The top 50 rows in the history of the GAA
Davy Fitzgerald’s Nowlan Park walkabout may have generated headlines, but where does it rank in the pantheon of controversies on or off the field of play? Not very high, in fact. As a summer of stars and strife beckons, Frank Roche ranks the Herald’s biggest barneys.
TOP 5 FIASCOS
1. JIMMY COONEY’S EARLY WHISTLE
(1998 All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay, Clare v Offaly)
A summer of small ball madness reached its zany peak in this semi-final replay. Clare were leading, 1-16 to 2-10, when Jimmy Cooney mistakenly blew for full-time with more than two minutes left on the clock, not including injury-time.
The Galway referee was hurriedly escorted off the Croke Park pitch by stewards. By the time he was alerted to his error, chaos had taken hold. Offaly fans staged an impromptu sit-down protest, forcing the planned All-Ireland U21 B final between Kerry and Kildare to be postponed.
The Games Administration Committee ordered a refixture (as it was obliged to do, under rule) … Offaly triumphed in Thurles and the rest is history.
2. THE TWELVE APOSTLES
(1983 All-Ireland SFC final, Dublin v Galway)
This final gained the ‘Scannal’ treatment on TV a decade ago – proof of its enduring notoriety. Dublin played the last half-hour with 12 men (after John Gough dismissed Brian Mullins (right), Ray Hazley and Kieran Duff) against 14 Galwegians (who had lost Tomás Tierney). Hence the ‘Twelve Apostles’, celebrated in song, who held on for a famous Sky Blue triumph depicted by others as a day of infamy.
Throw in a half-time tunnel row shrouded in mystery, lengthy suspensions (including a three-month ban for Kevin Heffernan) and crushing on the terraces … now that’s a proper controversy.
3. ‘DICK TURPIN WITHOUT A MASK’
(2010 Leinster SFC final, Meath v Louth)
Who could forget this fiasco, especially if you’re a Louth fan dreaming of a first Leinster title since 1957? They stood on the cusp of history when, right at the death, Joe Sheridan fell over the Louth line and threw the ball into the net.
The most blatantly illegal ‘goal’ in living memory – was it even a try? - was awarded by Tyrone referee Martin Sludden, who was physically attacked by furious Louth fans. This time there was no ‘fair play replay’ and Meath’s two-point victory stood. The words of Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick said it all: “I honestly thought he was Dick Turpin without a mask. I think that was just pure daylight robbery.”
4. REBELS ON STRIKE NO 3
(2008/09: Cork hurlers v Gerald McCarthy)
The third Cork players’ strike in little over half-a-decade – and the most embittered. The 2008 hurling squad refused to play for their manager, Gerald McCarthy, who dug in for several months.
An estimated 10,000 marched through the streets of Cork, the day before McCarthy’s new panel opened their league campaign with a defeat to Dublin. Eventually, in March, the embattled boss resigned, citing a death threat issued by a phone caller who was subsequently jailed.
5. THE MILL AT THE HILL
(1996 All-Ireland SFC final replay, Meath v Mayo)
There may have been more vicious melees but few as high-profile or elongated as this. The pandemonium erupted early doors. Mayo ended up losing, their anger exacerbated by referee Pat McEnaney’s decision to pick out their talisman, Liam McHale, along with Meath veteran Colm Coyle from the longest police line-up in GAA history. Cue multiple retrospective bans and years of recr imination.
THE NEXT 5
6. ‘THE BAN’
The most infamous of all Official Guide diktats – this one lasted from 1905 to 1971, banning GAA members from playing or watching so-called ‘foreign’ sports such as those Anglicised evils called soccer, rugby, cricket and hockey. Its most famous victim? Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland, removed as GAA patron for attending a soccer international.
7. THE COLIN LYNCH SAGA
Mayhem at the throw-in of the 1998 Munster hurling final replay spawned a Munster Council investigation and a three-month suspension for Clare midfielder Lynch (right), who hadn’t been sent off. And did we mention Ger Loughnane’s Clare FM broadside? Manna from heaven for every GAA conspiracy junkie.
8. RULE 42: CHECK THE LOO
Allowing soccer and rugby into Croke Park was finally made possible by an historic Congress vote to amend Rule 42 in 2005 … but not before some farcical bends in the road. Most notably at Congress 2001, when a cohort of delegates were allegedly stuck in the Burlo ‘jacks’ just as a similar motion failed to secure a two-thirds majority by the flimsiest of margins. Calls for a recount went unheeded. Oh, and Bertie ‘Machiavelli’ Ahern had promised a grant of 60 million punts (over €76m) the night before. Classic.
9. ‘SHEEP IN A HEAP’
Babs Keating couldn’t hide his fury after Offaly’s tame loss to Kilkenny in the 1998 Leinster hurling final. “The players just aren’t listening to me. We’re like sheep running around in a heap,” he told reporters. Those players were even more furious when they read his comments. Cue revolt, a change of manager – and remarkable All-Ireland redemption.
10. ANARCHY RULES OKAY
The second International Rules test in 2006, at Croke Park, showcased the worst excesses of Aussie physicality and brought this strange sporting marriage to the brink of divorce. As an extra bonus, it spawned the most explosive ever post-match press conference in the then brand-new Hogan Stand media room.
AND THE REST ...
11. ‘THE REF IN THE BOOT’
That oft-quoted 1980s metaphor for Wicklow’s disciplinary woes … although it should be clarified that the unfortunate referee, the late Johnny Price, was bundled into the back of a hatchback.
12. REBELS ON STRIKE NO 1
The first Cork hurlers’ strike, in late 2002, struck a blow for all inter-county players against penny-pinching county boards.
13. TROUBLE IN OZ
From All-Ireland winning captain to the centre of a racial comment storm, in a matter of weeks … Graham Geraghty’s International Rules tour to Australia in 1999 became front-page news.
14. THE KEADY AFFAIR
Arguably the most controversial suspension of all. Tony Keady received a 12-month ban for playing illegally in New York, Galway’s rage exemplified by Cyril Farrell threatening withdrawal from their 1989 All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Tipperary.
15. PAUL GALVIN’S BLACK BOOK
Or, rather, the one belonging to referee Paddy Russell, knocked out of his hands by the Kerry captain in 2008, prompting a six-month ban that was later halved.
16. THE MAYO ‘HEAVE’
The Mayo squad of 1992 were ahead of their time, threatening strike to oust their Dub-native manager, Brian McDonald. A lengthy statement ensured that his ill-fated reign was forever associated with the image of players pushing cars around a car park.
17. LIMERICK AT WAR
This managerial impasse lasted far longer, Justin McCarthy surviving a full 2010 season without his ‘09 Limerick hurling squad before dire results forced his inevitable resignation.
18. RULE 21: CHOPPERS AT THE CROSS
Crossmaglen Rangers knew all about living in the shadow of a British army watchtower. The army’s occupation of some of their club grounds in south Armagh helped to extend the lifespan of Rule 21 (barring British security forces from GAA membership) until 2001.
19. THE BATTLE OF AUGHRIM
The 1986 Leinster SFC game (below) that caused national uproar. Hotly fancied league champions Laois finished with 12 men against Wicklow’s victorious 14, while Offaly referee Carthage Buckley found himself in the eye of a storm.
20. THE BATTLE OF OMAGH
This spiteful 2006 league tie saw both Tyrone and Dublin finish with 13 men. “If Paddy Russell had been God Almighty he couldn’t have refereed the game,” admitted Mickey Harte.
21. JIMMY ‘THE POPE’ KEAVENEY
Dublin’s scoring talisman missed the 1979 All-Ireland against Kerry because of an eight-week ban for his Leinster final sending-off. Correction: he missed it because the final was brought forward a week arising from Pope John Paul II’s Irish visit.
22. CORK STRIKE NO 2
Here we go again. This time (late 2007/early 2008) the footballers revolted over the appointment of Teddy Holland but it was more a renewal of warfare with the county board for its attempted control over selectors. Industrial relations mediator Kieran Mulvey was called in, and eventually Holland resigned.
23. MAYO TAKE THE HILL
This 2006 invasion of the Hill 16 end prompted a warm-up fiasco and Sky Blue fury, encapsulated by Pillar Caffrey’s shoulder-charge on John Morrison.
24. HAWK-EYE’S DOUBLE VISION
The 2013 error that robbed Limerick minor hurlers of an All-Ireland final place. An early Limerick ‘point’ was incorrectly ruled wide by Hawk-Eye, Galway eventually winning after extra-time.
25. DIARMUID’S TRIP TO THE DRA
The 2015 appeals saga that rescinded Diarmuid Connolly’s red card and cleared the Dub to face Mayo after a marathon DRA session the night before.
26. ‘CAKE’ CURRAN’S PENALTY
A half-forgotten classic from the 1989 Connacht minor final. As his teammate prepared to tap over a last-gasp penalty and force a replay, Shane ‘Cake’ Curran burst past and buried it. Cue mayhem: the ref was chased off the Castlebar pitch; Roscommon claimed the cup only for Galway to be awarded the game; Ros refused to give it back, a refixture was ordered … and they won it!
27. MAYO OUST TWO IN ONE
Player power forced Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly to stand down as joint Mayo managers in 2015. They kept their powder dry – for 14 months.
28. GPA’S CONGRESS GATECRASH
Donal O’Neill’s attempt to gatecrash Congress in Galway, in 2000, may have been a publicity stunt but summed up the level of distrust on both sides in the early days of the Gaelic Players’ Association. Later that year the GPA signed a £50,000 commercial deal with recruitment company Marlborough as players and officialdom continued on a collision course.
29. THE RDS AFFAIR
A huge controversy in its day, back in 1991. This proposed double-header in aid of Ringsend club Clanna Gael-Fontenoy involved a League of Ireland soccer match and an inter-county meeting of Dublin and Down … cue a series of flip-flopping Croke Park decisions that ended in no fundraiser and a PR disaster.
30. CHARLIE REDMOND’S LONG WALK
Dublin’s All-Ireland triumph in 1995 was shrouded in controversy over Charlie Redmond’s record-breaking long walk – sent off by Paddy Russell who had to ask him a second time to leave the pitch.
31. CARR DRIVEN OUT BY BAILEY
Night of the Long Knives, as chairman John Bailey’s casting vote ensured the end of Tom Carr’s Dublin reign in 2001.
32. A WEE BUST-UP
This 1991 Croker melee has achieved pugilistic cult status. Check out ‘Famous Louth v Laois brawl’ on YouTube, especially a certain Louth sub’s involvement.
33. GALWAY HURLERS STRIKE
At half-time in the 2015 All-Ireland SHC final, Galway were on the cusp. But it all unravelled and ditto the panel’s faith in manager Anthony Cunningham. A messy, dragged-out affair ending in the inevitable.
34. LAOIS HURLING FINAL BRAWL
Another immortalised on YouTube. The old footage is shaky but you get the picture of this 1989 carnage involving Portlaoise and Camross. World War III with sticks.
35. THE THREE STRIPES AFFAIR
What is it about Cork? The Rebel footballers wore Adidas jerseys in the 1977 Munster final, prompting suspensions from their own county board and years of festering resentment.
36. RORY COURTS CONTROVERSY
Westmeath footballer Rory O’Connell won a High Court injunction against a three-month ban, allowing him to line out in the 2004 Leinster final … and accelerating the creation of the DRA.
37. CAVANAGH’S PULL-DOWN
Rugby tackles had been happening for years but Seán Cavanagh’s moment of goal-saving cynicism, to deny Conor McManus in 2013 (right) gained notoriety not because it led to the black card (it was already coming in) but because of Joe Brolly’s subsequent TV tirade.
38. BANTY BEATS THE BOARD
Séamus McEnaney’s turbulent two-year Royal reign was peppered with controversy, but arguably his greatest victory was surviving a Meath executive move to oust him mid-season in 2012.
39. SIX REDS AND 14 YELLOWS
Confusion reigned in this 1999 Leinster SFC opener between Carlow and Westmeath, as Cork referee Niall Barrett sent off six players and brandished 14 yellow cards in a mistaken application of new disciplinary rules.
40. ROSSIES PLAY NAKED POOL
You would have to feel some sympathy for the two Roscommon footballers caught on a Derry hotel’s security camera playing pool in the nude, in 2002 – and exposed in a tabloid newspaper – but it summed up a period of endless Rossie controversy.
41. LIMERICK BOSS FOR A DAY
Well, maybe a few days. Limerick hurling’s default setting – managerial crisis – flared up in 2002 when Eamonn Cregan resigned mid-season, selector Mossie Carroll was appointed … only to step down again upon Cregan’s reinstatement.
42. KERRY ‘BENDIXING’ THE RULES
Kerry caused ructions in the upper echelons when posing for a Sunday newspaper advert before the 1985 All-Ireland final (below left), promoting a washing machine along with the slogan: “Only Bendix could whitewash this lot.”
43. ‘THE POINT THAT NEVER WAS’
Laois won their original 1995 Leinster SFC clash with Carlow – but only because of a late Mick Turley ‘point’ that was definitively wide. A refixture was offered by Laois, who duly won again in more legitimate fashion. Good karma.
44. FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT
Meath and Cork’s increasingly tetchy rivalry came to a head in 1988. Gerry McEntee was sent off early in the All-Ireland replay; GAA president John Dowling waded into the controversy and earned the wrath of every Royal … the two teams subsequently ended up in the same Canarian holiday resort. Awkward.
45. WHO HIT THE REF?
Namely referee Tommy Gavin, at the end of a 1999 Galway SFC game in Tuam Stadium. Was it someone vaguely famous? We can’t prove it … 18 years on, the riddle remains.
46. WHO BROKE JOHN FINN’S JAW?
Another famous whodunnit, dating back to the drawn All-Ireland semi-final of 1985 between Dublin and Mayo, whose stricken player was sidelined for almost eight months.
47. PÁIDÍ’S ANIMAL TALK
The late Páidí Ó Sé caused consternation in the Kingdom when, in a 2003 Sunday Independent interview, he described Kerry fans as “the roughest type of f***ing animals you could ever deal with.” Cue a quickfire apology – all the way from South Africa.
48. FARNEY DRUG FAILURE
Failed GAA drug tests are pretty rare, hence the commotion that greeted the 2015 news that unheralded Monaghan footballer Thomas Connolly had tested positive for an anabolic steroid. He received a two-year suspension.
49. THE BATTLE OF PARNELL PARK
Dublin and Meath had a ‘Donnybrook’ in Donncarney, and then the CCCC came back swinging by proposing 16 player bans. The suspended Dubs watched their 2008 Division 2 final against Westmeath from a grassy knoll – in Navan!
50. CORK CATCH THE TRAIN
A fitting finale involving repeat offenders Cork, who refused to play extra-time after their 1987 NFL quarter-final, Dublin’s Barney Rock scoring into an unguarded Croke Park net (below) at the start of extra-time … just as Cork dashed off to catch a train.