26 November 2009 Edition
More than a game BY MATT TREACY
THE 125th anniversary of the founding of the GAA has been marked by a combination of historical commemoration and debate over what the association has meant not only in sporting terms but as a central part of Irish life over more than a century.
Many clubs have used the occasion to mark key events in their own history. Last Saturday, St Joseph’s/O’Connell Boys held a dinner to honour members of the team that won the 1959 Junior Football Championship. Looking at them in their 70s it was still possible to imagine what they must have been like all those years ago when it was probably safe to say that other teams did not relish the prospect of having to play them. In fact, they looked sprightly enough and sharp enough to still give a good account of themselves (on the dance floor, at any rate).
Former Dublin player Vinnie Murphy, who made the presentation and whose father had been on the team that lost to Joey’s in that final, remarked that in his experience when you played Joey’s you could be sure of receiving “a good kick in the arse”, which from a member of Monica’s is certainly a tribute of some kind (I think).
JOEY’S also has one of the more interesting histories of any Dublin club.
I would imagine that it is the only club to have been founded by former soldiers from the British Army. That came about when a number of former O’Toole’s players from the Sheriff Street/Docks area returned from the First World War in 1918 but were refused to be let back into the club, which was dominated by the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA because of their having worn the khaki, along with tens of thousands of others.
In response, they decided to set up their own club, which, according to legend, they wished to call the ‘Grey Backs’, which had been the nickname of the Dublin Fusiliers company which they had been members of. They went to the nuns in Portland Row to order their woollen jerseys and were apparently persuaded that such a name would not do them any favours and instead to call themselves after the convent, which was St Joseph’s. (There had also been a lunatic asylum there of the same name which some might claim is a more apt association.)
Of course, many working-class Dubs, along with many others from around the country, had fought in the killing fields of France and Belgium for economic reasons or because they had been persuaded to by the recruiting sergeants of constitutional nationalism and unionism.
The majority of them, however, returned not as loyalists but, if anything, even more republican than the rest of the population. And, of course, many former British soldiers, Tom Barry among them, put their military experience to good use as IRA Volunteers during the Tan War. The Joey’s players were no different and many joined the same battalion, the Dublin Brigade 2nd, as their O’Toole’s rivals. One Joey’s player, Edward Dorins, from Church Road, East Wall, was one of five Volunteers killed in action at the Custom House in May 1921.
O’TOOLE’S were the dominant Dublin club of the period and won nine county football titles between 1918 and 1928, as well as providing the backbone of the successful Dublin All-Ireland teams which won three in a row between 1921 and 1923.
Interestingly, in the light of the current perceived weakness of the GAA in the north inner city, Joey’s being the only club left, one of the teams to break the O’Toole’s sequence was St Mary’s of East Wall, which is long since gone.
Before O’Toole’s moved their base further northside, they and Joey’s shared the same part of the city, drawing players from the same streets and schools and sporting the Five Lamps crest but sharing little else.
It was a ferocious rivalry that, judging by accounts of the time, was similar to that of professional soccer teams based in inner city areas. Matches between the two often featured pretty full-on rows and when Joey’s eventually came out on top in the Dublin final of 1930 a crowd of close to 30,000 (yes, thirty thousand) turned up in Croke Park, which was remarkable given that the attendance that year for the All-Ireland final was less than 33,000.
Unfortunately, Joey’s reign as Dublin champions had a less than happy ending.
As was the way at the time, the club champions were given the captaincy of the county team, which meant that many of the club’s players were selected to play for Dublin.
An incident in a National League match against Laois, which featured a visit by the Dublin players to the Laois dressing room at half-time, resulted in Dublin being thrown out of the competition and Joey’s losing the captaincy of the team for the championship and Joey’s players banned from playing for Dublin. The captaincy was offered instead to O’Toole’s but they refused to take it if Joey’s were excluded.
SUCCESS has been scarce since, the junior championship in 2004 being the most recent notable event, and survival is not easy in a part of Dublin where the traditional sports of Gaelic football, soccer and boxing find it difficult to compete with often malign rival attractions.
O’Connell Boys failed to survive, hence the amalgamation, but Joey’s continue thanks to the efforts of dedicated people to maintain under-age teams and to try and bridge the gap between that and fielding adult teams. It is a different universe to the super clubs of the suburbs but no less a part of the GAA for all that.
Indeed, Joey’s possibly have more in common with clubs under similar pressure in many rural areas where putting the jersey onto the pitch is itself an achievement. Anything after that is a bonus.
. St Joseph’s/OCB dinner honouring junior champions of 1959