Kilkenny's search for three-in-a-rows

September 01, 2008
While Kilkenny head the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship roll of honour along with Cork, both having won 30 titles, they have just one three-in-a-row compared to four by their keenest rivals. Kilkenny's sole triple triumph was recorded in the championships of 1911, '12 and '13 and the Rebel County had already achieved the feat, taking the titles for 1892, '93 and '94. Cork were a powerful hurling force in the '40s, lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup five times in that decade. Their second three-in-a-row was gained from '41 to '43 and they made four on the trot the following year. Christy Ring gained the first four of his eight All-Ireland medals in those seasons during which Kilkenny were very much also-rans, being sensationally beaten by Antrim in a penultimate round clash in Belfast's Corrigan Park in 1943. Tipperary, who are a clear third in hurling's roll of honour with 25 All-Irelands, also chalked up a three-in a row from 1949 to '51 when John Doyle won the first of his eight medals, equalling the Ring feat in 1965. Kilkenny denied him a ninth in '67. The black and amber brigade only won one All-Ireland in the '50s when Cork chalked up another triple triumph from '52 to '54 with Ring completing his record haul. Wexford and Galway were the Rebels' main opponents during that glorious era for hurling when the mighty men in purple and gold took the Holy Grail twice. Although Kilkenny triumphed on the first Sunday of September four times in the '70s, they only retained the title once in that decade and Cork were unstoppable in the championships of 1976, '77 and '78. Now let's rewind to the early years of the last century and Kilkenny's most successful era as they lifted All-Ireland honours seven times in a 10-year period, between 1904 and 1913. Four players, Dick 'Drug' Walsh, Dick Doyle, Jack Rochford and Sim Walton were on all seven winning sides Cork had won five all-Ireland hurling titles before Kilkenny's first in the 1904 championship which was not completed until June 24, 1906 when Kilkenny defeated Cork by 1-9 to 1-8 in Carrick-on-Suir. Lancashire and Glasgow took part in the 1905 hurling championship and Kilkenny defeated Lancashire by 2-21 to 0-5 in a quarter-final clash at Jones's Road. On the same day (August 5, 1906) Antrim just scraped past Glasgow on a 3-13 to 3-11 scoreline in Belfast. That was a very complicated championship with Cork (over Galway) and Dublin (over Antrim) listed as winning the All-Ireland semi-finals. However, for some unknown reason, the Leinster final was played a few weeks after Dublin defeated Antrim and they lost to Kilkenny. So it was Kilkenny versus Cork in the 1905 All-Ireland final played in Tipperary town on April 14, 1907. Although Cork outscored their rivals by 5-10 to 3-13, an objection and a counter objection followed. The game was refixed for Dungarvan (Fraher's Field) on June 30 and Kilkenny had the better of matters this time, winning by 7-7 to 2-9. There were further triumphs for Kilkenny in the 1907 and 1909 championships before their three-in-a-row. There was no shortage of chaotic arrangements for games in those early years with All-Ireland semi-finals being played before provincial deciders on more occasions than one. Such was the case in the 1907 competition when Dublin defeated Antrim in an All-Ireland semi-final before Kilkenny trounced them by a margin of 13 points (4-14 to 1-9). There must be very poor communications between the central and provincial councils in those years. Anyway the 1907 All-Ireland SHC final was played in Dungarvan on June 21, 1908 with Kilkenny, captained by 'Drug' Walsh, winning by the narrowest margin on a 3-12 to 4-8 scoreline. It was the first of three times for the Mooncoin star to lead his country to the title. For some reason, Kilkenny gave Dublin a walk over in the 1908 Leinster final and for the second time in three years Tipperary were All-Ireland champions. They defeated Dublin in a replayed final in Athy with Tom Semple the winning captain as he also was in 1906. Strange to relate, Cavan were Dublin's opponents in a penultimate round clash. The 1909 football and hurling championships were very significant in that they were both finished in the same year for the first time. After defeating Derry by 3-17 to 0-3 in a semi-final at Jones's Road, Tipperary were the final opponents in Cork with Dick Walsh's men winning by 4-6 to 0-12. The 1910 All-Ireland hurling final had an unusual pairing and an unusual scoreline with Wexford taking the title for the first time by 7-0 to 6-2 over Limerick. Fixture chaos still reigned with Kilkenny recorded as beating London in an All-Ireland quarter-final and Cork and Dublin listed as winners of semi-finals! Kilkenny later lost to Dublin in a Leinster semi-final clash !! The 'Twenty Years of the GAA 1910-1930' booklet reported in the chapter on 1911 that new rules were well received. "A commendable innovation was the system of having the backs in their places before the ball was thrown in. The introduction of nets behind the goalposts also had a good effect in preventing disputes as to scores." Kilkenny brought off the Leinster football and hurling double for the second time that year with the footballers outscoring Meath and the hurlers getting the better of Dublin. But there was further confusion in the hurling championship and both titles were not decided until the following year. After defeating Antrim by 5-5 to 1-1 in a Jones's Road semi-final clash on November 26, Limerick outscored Galway by 8-1 to 2-0 in Portlaoise a week later. The final was due to take place at the Cork Athletic Grounds on February 18, 1912 but did not take place because of the poor state of the pitch. The game was refixed for Thurles but Limerick adopted a "Cork or nowhere" stance regarding the venue. Beaten Munster finalists Tipperary were nominated to take Limerick's place in the All-Ireland final which eventually took place on the last Sunday of July in Dungarvan. Kilkenny, captained by Sim Walton, won the game on a 3-3 to 2-1 scoreline. Three weeks earlier at the same venue Kilkenny defeated Cork by 1-1 to 0-1 in the final game in the Munster Feis tournament which took three and a half years to complete. Even though there was no score in the second half, some 'competent judges' of hurling who were at the game described it as "one of the finest exhibitions of the game ever played." Wins over Wexford,. Laois and Galway put Kilkenny into the 1912 All-Ireland final against Cork, who had accounted for Limerick and Tipperary, and the clash of the great rivals attracted a crowd of 20,000 to the Jones's Road venue on November 17. In the last 17-a-side final Kilkenny won by the minimum margin on a 2-1 to 1-3 scoreline and a press report suggested that interest in the game was widespread with thousands thronging from all over Ireland. The gate receipts of £600 were a record high. "Suspense, excitement and enthusiasm were blended in overflowing measure and Kilkenny were more than lucky to win by the minimum margin," the report went on. Sim Walton was the captain that year and the Tullaroan ace was credited with scoring the winning goal. 'Drug' Walsh from Mooncoin led Kilkenny to their only three-in-a-row as he became a winning All-Ireland captain for the third time. The number of players on football and hurling teams were reduced to 15 in 1913 and the Croke memorial tournaments held in both games that year raised funds to buy the Jones's Road grounds. Kerry and Louth played two thrilling games at the Dublin 3 venue in the final of the football competition before Kerry won out in the replay before a crowd estimated at 50,000. The hurling decider in which Tipperary, spearheaded by a number of the famed Toomevara greyhounds, defeated Kilkenny by 5-4 to 1-1 at Dungarvan. Kilkenny needed two games to dispose of Dublin in the 1913 Leinster final. In the initial tussle in Wexford the defending champions managed to only score a goal for hour with the metropolitans putting over three points. However, in the replay Kilkenny proved too strong, winning by 7-5 to 2-1. There were unusual pairings in that year's All-Ireland hurling semi-finals. After defeating Glasgow by 10-6 to 5-2 in a quarter-final clash in Glasgow, they got the better of Lancashire on a 4-4 to 1-4 scoreline in Liverpool. The first semi-final was played on August 4 and for some reason or other, the second 'semi' did not take place until October 19 when Tipperary had 'odd' opposition in Roscommon. Although failing to score a point, the Munster representatives won comfortably, by 10-0 to 0-1. Roscommon had defeated Galway in a Connacht semi-final before Mayo gave them a walk over in the provincial decider. The first ever 15-a-side All-Ireland hurling\final was played at Jones's Road on November 2, 1913 when 20 special trains travelled to Dublin with between 25,000 and 30,000 attending. Kilkenny reversed the Croke tournament result, winning by 2-4 to 1-2 , having led by 1-4 to 1-1 at half-time, to take the title for the seventh time. The last time before this year when the black and amber brigade were going for a three-in-a- row in an All-Ireland final, they were well beaten by Cork in 2004. They are now red hot favourites to bridge a gap of some 95 years and who knows but the heroes of the 1911 to 1913 triumphs will be looking down on Croke Park on the first Sunday of September.

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