THE venue for this year’s Connacht final may be novel but it is not unprecedented.
All of 98 years ago the replayed provincial final of 1922 between Galway and Sligo was also contested at Croke Park on the last day of September in 1923.
As was common in those times, the match in question, which was played in late September 1923, related to the previous year’s Championship. In that turbulent era, leading up to and in the years immediately following Independence, Championships were rarely concluded within the years to which they properly belonged.
Objections – and counter-objections – were commonplace then too. Results gained on the field of play were frequently overturned afterwards in the committee room.
Both of these factors were part of the story of the replayed 1922 Connacht final between Galway and Sligo that was contested in Croke Park on the last day of September in 1923.
Sligo had had a close encounter with an objection earlier in that year’s Championship, back in May 1923. They beat Roscommon in the first round but the match was ordered to be replayed, which it was in August.
Sligo beat Roscommon even more emphatically second time around and then got the better of Mayo to qualify for the decider.
Galway, meanwhile, had an easier passage to the final. All that stood in their way were Leitrim and the Tribesmen had three goals to spare over them in their semi-final.
The Connacht final was fixed for Parkmore in Tuam on 2nd September. Sligo won that game, on a scoreline of 3-1 to 1-6, but the report on the game in the Connaught Telegraph hinted strongly that that wouldn’t be the end of the matter. So it proved.
The match report states that a crowd of 2,500 were in attendance at the game, with excursion trains from Sligo and Athenry ferrying large numbers to the venue while “numerous char-à-bancs and motor cars from all parts were full”. The day was “beautifully fine.”
All, however, was not well. The report ominously pronounces that the game “was full of incidents, some unpleasant, and it is said that Galway are appealing.”
As the match report makes clear, one of the grounds for appeal related to two goals scored by Sligo. The first was flagged as a goal by the umpire “but which many spectators believed to be a point.” The second incident revolved around Sligo’s third goal. By now “excitement ran high” and “an ugly incident was seen when a Galway player was struck.” Despite this the play continued and Sligo goaled but this score was also disputed, “it being alleged Colleran was in the parallelogram.”
Sure enough, the result was appealed, with, according to the Connaught Telegraph, six grounds of appeal put forward – Sligo’s failure to submit a list of players five days in advance, no official notice of the match being received, disputed scores, the conduct of players and the “illegality of one member of the Sligo team.”
The report states that at the Connacht Council meeting on 15th September it was determined that both counties were in the wrong and so a replay was ordered.
This was set for Castlerea on 22nd September.
By then, however, matters had become more complicated. Sligo, as Connacht champions, had played and beaten Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final the Sunday after they’d got the better of Galway. They, naturally, now wanted to focus their attention on a first ever All-Ireland final appearance, rather than having to re-litigate matters with Galway.
Sligo took their case to the GAA’s Central Council but, according to the Irish Independent of 22nd September, the decision of the Connacht Council was upheld. Sligo would have to replay the game, which was still fixed for the following day in Castlerea.
But the replay didn’t go ahead then. It did, though, the following Sunday. This time the venue was fixed for Croke Park and in the match report carried afterwards by the Western People comes a clear hint as to why it was switched to GAA HQ.
The reason advanced in the match report was that because the tie now guaranteed the winners a place in the All-Ireland final – much to Tipperary’s chagrin, by the way, as they had argued, unsuccessfully, that should Galway prevail they wanted the All-Ireland semi-final replayed – this elevated the contest to more than a common or garden Connacht final.
Castlerea would have been fine for an ordinary provincial decider but this one, decided the Connacht Council, needed to be settled at Croke Park.
It was and Galway came out the victors, by 2-4 to 2-2. And so Sligo lost their chance to compete in an All-Ireland final, a chance that, almost a century on, has yet to come their way again.
It didn’t end happily for Galway either. The following Sunday they went under to Dublin in the All-Ireland final, losing out by 0-6 to 0-4.
Some may see this as a just outcome, others as just yet another Dublin success.
Plus ça change there.
An edited version of this piece appeared in the Connacht final supplement in this week’s Mayo News – here. The photo at the top is of the Dublin team that defeated Galway in the 1922 final. Dublin was represented in the Championship that year by the O’Toole’s club.