Analysis: this will not be the first time the GAA has had to deal with epidemics and emergencies playing havoc with the fixture list 

Like many sports, Gaelic games has been forced before to postpone and abandon important fixtures because of weather and health issues. Often, though, it has been due to entirely preventable reasons. Shortly after the GAA was established, it was decided to send two teams of hurlers as well as a number of the best all-round athletes that the country could produce to America and Canada in 1888 to give exhibitions in Gaelic pastimes, and also to compete with the athletes in America. The intent of the 1888 American Invasion Tour was twofold: fundraising and cultural preservation. But weather conditions, disputes between associations and player boycotts resulted in financial losses and an incomplete GAA championship. 

The early 1900s continued with a relatively regular schedule given the upheavals of the First World War and Ireland's revolutionary years. Not even the 1916 Rising could stop the Wexford footballers and Tipperary hurlers reaching the pinnacles of GAA glory. However in 1910, the football final between Kerry and Louth did not take place, due to a bitter dispute between Kerry GAA and the Great Southern Railway Company.

From RTÉ 2fm's Game On, Siobhan Doyle discusses the history of GAA cancellations

By 1910, there were just 7,870 motor cars in Ireland, so rail was the only alternative to move large numbers of people any distance. The previous year, Kerry also played Louth in the final, with Kerry winning by six points. The Kerry team had been granted its own rail carriage to Dublin before the 1909 final, and the same arrangements were hoped to be made again. However, the Great Southern Railway Company instead set excessive rates and proper traveling facilities were not provided, leading to the refusal of the Kerry footballers to travel.

The Kerryman newspaper stated that "the boys of the Kingdom would not be men if they followed any other course than the one they have adopted. The Great Southern Railway have affronted the Kerry team in a manner which could not be lightly passed over." It also accused the company of treating the players as "a species of human doormat on which they could wipe their boots with impunity". 

The Great Southern Railway have affronted the Kerry team in a manner which could not be lightly passed over

As a result, the 1910 All-Ireland football final was never played and Louth were awarded a walkover from the Central Council. Kerry later issued a challenge to play Louth, but the response from the Wee County was that Louth were "under no obligation to a bombastic challenge from Tralee". It was later stated at a central council meeting that as the final was not played, no medals would be presented to Louth. The unplayed final was a fitting end to an already bizarre GAA season with the Connacht championship beginning on November 6, a week before the All-Ireland final; and the Ulster provincial final taking place in 1911. 

Mayo once again

The build-up to the 1925 All-Ireland football final was marred with controversy. On August 23, the Kingdom welcomed Cavan to Tralee, a match Kerry won after a close contest. However, objections over the fielding of ineligible players saw both teams disqualified and thrown out of the competition. In the other semi-final, Mayo emerged victorious against Wexford on score line of 2-4 to 1-4. As the other semi-finalists, had been disqualified, the GAA awarded the championship title to Mayo.

But as with any of Mayo’s bids for All-Ireland glory, it was not to be so straightforward and the Central Council’s decision caused uproar. The prestige and administration of Gaelic games has been shaken grievously by these revelations and objections. Because Mayo had contested the All-Ireland semi-final without being provincial champions, the following month they played Galway in the Connacht final. Mayo lost by two points and the championship was then controversially awarded to Galway. 

From RTÉ Archives, volunteers and farmers reflect on the harvest emergency of 1946, when thousands of volunteers joined with the nations's farmers to help salvage the harvest.

The 1946 All-Ireland football final between Roscommon and Kerry was postponed until October 6th due to a National Emergency effort to save the harvest because of an extremely wet summer. The Irish Times reported that "all important GAA games have been abandoned for the weekend and players have been urged to volunteer for harvest work in all four provinces. Tournaments are likely to be postponed until the harvest is secure."

In 1956, a polio epidemic, a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that is spread through person-to-person or faecal–oral contact, gripped Cork. The county's games were subject to restrictions with Croke Park making a decision to ban children from the Cork vs Kildare football semi-final and the Offaly footballers refusing to travel to a play a friendly match against Cork before the final. 

By 1910, there were just 7,870 motor cars in Ireland, so rail was the only alternative to move large numbers of people any distance

While Cork reached the All-Ireland hurling and football finals that year, both matches were postponed by the Central Council of the GAA following a request from public health officials in Dublin, who were worried by the prospect of large numbers of Cork people descending on Croke Park. Both finals saw huge attendances with 83,096 spectators at the hurling final on September 23rd and a crowd of 70,772 at the football decider on October 7th.

Both Cork teams were defeated, the hurlers by a superior Wexford team, in what proved to be Christy Ring’s last All-Ireland final appearance. Ring’s farewell at least illustrated that not everybody feared contact with the rebel county, as Wexford’s Nick O’Donnell and Bobby Rackard carried him off the field on their shoulders.

Luckily, there has been no postponement or abandonment of in All-Ireland finals in recent years. Hopefully, 2020 will not see another blank space on the GAA championship roll of honour. At least the Kerry footballers have the option to take the bus now. 


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ