead.
Joe Rafferty’s "deft punching" caused havoc at centre-field and Kildare got the game’s only goal when Jack Connolly hit the crossbar, only to power his own rebound over the line "after a few minutes of life-and-death struggle."
The heroes dispersed, many of them to America. Fractious relationships with their employers made the prospects of a life abroad very appealing.
It always struck me as ironic that while Kildare’s two premier fee-paying boys boarding schools, Clongowes and Dominican Newbridge, sent rugby teams to the fields cheered on by the middle classes, the college farmhands were virtually inventing Gaelic Football as we know it in borrowed rugby jerseys.
None of them thought that a hundred years later the GAA would be loaning its stadium back to rugby.
Goalkeeper: Jack Fitzgerald (Roseberry);
Full back line Jack Murray (Roseberry), Jack Gorman (Roseberry), Larry Cribben;
Half back line Tom Keogh (Roseberry), William Merriman, Ned Kennedy 0-3 (Roseberry);
Midfielders Mick Fitzgerald (Roseberry), Joe Rafferty, Mick Murray (Roseberry), Jack Connolly 1-0 (Roseberry); 
Half forwards: Jem Scott, Bill Bracken, Matt Donnelly;
Full forward line Bill "Steel" Losty 0-2, Tom Kelly, Frank "Joyce" Conlan 0-1 (Roseberry).
Key dates
1884 John Wyse Power, editor of Leinster Leader, among seven men who found the GAA in Thurles
1887 Kildare GAA board established under chairmanship of Dr William O’Connor.
1900 GAA in Kildsre revived by Dick Radley
1905 Kildare reach All Ireland final of 1903 and are defeated by kerry
19078 Kildare defeat Kerry to win first of four All Ireland titles

Eoghan Corry comments on early GAA success for County Kildare from his weekly column in the Kildare Voice. Our thanks to Eoghan.

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