A reflection on the All-Ireland Football Final

Have you ever visited the most northerly peninsula in County Donegal and in Ireland.? It is called Inishowen. There you will find the “Grianan Aileach”, (“The Sun Palace”), the ancient perfectly round stone fort/palace. It is an ancient burial place, but it is also believed to have been the summer ‘sun’ residence of the chiefs of Donegal, and maybe the kings of Ulster.

I would not be surprised that if you popped in there this very day you might find the spirits of the Donegal football team, basking in the sun of their glorious victory over Mayo. They have become heroes, every one of them, now the new chiefs of Donegal and chiefs of All-Ireland football, after they captured the Sam Maguire Cup last Sunday with a well deserved victory over a gallant Mayo.

In Cape Town we gathered at Tommy’s Sports Bar in Loop St., to watch the game live, thanks to the efforts of Maureen Sharpe, President of the ‘Irish South African Association’ (ISAA). A cross section of Africa had got there before us, local sports lovers as well as those from DRC Congo, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ivory Coast, Angola, etc. Had they come to watch ‘our game’ or was it Man Utd v Liverpool?

I spotted the Donegal jerseys on Clare and James who come from Movil in Donegal. They were with Tommy from Dublin and John from Cork. There was a great buzz already with the soccer match going on, a ‘curtain raisor’to our game!

Maureen and Angela from Liverpool came, then Brian McLaughlin, a dentist, from Falcarragh, Donegal. I soon met Mary from Castlebar, Mayo, and her S.A family. One young lad had a Mayo jersey with ‘Johan’ on the back.

Next we saw Michael D 0’Higgins, President of Ireland, being welcomed onto the field. (I was used to seeing him in former days as an Irish Labour MP, joining in protests outside the US Embassy in Dublin, against US interference in Latin America).

After the parade of the two teams around the stadium behind the Artane Boys Band, with thousands of flags being hoisted amidst the deafening cheers, with people shouting out the names of their favourite players, the game got going at 4.00pm. Fans of both teams mix freely in the terraces in a crowd of 82,000.

 The atmosphere is electrick, it’s a national event, filled with history, memories and emotions. The battle for the Sam Maguire Cup is on and our heroes will fight ‘till the last drop.

Donegal, the favourites, the champions of Ulster, rush into an early lead with two good goals and a point, almost getting a third goal as well. We fear for Mayo, the champions of Connaught, they seem nervous and overwhelmed. Angela ,(sad at Liverpool’s defeat), in her smashing Kop accent is amazed at the speed and pace of the game. And they are all amateurs I said. Mayo come back strongly, with some strong tackles, a few flying fists, yellow cards, on both sides. At half time its Donegal 2-4 (10 points), to Mayo 7points.

There is a rush for the toilets, both in Croke Park and in Tommy’s, we fill our glasses and chat to others who have joined us. I meet Michael Cambell, out here on fishing business, who plays golf with my brother in Killybegs (Its true then, you’re related to every 7th person you meet. Michael meets Brian the dentist, whose brother taught him in school…I just told you so!
James from Movil was not so happy that Donegal ‘took their foot off the pedal before half time, but it should be an exciting second half of another 35 minutes’.
We see but can’t hear Pat Spillane(Kerry) and Colm 0’Rourke (Meath), former players  give their ‘expert’ analysis in the studio. It’s a wet freezing miserable day in C Town, and they say it’s a beautiful day for football in Dublin. Should it not be the other way around!

Second half begins, Mayo get a few points, and Johan give the ‘big fives’to the family. Angela notes that some of the youth at the game have their faces painted, just like the people in Africa. Cillian 0’Conner (a student teacher) gets his 5th point for Mayo, only 3 points behind with 20 minutes to go. Mayo flags are waving strongly now.  Angela remarks that, ” that fellow looks like Wayne Rooney – he wasn’t playing for Man U – Mayo could do with him now!” But Mayo miss three frees. Sam is on his way to the hills of Donegal. The camera shows the cup on the screen – the Donegal fans go ballistic – someone behind me remarks that it looks like a huge chalice, (it is in fact modelled after the famous Ardagh chalice rediscovered in Limerick many years ago).

And then it’s all over, Donegal are the victors, the players and officials hug and jump and cry for joy. Mayo are stunned, crestfallen, inconsolable – such dreams and high expectations are shattered in a moment.

Maureen says, “ the Donegal manager looks Spanish, black hair, etc, surely it’s not Mourinho, the coach of Real Madrid? No, but, the Spanish Armada arrived in the West of Ireland long ago. I chat with Robert from DRC Congo. He is also amazed at the speed of the game, and the skills and stamina of amateur players.

Nothing beats the real thing though, being part of that crowd in Croke Park on All Ireland Sunday, tasting the excitement, the band playing the traditional favourites, meeting old friends, seeing the former great players in the seats around you. I have tasted it a number of times and look forward to the next time.This is the same game played by young boys and girls in every school and in every parish in the country, north and south, east and west….for the love of the game!!

 This social event has been replayed for many years. It kept the nation united during the dark days of the past. It keeps the nation united in celebration even today, with fans of opposing teams shaking hands after the game. It will be talked about in homes and pubs and shops and factories for weeks to come. The Donegal team will bring Sam to the schools, hospitals, clubs, factories and towns and villages throughout the county. About 1.4 million people, out of 4.5 million, watched the game on TV in Ireland.

We were about 25 in Tommy’s bar in Loop St. - the Irish/African connection. We had a great time and made new friends – all we lacked was the band and the drums. We’ll be back next Sunday (30th Sept) for the hurling, Galway v Kilkenny.


The game of Hurling is regarded as the second fastest game on earth, after ice hockey. It is played by 15 players a side (just like Irish football). It is played with a hurley stick made from the ash tree. The stick is flat, so that you can lift the ball and strike it a long distance. Maybe the hurley stick is derived from the ancient Irish blackthorn fighting/defensive stick, just like the knob keerie in South Africa.
In South Africa, on the day when the young men come back from the traditional circumcision ritual in the bush/mountain, you will see other young men going before them simulating a stick fight.

In Ireland we don’t have circumcision, but If you want to prove that you are a skilful man (women also play), come to Croke Park, Dublin, next Sunday, and play the game with thirty young men, who will thrill a crowd of over 80,000, and give them and the millions of TV viewers (and us gathered in Tommy’s Sports Bar in Loop St.) the entertainment we will never forget.


Sam Maguire was born near  Dunmanway, a town in west Cork in the year 1879. His family belonged to the Church of Ireland (Protestant). But they got on well with their many Catholic neighbours. Sam later worked in London, in the British Civil Service. In London he began to play Irish Football with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The religion is not important, but in Ireland in those days, Protestants did not play football or hurling. Sam ended up being the captain of his London Irish Football club which played in a number of All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park, Dublin. He did not win any of those finals but he was the only Protestant man ever to captain a team in an All Ireland final.

By 1907 Sam became an administrator of the London GAA clubs. He later became a trustee of Croke Park, Dublin, the headquarters of the GAA, where the All- Ireland finals are played each year.

 In London Sam gradually got involved in the freedom struggle for Irish Independence to such an extent that in 1909 he swore the great Michael Collins into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). This was the forerunner to the old IRA.

Sam Maguire became the Director of Intelligence for the IRB in Britain. At his workplace in the Post Office he often intercepted official state documents relevant to British Military and Political intentions in Ireland. When it got too ‘hot’ in London he returned to join the Civil Service in Ireland.

But he died of TB in 1927 aged 48. A Celtic Cross erected over his grave bore the inscription,”………….from his many friends in England and Ireland, in recognition of his love for his country.” He was buried in Dunmanway.  In 1928 a group of his friends donated the cup to the GAA, and this is how it became the trophy for the All-Ireland football championship.

The cup is modelled on the Ardagh Chalice which was rediscovered in County Limerick in the 1930’s, I think. This precious chalice was probably buried hurriedly by the monks of a local monastery, when they became aware of an imminent attack by a foreign army.

Dick 0’Riordan  25 09 2012

Posted by Chantelle Eurelle on 27/09/2012 20:11:19 |

Elizabeth O'Riordan.........Bruckless, Co Donegal
So glad you enjoyed the match Dick, I'm sure you were surprised at the performance of our Donegal team. However there is nothing to compare to a good hurling match. Hope you enjoy the match next Sunday and put in a cheer for Galway.
28/09/2012 21:01:24
Ros Webb
I live only minutes away from Sam Maguires birthplace in the beautiful West Cork , the whole area feels a great sense of pride for this man.
28/09/2012 12:21:34
christine doyle
Why didnt you invite me Dick, only joking I was walking on Muizenberg Beach and remembering the lovely beaches in Kerry that my Mother loved to walk.Coming from Roscommon its 50 miles to Galways beaches but hail rain or snow we went there every year and froze our butts off but as children a day at the seaside was worth it.Hopefully see you at Tommys on Sunday.
Thank you Dick for the informitive spell. You would have made a great storyteller from days gone by. I have forgotten the Irish word.??? Its the old age ha,ha, Kind regards
Christine Doyle
28/09/2012 10:30:51
Hilary Strutt
I couldn't make the gathering at Tommy's Bar but, after reading Fr Dick's reflection, I felt that I was there!!! I especially enjoyed reading about Sam Maguire. A lovely tribute.
28/09/2012 07:35:05
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