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They came, they saw, they conquered

They came they saw they conquered

We look back on 1992 when Donegal, Mayo, Kerry, Down, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Cork all strutted their stuff in London

You can never have too much of a good thing, the saying goes, but by 1994 London’s GAA community had been somewhat spoilt – the giants of Gaelic football and hurling, All Ireland champions amongst them, coming and going as if through a revolving door.

So much so that then Irish World sports editor Michael Clifford by his own admission couldn’t even drag himself to Ruislip to see Billy Morgan’s Cork and Jack O’Shea’s Mayo do battle in 1994.

Such matches were nothing new. The Wembley Games (1958-1976) ensured a steady flow of lofty names and teams.

Then there was the visit of reigning Liam McCarthy champions Cork in 1979 for the official opening of Ruislip, and the hurlers of Limerick (1983), Wexford (1983), Tipperary (1987) and Offaly (1989). On all of those occasions London provided the opposition.

The early 1990s brought a revival in such exhibition matches – almost all aimed at raising funds for a debt-ridden London County Board – to the point of saturation for some.

Brentford FC’s Griffin Park started the ball rolling in 1990 by staging a rematch of Cork and Mayo’s All-Ireland final meeting of the previous year.

Mayo were back in 1991, this time to lock horns with Donegal at the Cricklewood home of Hendon FC, with Shannon Gaels’ Tommy Goonan a key player behind the scenes.

1993 brought Donegal (twice), Mayo and Dublin to Ruislip.

1992, though, remains an unrivalled year when it comes to such exhibition matches in London – a year in which Liam MacCarthy winners Tipperary, Kilkenny (twice), Cork, newly crowned Sam Maguire champions Donegal, Mayo, Kerry and Down all strutted their stuff in the English capital.

MAYO 1-17 vs 2-10 DOWN
Ronan Cup
Senior Football Challenge
Sunday 15 March, 1992
Claremont Road, Cricklewood

MAYO: G Irwin; K Beirne, K Cahill, C Regan (0-1); P Holmes, C McMenamon, P Butler; K Staunton (0-1), S Maher (0-1); N Durkin (0-2), P Kenningan, T Morley (0-2); T Finnerty (1-3), WJ Padden, R Dempsey (0-7).

DOWN: P Donnan; B McKernan, L Duggan, P Higgins; M Quinn, J Kelly, DJ Lane; L Austin, E Burns (0-2); C Murray (0-3), M O’Hare (1-0), P McCartan (0-2); G McCartan (1-3), P Withnell, K Smith.

Twelve months after Hendon FC’s ground played host to Mayo and Donegal, Mayo were back in Cricklewood, this time to face reigning All Ireland champions Down.

Down had overcome Meath by 1-16 to 1-14 the previous September to lift the Sam Maguire for the first time since 1968.

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Another “extravaganza” organised by Shannon Rovers GAA club, the game would be Mayo’s third trip to London in as many years on St Patrick’s weekend.

After defeat to Cork at Brentford FC in 1990, Mayo overcome Donegal at Hendon FC by 3-18 to 1-19 in 1991.

They came they saw they conquered

The game in 1992 took place on 15 March, throw in 3:45pm, with Hendon FC’s Claremont Road ground once again the venue. Tickets were priced at £5.

While Ruislip was looked at, the County Board opted against it over concerns the impact such a game might have on the pitch at that time of year. Ticket pricing and bar provisions were also issues.

Not all agreed, however. The decision of the Board’s Executive Committee to turn down an application from Shannon Rovers to stage the game at Ruislip led to a “heated debate” at March’s county board meeting, the Irish World reported at the time.

They came they saw they conquered

Tom Connolly of John Mitchels said: “It’s an embarrassment to play a game like this in Hendon’s soccer ground when our own club house is in dire need of revenue”.

Elsewhere, there were reports that the Lancashire Board had hoped to lure Mayo and Down to them for a game in May. Did London beat them to the punch?

The game itself ended in a 1-17 to 2-10 win for Mayo.

“Mayo wanted to win, Down didn’t really care”, was the Irish World’s frank assessment, with the visit of the reigning All Ireland champions deemed a “disappointment”.

They came they saw they conquered

Down fielded an “under strength” team, but if the 2,000 spectators who made their way to Cricklewood felt “let down”, the game was “always entertaining” if “never brilliant” said the Irish World.

Mayo, in contrast, were near to full strength and were the “stronger, fitter and more importantly disciplined side”.

A “ruthlessly efficient” passage of play was enough to see them over the line in the closing minutes.

Down started well, to the point of being “self-indulgent”. Gregory McCartan’s goal was followed five minutes later by a second from Mal O’Hare.

They came they saw they conquered

McCartan would go on to manage Fulham Irish to a London senior title in 2017.

Down led 2-5 to 0-6 at the interval and maintained that advantage for most of the third quarter.

However, the move of Willie Joe Padden from the full forward line to midfield, along with Down tiredness and ill-discipline, helped “swing the balance of power”.

Having reduced Down’s five-point lead to a single score, Anthony Finnerty “put the Ulster men to sleep with a final deadly act”.

Latching on to a loose ball on the edge of the square, Finnerty crashed it to the roof of the Down net.

They came they saw they conquered

Down fought back, drawing level, but Mayo’s attack was now “firing on all cylinders” and Ray Dempsey (free), Tony Morley, Kevin Staunton and Noel Durkin all fired over.

While Mayo “came to London to entertain and win, Down just came to entertain, and both succeeded”, the Irish World summarised.

Tom Gaughan, of Ronan Travel, presented the Ronan Cup to Mayo captain Denis Kearney.

They came they saw they conquered

Afterwards, spectators were encouraged to make their way to the Kilburn National for the chance to meet both teams.

Down went on to fall to Derry in the Ulster semi-finals, while Mayo won Connacht, beating Roscommon in the final, before losing to eventual champions Donegal in the All Ireland semi-finals.

Senior Hurling Challenge
Sunday 5 April, 1992

TIPPERARY: Ken Hogan; Michael Ryan, Noel Sheehy, Seamus O’Shea; John Kennedy, Conor Donovan, Bobby Ryan; Declan Carr (0-1), Joe Hayes; Adrian Ryan (0-3), Conor Stakelum (0-7), Michael Cleary (0-4); Pat Fox (0-1), Donnie O’Connell, Ned Ryan (1-2).

KILKENNY: Michael Walsh; Bill Hennessy, Pat Dwyer, Willie O’Connor, Patsy Brophy, Pat O’Neill, Paul Phelan, Liam Simpson (0-1), Aidan Ronan (0-1), Derek Gaffney (0-3), Liam McCarthy (0-2), Eamon Morrissey (0-6), Pat Hoban, Liam Fennelly.

Three weeks after Mayo had taken Down’s scalp in Cricklewood, Tipperary and Kilkenny served up a Ruislip rematch of their All Ireland senior hurling championship final meeting of the previous year.

It was the first time London had staged a top-class hurling exhibition for more than two decades. Although Cork came in 1979, Limerick and Wexford in 1983, Tipperary in 1987 and Offaly in 1989, their opponents each time was London.

The visit of Tipperary and Kilkenny on 5 April 1992 “put right that wrong” said the Irish World.

Arranged at short notice, the occasion was the official opening of the Ruislip clubhouse in the attendance of then GAA President Peter Quinn and Irish Ambassador Joseph Small.

They came they saw they conquered

The match came out of an earlier visit to London by Tipperary coach Babs Keating, during which he expressed an interest in bringing the Tipp team over.

It was hoped the game would provide “much needed revenue for the hard pressed” London County Board, who’d incurred debts of £1.2 million from the building of clubhouse complex.

London chairperson Eugene Hickey said it promised to be a “very special day” in the history of London GAA.

At Croke Park on 1 September, 1991, Tipperary had beaten Kilkenny 1-16 to 0-15. It was the first championship meeting of these two great rivals since 1971.

They came they saw they conquered

For Tipp, a second All Ireland in three years. For Kilkenny, a first appearance in the final since losing the 1987 decider to Galway.

Seven months later Tipperary and Kilkenny renewed that rivalry in West London on 5 April.

Tara and Thomas McCurtains opened proceedings with an Under 16 Football match – Tara won 4-9 to 3-7.

London’s senior footballers then faced Fermanagh in a challenge match. Fermanagh won 2-12 to 1-10, with London ‘keeper Ger Boyle having a “magnificent” game. Tir Chonaill Gaels’ John Duffy came off the Exiles’ bench to score 1-3.

They came they saw they conquered
Fr Seamus Hetherton flanked by Tommy Harrell at the official opening of the new clubhouse at Ruislip

A week later, Sean Flaherty, Seamus Carr and Martin Diggins’ London side lost the McGrath Cup final to Limerick, before going down to Leitrim, by 3-17 to 2-10, in Connacht on 31 May.

So at 4:30pm, on 5 April, Tipperary and Kilkenny got down to business in the day’s “big game”, with Tipp repeating their All Ireland final success in a “riveting contest” played out in front of 2,000 warmly appreciative spectators.

Unlike the game between Down and Mayo at Hendon FC, there was a “sense of urgency and commitment” from both teams, especially in the second half.

The Irish World said it was “refreshing”, when both sides could have “sat back and eased their way through the ritual”.

They came they saw they conquered

For Tipp, it was a warm-up for their league semi-final with Galway two weeks later.

A Kilkenny side without DJ Carey led 0-11 to 0-9 at half-time. Tipp star Pat Fox was unable to get a look in against Willie O’Connor, while Michael Cleary and Aidan Ryan also struggled to make an impression.

Fox, Cleary and Ryan had done most of the damage in the All Ireland final.

The Cats’ resolve was broken by the only goal of the game ten minutes into the second half from Conor Stakelum’s break. Ned Ryan finished to the net.

They came they saw they conquered

That opened up a three-point lead for Tipp that they never looked like relinquishing.

Points from Stakelum (2), Declan Carr and Aidan Ryan saw them run out comfortable winners, although Ger Fennelly missed two goal chances in the final 15 minutes for the Cats.

Against a stiff breeze, Tipperary had held Kilkenny to just two points in the second half.

DONEGAL 1-12 vs 0-10 KERRY
The Irish World Cup
Senior Football Challenge
Sunday 25 October, 1992

DONEGAL: Paul Callaghan; John Joe Doherty, Matt Gallagher, Noel Hegarty (0-2); Donal Reid, Martin Gavigan, Mark Crossin; Paul Carr (0-1), Brian Murray; James McHugh (1-1), Martin McHugh (0-2), Joyce McMullan; Jim McGuinness (0-1), Sylvester Maguire (0-3), Olly Reid (0-1). Subs: John Duffy (0-1) for Olly Reid, Timmy McBride for Murray, Jim Bonner for Donal Reid, Tommy McDermott for Doherty, Luke Gavigan for McGuinness.

KERRY: Peter O’Leary; Liam Flaherty, Ambrose Donovan, Morgan Nix; Eamon Breen, Sean Burke (0-1), Pat Slattery, Demot Hanafin, Bernard McElligott (0-1), Pa Laide, Fintan Ashe (0-1), Seamus Moynihan (0-1), Carl O’Dwyer (0-5), Tom O’Connell, Dave Farrell. Subs: Billy O’Shea (0-1) for Farrell, Noel O’Leary for Ashe.

On Sunday 25 October, London GAA staged a “Ruislip blockbuster” as newly crowned All Ireland champions Donegal faced Kerry.

The “glamour fixture”, described as a “major scoop” for the “financially troubled” London county board was expected to attract a “record crowd”. The Irish World labelled it a “Meeting of the Giants”.

The announcement came just two weeks after Donegal had defeated Dublin at Croke Park 0-18 to 0-14 on 20 September, to lift the Sam Maguire for the very first time.

London vice chairman PJ McGinley – himself a Donegal native – was the man credited with persuading Brian McEniff’s team to make the trip.

They came they saw they conquered

London by all accounts beat off competition from nine rival invitations to the All Ireland champions for that same weekend. A “major scoop” indeed.

The game was preceded by a ladies All Ireland quarter between Wembley Gaels and Tyrone’s Carrickmore.

That was followed by London’s Desmonds versus Birmingham’s Sean McDermotts in the All Britain hurling club championship. Admission was £5.

At 3pm, it was the turn of Donegal (All Ireland champion) and Kerry (Ireland’s most successful football county), as London GAA’s advert billed the contest.

They came they saw they conquered

But Kerry were a side rebuilding under Ogie Moran, whose first game three weeks earlier – a challenge match against Cork – had resulted in an eight-point loss.

Already Moran was under pressure – haunted by Kerry’s past glories. The Kingdom hadn’t reached the final since 1982, and all that surrounded the events of that famous day.

Ruislip did little to take the pressure off Moran, as Donegal emerged with a 1-12 to 0-10 victory, and their “reputation intact”.

Kerry were described by the Irish World as “lacklustre” and “shapeless”. It was far more comfortable for Donegal than the final scoreline suggested.

They came they saw they conquered

While Donegal lined up without six of their championship winning team – including Declan Bonner, Manus Boyle and captain Anthony Molloy – Kerry were minus Maurice Fitzgerald and Connie Murphy.

The Donegal team included Jim McGuinness, who guided Donegal to its second Sam Maguire in 2002, and Donal Reid, who went onto win a London senior and British provincial title with Tara in 1995.

The rain that fell that morning left the Ruislip pitch a mud-bath and “virtually unplayable”.

They came they saw they conquered

Most of the 3,000 crowd left “disappointed at the quality of the fare offered up to them”.

Occasionally Donegal managed to lift themselves above the “bog like playing surface to exhibit brief glimpses of the style that sank Dublin” the previous month.

The conditions dictated that this was always going to be a “dour physical game”, but the champions’ ability to “execute their short passing game elevated them well above their Kerry opponents who were resigned to predictable route one football”.

All too often that ended with the ball in the “gluttonous arms” of John Joe Doherty, Matt Gallagher and Noel Hegarty.

They came they saw they conquered

Wing backs Donal Reid and Mark Crossin were the launchpad for many of Donegal’s attacks, while Joyce McMullan was “magnificent”.

James McHugh ghosted through the Kerry defence for the only goal of the game mid-way through the first half. Donegal led 1-4 to 0-1.

Kerry’s midfield of Dermot Hanafin and Bernard McElligott couldn’t cope with Sylvester Maguire and the “impressive” Paul Carr.

They came they saw they conquered

At the other end, only Carl O’Dwyer offered “any semblance of a threat to the Donegal defence”.

Before the break, McEniff introduced Tir Chonaill Gaels star John Duffy, who was still playing his football in London at the time.

The stylish forward settled into the Donegal attack “as if he had been there all summer and crowned an impressive performance with a wonderful point in the final minute”. Donegal led 1-7 to 0-5 at the interval.

The introduction of Billy O’Shea added some “substance” to the Kerry attack in the second half.

They came they saw they conquered

O’Shea forced one acrobatic save from Paul Callaghan, but Donegal finished the stronger to comfortably see the game out.

Irish World owner Paddy Cowan presented ‘the Irish World Cup’ to winning Donegal captain Martin McHugh on the Ruislip balcony.

Afterwards, it was on to the Galtymore in Cricklewood, where the London County Board hosted both teams.

CORK 2-6 vs 2-4 KILKENNY
Mick Murphy Memorial Cup
Senior Hurling Challenge
Sunday 1 November, 1992

CORK: G Cunningham; L Forde, B Murphy, A O’Gorman; C Casey, J Cashman, D Walsh; B O’Sullivan, P Buckley; B Egan (0-1), T Mulcahy (1-1), T O’Sullivan; M Foley (1-1), K Hennessy (0-3), J Fitzgibbon. Subs: D Holland for Murphy, F Ryan for Fitzgibbon, B Sheen for T O’Sullivan.

KILKENNY: M Walsh; J Walsh, P Dwyer, L Simpson, M Morrissey; L Keoghan, T Murphy, M Phelan (0-1); J Casey, A Prendergast; E Holland, PJ Delaney, C Carter (0-1), J Power, D Gaffney (1-0). Subs: M Walsh (0-1) for Morrissey, D Lawlor (1-1) for Carter, P Hoban for Gaffney.

Ruislip revenge for Cork…of a sort. Two months after their All Ireland final meeting at Croke Park, champions Kilkenny and Cork locked horns once again – at Ruislip on 1 November – only this time it was the Rebel County who came out on top.

On 6 September, the Cats had claimed their 24th All Ireland title with DJ Carey’s 1-4 inspiring them to a 3-10 to 1-12 win over the Rebels. Liam Fennelly lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

The Cats had gone into the final under pressure, having not won an All Ireland since their win over The Rebels nine years previous. Cork still had a number of players who’d won in 1990.

Kilkenny, though, lined out with only five of their All Ireland final starting team and were a “pale shadow” of the side which beat Cork.

They came they saw they conquered

Those five were goalkeeper Michael Walsh, Pat Dwyer, Liam Simpson, Michael Phelan and John Power, who scored one of the Cats’ three goals in the final.

Kilkenny had already suffered a shock opening round league defeat to Antrim, and that might explain the absentees.

From their All Ireland starting line up, Cork fielded goalkeeper Ger Cunningham, Sean O’Gorman, Cathal Casey, Jim Cashman, Dennis Walsh, Pat Buckley, Tomas Mulcahy, Tony O’Sullivan, Kevin Hennessy and John Fitzgibbon, while Mark Foley started at Ruislip having come off the bench at Croke Park.

They came they saw they conquered

The evening before their Ruislip meeting, both teams were hosted by the London County Board at the Emerald Grounds, West End Road.

Cork arrived at Ruislip having also suffered a first round league defeat, by double figures to Dublin.

The fourth such inter-county exhibition game of the year, the November scheduling might explain the disappointing 1,000 attendance.

The Irish World even speculated that the game was “likely to prove to be a major financial drain” on an already cash-strapped board.

They came they saw they conquered

As for the match itself, the heavy Ruislip pitch “sapped any creative play” wrote the Irish World, and did little to “promote winter hurling as a spectacle”.

Neither team looked like “conquering the conditions” and those who stayed away were “proven right”. From an early stage the game “developed into a dour struggle”.

Cork led 0-2 to no score when Derek Gaffney’s speculate shot spun off Ger Cunningham’s hurley for Kilkenny’s opening goal.

Two minutes later Mark Foley got the final touch in the Kilkenny square to raise the green flag for Cork.

They came they saw they conquered

Just before the break, Tomas Mulcahy slipped inside the Kilkenny defence to flick the ball past Michael Walsh for Cork’s second goal. Cork led 2-3 to 1-2 at half-time.

The introduction of Dermot Lawlor breathed some life into Kilkenny’s attack and in the 43rd minute he slammed to the net, and then followed up with a point.

Matty Walsh continued the Kilkenny revival to leave just a point between the sides, and the closing minutes saw the game finally ignite.

They came they saw they conquered

Kilkenny should have won it when Eamon Holland found himself with only Ger Cunningham to beat, but the Cork ‘keeper produced a fine save. Mark Foley closed out the scoring to seal victory for the Rebels.

On the Ruislip balcony, winning Cork captain Kevin Hennessy was presented with the Mick Murphy Memorial Cup by Michael Kenny, director of J Murphy Ltd, and Mick Murphy’s widow Nora.

Hennessy had announced his retirement prior to the game to add an extra dimension to proceedings, although he would later return to Cork colours in 1993, before finally calling time.

They came they saw they conquered

On Sunday, throw in was 2:30pm and the game refereed by London’s own Tommy Donohue. Cork were captain by Michael Phelan.

Afterwards, Cork star Jim Cashman presented London County Board Chairperson Eugene Hickey with a Murphy’s Brewery cheque for £3,000 to the Save Ruislip GAA Fund.

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