Leinster Leader 24 September 1988
Last All-Ireland is Recalled By Dan Ryan Sixty Years On
Sunday’s drawn all-Ireland means that we have to wait another week or two before seeing the new Sam Maguire, nicknamed “Sam Óg,” find its first home. But there was no such doubt sixty years ago when Kildare became the first team to claim the original Sam. Naas man Dan Ryan recalls here the part he played in Kildare’s last all-Ireland win.
Although now 85, Dan looks fit enough still to be able to split the posts with a kick and has crystal clear memories of that all-Ireland Sunday in September 1928.
“I was picked as a sub for the game but about fifteen minutes into the first half I got my chance to go on when midfielder Joe Loughlin came down with an injury,” he recalls.
It wasn’t his first time to play for the county. He was a member of the team which beat Galway in the all-Ireland semi-final of 1926, when he shared the pitch with the legendary Larry Stanley, Olympian and all-Ireland medal winner with Kildare in 1919.
Although beaten by Kerry in the all-Ireland replay, Kildare was now poised to dominate the championship for the following two years.
“But I had to wait another twelve months before I got on the team again,” explains Dan. “That was the era of the ‘ban’ when GAA players were prohibited from playing in other codes. I had a few trial games with Naas Rugby Club in 1927 and the GAA suspended me for the year.”
However, he was back in favour for the 1928 campaign when the Kildare squad, buoyed by its win over Kerry in the previous year’s final, set out to make it two-in-a-row.
The team trained in the old Garrison Church in Newbridge under Michael O’Reilly from Saggart who had been engaged by the county board. “Physical jerks” was how Dan described the training routine – and hour of exercises on the floor followed by a half-hour game on the pitch – then it was over to Conlon’s pub for tea and a sandwich. Dan recalls that Michael O’Reilly had a novel line in advice for his players: “He told us to stop eating potatoes but any man who was taking a drink was to keep going!”
Unconventional advice, but it worked: Kildare beat Dublin in the Leinster final and thrashed Cork in the “semi”, paving the way for an all-Ireland showdown with Cavan.
Dan Ryan remembers the build-up: “The five Naas men, Gus Fitzpatrick, Jack Higgins, Tom Wheeler, Joe Curtis and myself, travelled by train from Naas. When we got to Kingsbridge (now Hueston), hackneys took us to Barry’s Hotel in Great Denmark Street where we togged out with the rest of the team.”
Then the players made their way through the crowded streets as 25,000 Cavan and Kildare supporters converged on Croke Park.
The legendary Croke Park roar didn’t unnerve Dan: “I was a sub so I had some chance to acclimatise before I went on.”
Like all great finals, the game was tough and controversial. The drama began even before a ball was kicked: Kildare star Peter Pringle had to stay in the dressing-room when Cavan alleged that he had played for another county. Substitute Joe Curtis, who was suffering from broken ribs sustained in the semi-final, was hastily strapped up and sent out with the team.
The pre-match incident made GAA history: Kildare became the first team to line-out with the same fifteen for two successive all-Irelands.
From his sideline bench Dan Ryan saw the game unfold: “It was kick for kick but there was nothing dirty on the pitch.” Fifteen minutes into the first half and his break came: Joe Loughlin came off injured, the Kildare team was reshuffled and Dan went in as right corner-forward.
“There was little in the way of tactics then – you just caught and kicked,” he says. From his forward position he had a close-up view of one of the most controversial incidents of the game: “Paul Loughlin palmed a loose ball to the net. Cavan protested that he had thrown it but I was only a few yards away and I’m certain that it was a legitimate goal.”
The goal stood but it took a last-minute point from Bill Mangan to clinch victory for the lilywhites. There was little of the after-match ceremonial that is so familiar nowadays – only Kildare captain Bill “Squires” Gannon remained on to become the first captain to claim the newly-presented Sam Maguire. “Our priority was to get out of Croke Park and make it to the Corner House for a drink before the aftermatch crowds arrived,” says Dan matter-of-factly.
Later there was a meal in the Ormond Hotel for the players and then the train back to Naas. “There were no bonfires or welcoming bands in those days – you just went home and got ready for work the next day.”
Injuries ruled him out from the 1929 season and although Dan played with Naas for a few more years he never again donned the all-white togs.
His assessment of football today: “It’s a bit faster now but I still think the old teams were better.”
Asked why the modern Kildare teams have not emulated the successes of his era, he responds that the talent is there in the county but for some reason it isn’t reflected at county level.
Off the pitch, Dan has also set something of a record: he retired in 1981 after more than sixty years of service in the printing department of the Leinster Leader Ltd.
Now six decades to the month after he helped Kildare to a rare all-Ireland victory, he is still fit and sprightly – his secret: “Lots of exercise, digging in the garden and plenty of walking.”
Re-typed by Jennifer O’Connor