O’Byrne Cup: Seventy years as a secondary consideration

Competition boasts a peculiar history but now has its own niche in the football year

Kildare’s Eoghan O’Flatherty lifts the O’Byrne Cup last year after his county beat Meath in the final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

Kildare’s Eoghan O’Flatherty lifts the O’Byrne Cup last year after his county beat Meath in the final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

 

By the end of this month the O’Byrne Cup will have celebrated its 70th anniversary as Leinster’s secondary football competition. Founded in 1954 and first played in 1955 it has, like its equivalents in the other provinces, become reasonably well known at this time of the year as the pre-season tournament that helps counties prepare for the season ahead and enables supporters to treat any cabin fever that’s built up over the Christmas.

These competitions have also become controversial of late both with the involvement of college teams getting ready for the Sigerson, who have first call on up to 10 county players and also because of growing concerns over the amount of competitions going on in the early months of the year.

Newly appointed Leinster CEO Michael Reynolds takes issue with both arguments.

“Despite what people say about getting rid of these competitions, what will happen instead: just go back to purely training for the month of January or go around looking for challenge matches? Someone once said that it was great to have matches in January and all you have to do is turn up.

‘Challenge matches’

The attention is a far cry from the at times patchy history of the competition that in seven of its 60 years to date wasn’t even played, as recalled by Reynolds’s predecessor on the Leinster Council, Michael Delaney.

“It’s probably only in recent years that it’s become settled,” he says, “since the league moved to a calendar year. Before that it was always moving around and some years there wasn’t a slot for it at all. But with counties having to go cold into the league at the start of the year it made sense to play it as a pre-season tournament. At first it was knock-out but now there’s a guaranteed couple of games.”

For the uninitiated perhaps the most surprising thing about the man after whom the trophy is named is that his name wasn’t O’Byrne. Matt Byrne was the first secretary of the Davins club in Baltinglass and in time president of the Irish Handball Council. It’s speculated that the original trophy would have been probably been named for his Irish name, Ó Broin and that the “O” must have endured.

Local journalist Peter Kehoe takes up the story.

‘Commissioned’

Walsh CupTom WalshKehoe Cup

“Matt Byrne never held that sort of position but he was a great servant of the Leinster Council as well as the Wicklow delegate. He was a school teacher in Baltinglass and used to be asked by the provincial council to organise and supervise the taking of receipts all around that part of Leinster: Carlow, Kildare, Laois and around there. He would bring gatemen with him from Wicklow when needed. He was very highly regarded.

“He lived until 1947 when he was 77 and more than 60 of those years were spent as a GAA man. He even attended the very first Wicklow county convention in 1886. He went back that far.”

One peculiar aspect of the O’Byrne Cup’s history is that it has so rarely been a predictor for the Leinster championship. In 60 years – allowing for the seven when it wasn’t played – on just eight occasions have counties have combined winning it with also taking home the Delaney Cup.

Even more curiously, only two teams have held both the O’Byrne Cup and the Sam Maguire in the same year: Meath in 1967 and Dublin in 1958. Kildare top the role of honour with 10 titles despite having won just three Leinster championships during the 60 years.

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