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The Glorious Thirties . . . Sport

Graiguecullen

The Glorious Thirties . . . Sport

This article appeared in the Kildare Nationalist: Friday, December 31, 1999


When Joe ‘Rexie’ McDonald led Laois out on to the field for the 1936 Leinster S.F.C. final the Graiguecullen man was hoping to become the first Laois man in 47 years to collect the Provincial Cup.

Not since 1889 had the O’Moore County won the Eastern title but the high standard of club football in Laois - the Graiguecullen-Stradbally rivalry was at it’s height - gave reason to harbour high hopes.

A workmanlike display was enough to pip Offaly 2-7 to 1-7 in the semi-final but the then provincial kingpins, Kildare, were warm favourites to win the final. It is reckoned that the inside knowledge on Kildare provided by Portlaoise based Garda, Tom Keogh, was a vital factor in Laois’ famous 3-3 to 0-8 success.

Keogh, who had won All-Ireland and Leinster medals with Kildare, lined out at full-forward for Laois, and almost destroyed his native county single handed. When Kildare had amassed a painstaking lead he struck back with a goal before half-time that made it 0-4 to 1-1. Then, in the last quarter, he set up a goal for Reilly and scored a third himself from Reilly’s pass a minutes later. To rub salt in Kildare wounds Keogh, who had lined out with the Lily-whites in the previous years All-Ireland final, kicked the final two points.

That Leinster final started the Golden era of Laois football as a team, powered by the Delaney’s, won three Provincial titles in a row and won the admiration of the country in trying to win their first All-Ireland title.

If victory over Kildare had made people sit up and notice, then the All-Ireland semi-final triumph over Cavan turned the Laois players into household names. Big Tom O’Reilly of Cornafean was captain of a confident Cavan team but at the end of an engrossing All-Ireland semi-final it was the O’Moore County who emerged thoroughly deserving winners, the 2-6 to 1-5 scoreline not doing justice to their dominance.

It all went wrong for Laois in the All-Ireland final as on the fourth Sunday of September they travelled to Croke Park having left their form of earlier games behind them in the Midlands. 4-11 to 0-3 is the ugly scoreline from a forgettable game.

Laois: J. McDonnell (captain), T. Delaney (goal), T. Delaney, J. Brennan, T. O’Brien, P. Swayne, D. Walsh, C. Delaney, W. Delaney, D. Douglas, J. Delaney, M. Delaney, T. Keogh, J. Keating, J. O’Reilly. Subs: J. Moran.

1937 - Back-to-back, the ‘Boy Wonder’ and Controversy

All the talk in subsequent years of the 1937 All-Ireland semi-final and replay with Kerry, the Tommy Murphy controversy and disquiet over the venues chosen for those games, has tended to overshadows Laois accomplishment in putting two Leinster titles back-to-back.

Confidence was fragile following the All-Ireland failure and Laois were lucky to scrape a draw with Offaly in the opening round. It took two late O’Moore goals to beat the Faithful County in the replay. Kildare were overcome again in the semi-final, the 2-8 to 1-3 victory being credited to slick hand-passing play, while Louth were decisively beaten 0-12 to 0-4 in the Leinster final.

So to the infamous 1937 All-Ireland semi-final and the arrival on the national scene of the ‘boy wonder’, Tommy Murphy of Graiguecullen. Just 16 years of age the Knockbeg college student was to go on to become one of the greatest footballers of all time - being picked this year at mid-field on the football team of the millennium.

A crowd of 14,000 witnessed a rousing game in Cork, a late Danny Douglas point earning Laois a draw, the Leinster champions totalling 1-6, the Kingdom 2-3.

The replay in Waterford - another Munster venue - on August 29th is hotly debated to this day. At the end of a lively first half Kerry were 1-1 to 0-1 to the good. Immediately on the re-start Bill Delaney placed Tommy Murphy who scored a dynamite goal with a perfectly directed left-footed pile-driver.

Laois struck the front when Tom Keogh angled over a lovely point and Mick Haughney tacked on another. With Laois in the ascendancy, Danny Douglas, with 10 minutes remaining put the O’Moore’s three points up. As he did Tommy Murphy, who had been playing extremely well, was ‘grounded’ in a deliberate fashion and to the anger and dismay of the Laois supporters was forced to retire due to the injury incurred.

Tim ‘Roundy’ Landers blazed home the levelling goal for Kerry and before the final whistle M. Lyne swung over the winning point. The 2-2 to 1-4 scoreline tells a tale of Laois heartbreak but they were glorious in defeat and but for the departure of the ‘Boy Wonder’ it is felt the Leinster champions would have prevailed.

Laois: M. Farrell; J. Brennan, T. Delaney, D. Walsh; C. Delaney, M. Delaney, J. Slater; W. Delaney, J. Delaney (captain); D. Douglas, T. Murphy, P. Swayne; M. Haughney, T. Keogh, J. McDarby. Sub: S. Harkin.

The Kingdom went on to win the All-Ireland title beating Cavan 4-4 to 1-7 in a final replay.

The ‘37 semi-final saga had a sporting epilogue. The 1937 All-Ireland finalists were invited to play exhibition games in the United States but Kerry, unable to fulfil the invitation, readily nominated the vanquished heroes from Laois to make the trip.

20 players, accompanied by Co. Chairman, Lar Brady and team manager, Jack Delaney, set sail from Cobh on the SS Manhattan on May 7th, 1938. Laois drew with Cavan 1-4 to 0-7 before in the ‘big apple’ before trouncing the Ulster champions 3-6 to 0-4 in the second game. Laois returned home to a great reception and the Cups won in the U.S.A. were presented to Stradbally (Jameson International Cup) and Graiguecullen (Tom Healy Challenge Cup).

1938 - Three-in-a-row

Following the experience of sailing to America and razzmatazz of New York, it was back mundane but more important Leinster S.F.C.

A narrow 2-5 to 2-2 victory over Louth gave cause for concern but then Meath were blitzed by double scores, 4-6 to 2-3 in the semi-final. Old rivals Kildare provided the final opposition and Laois again played some fine football in beating the Lily whites 2-8 to 1-3. A notable three-in-a-row had been annexed by the men in blue and white.

Croke Park was the setting for the All-Ireland semi-final on August 21 and once again it was the mighty men of the Kingdom who stood between Laois and another All-Ireland final appearance.

It was level at the break, 0-4 apiece, but a third quarter burst from Kerry, which yielded 2-2 was a severe body blow to the Leinster champions. Laois mounted a strong rally and goals from McDarby and Begley reduced the arrears to just two points but time ran out for Laois.

2-6 to 2-4 told another story of so near but yet so far. Laois: M. Farrell; T. Walsh, T. Delaney, D. Walsh; R. Scully, M. Delaney, J. Slater; B. Delaney, T. Murphy; D. Douglas, C. Delaney, J. Delaney (captain); E. Begley, J. McDarby, M. Haughney.

It was the end of the line, too, for the great team of the 30’s who relinquished their Leinster title the following year. The team were also famous for the inclusion of six Delaney’s, the full-back Tom, his four nephews, Jack, Mick, Chris and Bill, and ‘36 goalkeeper Tom, who was not related to the other five.

Yes, the Delaney’s and Tommy Murphy almost powered Laois to the pinnacle, the outstanding Laois football achievement of the millennium.


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