Last week’s controversial goal in the Leinster final match between Meath and Louth which gave an undeserved victory to the Meath team brought back memories of a match played 71 years ago involving our own county team. The occasion was the Leinster Semi Final of 1939 when the men from Kildare togged out in Drogheda against the county men from Meath in a match which ended in even more controversy than that refereed by Martin Sludden last Sunday. Meath’s ‘victory’ this year came courtesy of an illegal injury time match winning goal from a player who fell into the goal area before throwing the ball over the line.
Roll back to the summer of 1939 and the G.A.A. pitch in Drogheda where Meath and Kildare were pitted against each other in the Leinster Semi Final of that year. Included on the Kildare team that day were Athy club players Johnny McEvoy, John Rochford and Tommy Mulhall. Meath scored their second match winning goal in the last minute of the game, despite claims that the referee had blown his whistle for a foul. The Kildare players on hearing the whistle had stopped defending their goal before the ball was thrown in the Kildare net by a Meath player. Johnny McEvoy, formerly of Woodstock Street, was the Kildare goalkeeper that day and in an interview with me many years ago he gave me his account of what happened.
Kildare player Peter Waters was fouled about 21 yards out from the Kildare goal. John Rochford retaliated and a goalmouth melee involving players from both sides resulted. The referee blew his whistle and Bill Halpin, a Meath player, threw the ball into the net in disgust. Johnny McEvoy picked up the ball and sat on it as supporters swarmed onto the pitch. A Meath supporter waived the umpire’s green flag to signify a goal. The referee placed the ball on the ground and pointed outfield so the Kildare players assumed they had got a free out. The final whistle soon followed and the Kildare players trooped off the pitch thinking they had won the match. Johnny McEvoy returned to the goalmouth area to retrieve a dental plate which he had left on the ground wrapped in a handkerchief and it was then that he discovered that the referee had awarded the goal to Meath. When he returned to the dressing room to tell his mates, in his own words ‘the Kildare team tore out but the referee was nowhere to be seen’.
The Kildare County Board lodged an objection and Athy’s District Court Clerk, Fintan Brennan, who was then Chairman of the Leinster Council, got several of the players, including Athy’s Johnny McEvoy and John Rochford to swear Affidavits which were lodged with the G.A.A. Central Council after the County’s initial objection was rejected by the Leinster Council. It was to no avail. The referee’s decision in 1939 and again in 2010 was final. Tim Clarke, the Kildare County Board Secretary, was reported in the Leinster Leader as saying, ‘We have often got bad treatment on the field from referees but never have we been robbed barefacedly of a match.’ Kildare subsequently withdrew all its teams from G.A.A. competitions for a year.
The Leinster Championship Semi Final in Drogheda on 9th July 1939 deprived Kildare of a possible victory in that year’s All Ireland. Meath went on to win the Leinster Final and only lost to Kerry in the All Ireland Final by the narrow margin of 2 points. The controversial defeat ended Johnny McEvoy’s association with his home county’s Senior Football team as having joined the Garda Siochana he decided to tog out for a Dublin team. Johnny had the distinction of securing a Senior County Dublin Championship medal in 1948 to go with the Kildare Championship medal won with Athy in 1937. He first played for his native county in November 1937 and would also play for the Dublin Senior County team during his Garda Siochana days in the capital city.
The 1939 game against Meath and the controversial goal which deprived the Kildare men of victory was brought to mind on reading in a newspaper headline which followed last week’s game ‘Controversy abounds as Meath claim title in hectic final minute’.
As in 1939 the Royal County of Meath declined to offer a replay to their opponents. I suppose this is not unexpected in a sport, which with soccer, has seen the development of unsporting behaviour by players feigning injury and fouls in order to obtain advantage over opponents. Sportsmanship is not always to be found where expected and officials and team players who rely, when it is to their advantage, on the rules and ignore the spirit of the game are in the end the losers.