Dineen's foresight helped Croke Park become jewel in GAA crown
The success of the tournament was partly fortuitous. Louth and Kerry were the biggest rivals in the game at the time but the latter had refused to travel to play Louth in the 1910 All-Ireland final and then had been surprised by Antrim in the 1912 All-Ireland semi-final. So despite their rivalry the counties never met on the highest stage.
The Croke tournament, which marks its centenary in four weeks’ time, provided that opportunity when the counties reached the final in May and better still – it ended in a draw. The replay attendance of 32,000 – impressed by the popularity of the games John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party turned up for his first GAA match – contributed to an overall profit which quintupled the size of the memorial fund to £2,500 and taking it close to the likely cost of a Dublin stadium.
Even then the purchase of the Jones’s Road venue wasn’t guaranteed and Dineen had to drop his asking price to £3,500, as some within Central Council began to show an interest in a southside property, near the site of the modern St Vincent’s hospital in Merrion. The vote for the current location was carried at Central Council by just eight votes to seven.
The reduction of teams to 15-a-side completed a series of evolving reforms, which had taken playing numbers down from 21 and also modified the value of goals as well as dispensing with the outer posts, as still used in international rules and the AFL.
The match programme for that year’s All-Ireland final, between Croke Memorial winners Kerry and the team that would become their new rivals, Wexford, alludes approvingly to the amended rule: “This year another important change was made when the number comprising a team was reduced to 15 players. This arrangement has worked admirably, the game being opened up and made much faster.”
Asked at the outset of the GAA’s 125 celebrations four years ago what he thought the founders would make of the modern association, director general Páraic Duffy replied: “They wanted to establish a national identity through the games and a sense of community. I think they would be very pleased that in a world of globalised interests we have maintained that. They might feel that more might have been done in relation to culture and language but overall they’d have to say given the challenges of the modern world that we’ve done a decent job.”
The most visible features of that success were set in place 100 years ago.