1928 Recalled - Tipperary Beat Kerry Footballers

Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 1989, pp 82-83


The last time that Tipperary beat Kerry in the Munster senior football championship was sixty years ago this year. The historic occasion was at Tipperary Town on July 8 1928 when the footballers of the Premier County defeated the premier footballers in the county by 1-7 to 2-3. 

Hopes weren't too bright beforehand. The game hadn't been flourishing as well as previously, mainly due to emigration. During the previous four or five years Tipperary footballers were simply streaming out of Cobh and it was claimed that if the emigrants could be brought back, it would be possible to field a team which could well stand up to Kerry. 


However, things weren't too bad. A good team had been selected with representatives from Templemore, Fethard, Clonmel, Ardfinnan, Kilsheelan, Mullinahone and Carrick. According to the preview in 'The Tipperary Star' while Kerry would start as favourites, Tipperary could spring a surprise. "The home side tomorrow will have the services of T. Carthy, that robust member of the Garda Siochana, who captained Dublin last year. Con . Keane, the brilliant Cashel hurler, who played so well against Clare in Thurles a fortnight ago, is also on the team. Versatility par excellence! Further powerful aid to the Tipp. side will be lent by the services of T. Lee, that brilliant footballer from 'the Glen' . During his time in U.C.C. Tom Lee played consistently good football and he has already done wonderful work in inter-county games for the old county. Tipeprary can regard itself as being lucky to have him tomorrow". 


A big crowd was expected. Special trains ran from Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel and from Templemore, Thurles via Fethard and Clonmel. There was also a special from Tralee. The Kerry team arrived in Tipperary on Saturday evening and were treated well. Rumour had it they were taken out to the Glen and 'tanked up'! Perhaps their hosts were taking literally an exhortation that appeared in the 'Tipperary Star', which stated: 'It is hoped that a special effort will be made to cater for the excursionists and that nobody will be sent home hungry or thirsty'.

The Game

The match was played in 'Pat McGrath's Field' at the back of the Old Workhouse and although the weather was ideal, only about 4,000 people turned up. Obviously, not many were giving the home side much of a chance. Kerry played with the wind in the fIrst half and were behind by 1-5 to 0-2 at the interval. Tipperary had played well and the goal by P. Kenny of Carrick had given them great heart. However, it appeared that Kerry, with the aid of the wind would get back on top in the second half. They came out a changed team after the interval and began to attack like demons. But they met powerful opposition from a determined Tipperary side and in the course of the thirty minutes could score only 2-1 while the home side notched up two more points to be ahead by 1-7 to 2-3 at the final whistle. 

The result was a sensation. A number of factors contributed to Tipperary's victory. The selection committee had made a good choice. The team stuck to its task with determination for a grueling sixty minutes. There was also the fact that Kerry had approached the game in a casual way and only woke up to the fact of having a fight on their hands in the second half. Finally there was the magnificent defense of the home backs who held out against desperate onslaughts from the visitors in the second half. 

A Pyrrhic Victory

An extraordinary feature of the game was the number of Tipperary casualties. All four reserves were used. Yet the match could not be described as rough. The two worst casualties were purely accidental and the others were attributed to the zeal with which the players got down to their work. Tom Lee one of the last surviving members of the team, recalls the injuries: 'J. Davey of Templemore broke his leg that day. He and John Joe Sheehy were running at the ball from opposite directions. Both drew at it on the ground. John Joe's boot hit Davey in the middle of the shin and the bone broke like a stick. The sound of it was heard around the field. 'It made me sick', I can truthfully say. Davey was, of course, taken off and never played again. He was an awful loss to us, as he beat John Joe completely that day". In fact two hurleys were used as splints for his leg. ' 

Tom Lee continues: "Towards the end of the match Tom Carthy sprained his ankle, having jumped into a hole, made by young lads in the field. In so far as I remember never played again. He was a terrible loss". 


The winning side was as follows: John Watson (Fethard), M. Barry (Bansha), R. Heffernan (Clonmel), R. Mockler (Mullinahone), J. Davey (Templemore), J. O'Leary (Ardfinnan), E. Lonergan (Ardfinnan), T. McCarthy (Guards), T. Lee (Drumcondra), W. Barrett (Mullinahone), C. Keane (Army), D. Mullins (Fethard), P. Arrigan (Carrick-on-Suir), T. O'Keeffe (Kilsheelan), P. Kenny (Carrick-on-Suir). The substitutes were: G. Croke, J. Scott, M. Maher, M. Strapp.

Munster Final

The final against Cork was fixed for Dungarvan on August 5 and Tipperary followers were fairly hopeful after the great display against Kerry. Cork were winners of ten Munster finals and Tipperary were two behind with eight. The result was another surprise. Cork were superior in all points of the game and won comprehensively by 4-3 to 0-4 before an attendance of nearly seven thousand. The defeat was attributed to many causes but the principal one was Tipperary's over-confidence going into the game. The losers were also under trained and lacked completely the fighting spirit displayed against Kerry. On top of all Cork proved a much better team than anticipated. They led by 2-1 to 0-3 at half-time. 


Tom Lee recalls: "I have very unhappy memories of that match. I was very tired (having stayed in Ring on Saturday night and walked with Michéal o Cionnghaola (R.I.P.) across the Coinigear on Sunday morning). Also, an unbelievable thing happened during the match, a few minutes before the end. I was about forty yards from our goal. The ball had been kicked in high from midfield and, as it passed over my head, I heard a whistling sound from it. Dick Heffernan, our fullback, ran towards it, caught it, only to find it flatten in his hands, with the air still whistling out of it. It fell to the ground and did not hop. Dick picked it up again and held it up in one hand, shouting at the referee that the ball was punctured. He, of course, didn't understand what was going on and did not blow the whistle. A Cork forward ran in and fisted the deflated ball to the net. We remonstrated but to no avail. The flag was put up and the goal stood. We lost the match". 

"What happened was that the lacing of the ball opened, the nozzle of the bladder had come out and lost its tying. It was useless arguing with the referee. I never heard of such a thing happening before or since. Kildare easily defeated Cork in the subsequent match. Arbh aiteas go dti e?" 

The defeated side was: J. Weston (Fethard), D. Mullins (Fethard), R. Heffeman (Clonmel), M. Barry (Galtee Rovers), R. Mockler, M. Nolan and W. Barrett (Mullinahone), T. Lanigan (Grangemockler), J. O'Leary, E. Lonergan (Ardfmnan), P. Arrigan, P. Kenny (Carrick-on-Suir), T. O'Keeffe (Kilsheelan), C. Keane (Army), T. Lee (Drumcondra).



Four members of the panel survive sixty years later. As well as Tom Lee the survivors include Tommy O'Keeffe, Mick Barry and Jack Scott. Tom Lee and Connie Keane were picked for Munster the following year. Ten Kerry players were included. Tom Lee takes up the story: 'Kerry wanted their own centrefield so I had to play in the half-forward line. I kept passing balls to the other Kerry forwards who, strange to say, were making poor use of them. (I never played in the forward line in my life and so had no confidence in my shot). I remember John Joe Sheehy shouting to me to shoot myself. Anyway, Munster were beaten. 

In January 1932, Tom Lee became Professor of History and Geography in St. Patrick's Teacher Training College, Drumcondra. He began playing football with the college team, Erin's Hope, and won the Dublin senior championship in 1933. The team included Brendan Nestor of Galway, Murt Kelly or Kerry, Willie Connolly of Cavan, Colm Boland of Westmeath and Sean Feeney of Waterford. 

While he was still in St. Patrick's someone in Radio Eireann had the bright idea of having an Irish broadcast of the St. Patrick's Day matches. Tom Lee continues: 'They approached me and I consented. It proved no trouble from the language point of view but it was impossible for me to recognise the players on the field - men from different parts of two provinces, most of whom were never before seen in Croke Park. The broadcasting box was very high up in the stand - it was small - water and steam streaming down the panes of glass. The window couldn't be opened because of the shouting. "D'eirigh leis an iarracht, deirtear, ach caithfidh me admháill gur thugas moladh san ait nár tuilleadh agus is eagal lion gur fhágas ina éamais go minic an té a thuill. Ach b'in i an chéad uair o aimsir na bhFianna fado, is d6cha, a craoladh cluiche i dteanga na Gaeilge".