The first time I saw Gaelic Games being played was not in Croke Park or even in Ireland. I was introduced to them when I was still at primary school and I got the opportunity to visit England’s bastion of soccer, Wembley Stadium in North London. So tonight I was delighted to watch highlights on television of London’s narrow victory over Leitrim in the Connacht senior football semi-final.
The Londoners, a team made up mainly of exiles like Shane Mulligan from Aghabog in County Monaghan, will meet Mayo in the provincial final on July 21st, the first time they have managed such an achievement.
You can see how significant it is from the London GAA Roll of Honour up to today:-
Junior Football (6 titles)
1938 – Leitrim (5-7 to 2-9)
1966 – Cork (1-6 to 0-8)
1969 – Wicklow (3-12 to 1-11)
1970 – Kildare (1-12 to 0-9)
1971 – Dublin (1-9 to 0-9)
1986 – Cork (1-9 to 0-7)
Liam McCarthy was on London’s very first County Committee holding the position of Treasurer. The following year McCarthy became Secretary before assuming the position of President (now Chairperson) in 1898, a position he held for the next 9 years. 1898 also saw Liam McCarthy nominated as a Vice-President of the Association. In 1906 McCarthy stood down as President before returning to the position in 1906 and serving until 1911. McCarthy commissioned the manufacturing of a trophy which he offered to Croke Park and which was gratefully accepted. The trophy now bears his name and is awarded annually to the winners of the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
Sam Maguire served alongside Liam McCarthy as Vice-President from 1902 until 1906. Maguire was an active player during this period and had the honour of captaining London against the All Ireland champions in 1903. Sam Maguire held the position of President in 1907 and again in 1908, stepping down in 1909 before returning to the position in 1912 and serving until 1915. After his death in 1927 a cup was designed and presented to the GAA, who presented it to the winner of the All Ireland Senior Football Champions for the first time in 1928.
The first Wembley Games were in 1958. On the website of An Fear Rua I found a report of the hurling match that year between then All-Ireland champions Kilkenny and Clare and the following year between Cork and Kilkenny:-
NEWSPAPER REPORT FROM MAY 31st 1958
KILKENNY ON TOP AT WEMBLEY: PITCH TOO SHORT FOR OLLIE WALSH
KILKENNY 6-10 CLARE 5-07
The long clearances of Kilkenny’s ace goalie, Ollie Walsh has been a prominent factor in the fast rise to fame of the young Thomastown wonder, but few hurling followers expected to see the day when his strokes would prove too lengthy for one of the World’s leading arenas. Yet this was what happened at London’s famous Wembley Stadium on Saturday, when Kilkenny beat Clare by 6-10 to 5-07 in the first ever hurling match at the headquarters of soccer, rugby league and numerous other sports. It was fitting that the first sample of hurling outside London’s GAA pitches should be provided by Kilkenny traditional masters of the game. According to reports, leading British sports critics wee very impressed with the game and although the attendance of 33,240 in a ground capable of taking over 100,000 was not al that might have been expected, the secretary of the London county board stated that he felt they would almost certainly put up two games again at Wembley next Whit Sunday. Ollie Walsh’s long pucking, and the equally long strokes of Clare’s Mick Hayes, on the 120 yard plus had a definite effect on the trend of the play and the scoring. An inordinate amount of work was thrown on the rival defences while the midfielder got little scope to figure prominently in the game. Consequently the high scoring – eleven goals was not a reflection on the respective defences, as it might seem, but was mainly due to the shortness of the pitch. The game finished in a crescendo of cheering. The atmosphere was super charged with excitement in the last quarter as Clare, inspired by a devastating Jimmy Smyth, made an all out bid for victory. The tempo, always fact, quickly mounted and the last eight or ten minutes were played at fever pitch. Scores were level three times in the first half and, although Kilkenny forged ahead on the resumption when backed by the considerable cold wind, there was always the possibility that the Munster men would catch them, if not regain the lead, The starts of Kilkenny’s triumph were Ollie Walsh, James Walsh, Tom Walsh – who had one of his best games to date – Johnny McGovern, Sean Clohessy – who was back top his best form, scoring three goals – and Denis Heaslip. Best of the Clare side were Jimmy Smyth, who hit the high spots after an inconspicuous first half, Naoise Jordan, Michael Hayes, who challenged Ollie Walsh for goalkeeping honours; Dermot Sheedy, Johnny Purcell and Gerry Ryan.
TEAMS: KILKENNY O Walsh T Walsh J Walsh J Maher P Buggy M Walsh J McGovern J Sutton M Brophy D Heaslip M Kenny J Murphy S Clohessy W Dwyer M Fleming CLARE M Hayes J Purcell D Hoey B Burke B Dilger D Sheedy M Blake N Deasy M Lynch J Smith M Nugent M Dilger P Kirby G Ryan W Jordan
WEMBLEY 1959 CORK 7-09 KILKENNY 3-08
Remember Whit Sunday 1959, because it marked a very rare occasion on the calendar of hurling events – the day Cork, for once, didn’t need Christy Ring. More frequently than not the Glen Rovers genius id indispensable in a Cork hurling team and the history of hurling championships is liberally sprinkled with the occasions on which Ring was in fact, Cork. When Cork lined out at sunny Wembley Stadium yesterday, 38-tear-old Ring was absent because of a shoulder-injury which prevent him from making the trip to London. But for this occasion it transpired that Cork could do without Christy Ring because they had Paddy Barry in their attack. And this veteran of many a championship campaign created havoc in the Kilkenny defence. A WARNING FOR TIPPERARY: Barry’s hurley was a lethal instrument of devastation, and from the centre-half-forward position he inspired this splendid Cork victory. which stands out as a warning for Tipperary that their Munster and All Ireland titles are in jeopardy. Here was a solid Cork defence, and it withstood the most adventurous attacks that Kilkenny could launch. Backed by brilliant Mick Cashman in goal, Gerald Mulcahy, Jimmy Brogan, Phil Duggan and Martin Thompson performed superbly. And from a mastery midfield partnership of Eamon Goulding and Noel Gallagher went with a steady supply of the ball which eager forwards like Barry, Willie Walsh and Noel O’Connell converted into score after score. Kilkenny went down fighting and their continued pressure in the second – half contributed greatly to a fast and hectic second period. Place no blame on Ollie Walsh, last year’s Wembley hero, who made some splendid saves, despite the seven which beat him. Mick Walsh who retired towards the end of the day with a slight ankle injury, Mick Fleming and Mickey Kelly were also prominent.
According to 100 Years of London GAA, County Board Chairman in 1958 Fr. Tom McNamara was the man who got the games of hurling and Gaelic Football to this magnificent arena. A Cork man, Fr McNamara knew that not only would this be great publicity for the game but that it would help the finances of the County Board which were at an all time low.
The first games took place on the Whit weekend of 1958 and the All-Ireland champions Kilkenny took on Clare and Galway took on Derry in the football. The crowds flocked to see their heroes and watch the masters at play. Players like Ollie Walsh, John Maher, Paddy Buggy (who went on to become President of the GAA) and the great Billy Dwyer were on show for the Noresiders. For the following twenty years Wembley played host to the cream of Gaelic Football and Hurling stars, with the Whit weekend being almost like that of All-Ireland days back home.
The Down footballers of the sixties used the Wembley games to their full advantage, as it was the practice run they had for their All-Ireland victory. Patsy O’Hagan became the first man to score a hat-trick at the stadium as Down blasted Galway off the field with a glorious display. Not forgetting the football, the likes of Cork, Kerry and the Dubs came to London and showed the capital their finest. No team came to Wembley with an under strength side, they knew how much the day meant to the exiles and they fielded their top players. In 1962 the London side defeated New York.
Patsy O’Hagan’s achievement when he scored four goals against Galway was in 1959. After the feat, there were reports in the English press that the first division side Chelsea were keen on signing the Gaelic footballer. The Clonduff man who died three years ago was a vital part of the Down side which brought the Sam Maguire Cup across the border for the first time in 1960. He played at full-forward in the final when they defeated Kerry by 2-10 to 0-8.
O’Hagan’s feat was rivalled in May 1963 by another Irishman, Eddie Reynolds from Belfast, as his four headed goals ensured victory by Wimbledon FC over Sutton United in the FA Amateur Cup, 4-2. His performance earned him a Northern Ireland cap against Scotland.