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Mullinalaghta and other David versus Goliath GAA upsets

Mullinalaghta’s Leinster victory over Kilmacud Crokes was a true David versus Goliath moment – here are a few more from throughout the years.

In the GAA this time of year is usually considered “the off season”, even though most counties have returned to training and competitions like the O’Byrne Cup have already begun, when it comes to GAA not very much is written or discussed in the media.

That was until Longford champions Mullinalaghta shocked the country with their Leinster senior club final victory over the mighty Kilmacud Crokes in Tullamore. In a tight affair in O’Connor Park, Mullinalaghta came out on top on a score line of 1-8 to 1-6.

Mickey Graham’s side were trailing by three points with 56 minutes on the clock. David McGivney reduced the deficit to two, then a minute later Gary Rogers tucked away the vital penalty to put Mullinalaghta up by one. Aidan McElligott, who had won the penalty, then kicked the insurance point and the little club from Longford held for a famous victory.

In the two weeks that followed the Mullinalaghta players had appeared on every TV show, radio programme and podcast you can think of, with a memorable appearance and impromptu musical performance on The Late Late Show capping off an extraordinary few weeks for the little parish.  

Although what has inspired fans of the GAA most about Mullinalaghta’s victory, is that Kilmacud Crokes and by extension Dublin GAA as a whole can still be toppled and that the story of Mullinalaghta is a true David versus Goliath story that will be hard to beat.

But what are some of the GAA’s biggest David versus Goliath upsets? Of course Offaly and Seamus Darby’s goal remains the biggest upset in GAA history, however, that Offaly side were exceptionally talented and although they were rank outsiders to stop Kerry’s drive for five, they were in fact not a David, at least not in the traditional sense of the phrase.

Instead we will be looking at some of the biggest ever David versus Goliath shocks to ever occur in inter-county GAA history, starting off with one that features the men from the Kingdom yet again.

Clare vs. Kerry – 1992 Munster Football Final

In Clare’s first Munster football final since 1949, they faced a Kerry team that were no longer the powerhouse they had been the decade previous, while the likes of Pat Spillane and Páidí Ó Sé had retired, the Kerry ranks still bolstered the likes of Jack O’Shea and new players like Maurice Fitzgerald were beginning to make their mark at inter-county level.

Clare football on the other hand had been in a constant state of flux over the previous few decades, with club rivalries routinely dividing the county panel. Enter a 30-year-old army man from Mayo in the winter of 1990 called John Maughan.

In Maughan’s first year in charge he was successful in uniting the panel and bringing a new level of organisation to the Clare setup. While Clare lost in the opening round of the Munster championship to Kerry in 1991, the new open draw aspect of the Munster championship gave Clare hope that a Munster final could be on the cards in the near future.

With this new open draw format, Clare were drawn into the semi-finals of the Munster championship in 1992 and would face Tipperary. In the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, Clare overcame their fierce rivals and would now face off against the mighty Kerry a few weeks later.

Many pundits gave Clare little chance of winning their first Munster title since 1917, but the Banner men raised their game considerably and found themselves with a one-point lead at the interval, they could have been further ahead after Gerry Killeen seen his penalty saved by Peter O’Leary.

Clare did hit the back of the net in the second half with Colm Clancy firing home just after Jack O’Shea missed a guilt edge chance for Kerry. The Kingdom cut the gap too two points before Martin Daly pounced for Clare’s second goal of the game. James Hanrahan made a crucial save from Pa Laide.

Clare survived attack after attack from Kerry and by the final whistle they were four points clear as the referee blew the full-time whistle, Clare captain Francis McInerney was hoisting the trophy in the air, as Mary Morrissey uttered the famous line “I can tell you that there won’t be a cow milked in County Clare for at least a week”.

Although they would go on to lose to Dublin in the semi-finals, the victory over Kerry was historic in that it is the only year from 1936 to the present day that neither Kerry nor Cork were crowned Munster champions, proving that this was one of the ultimate David vs. Goliath clashes.

Wexford vs. Kilkenny – 2004 Leinster Hurling Semi-Final

In 2004 Wexford hurling had taken a sharp decline since the exhilarating days of the mid-nineties, when the Tribesmen clinched their first All-Ireland title in 28 years. The majority of the players from that famous 96’ team had retired, and the likes of Kilkenny and Offaly once again took over as the dominant force in Leinster.

As we entered the new millennium and Offaly began to drift away as genuine All-Ireland contenders, Wexford found themselves in three Leinster finals in a row between 2001 and 2003. In every final they came up against Brian Cody and Kilkenny, who were on their way to becoming the most formidable team in hurling history and were brushed aside on all but one occasion.

When the draw was made for the 2004 Leinster championship the two rivals were pitted against one another in the semi-finals this time around. Kilkenny were heavy favourites going into the match, as they began their journey towards three in a row, Wexford were expected to be pushed aside as Kilkenny went in search of their seventh Leinster title in a row.

Instead Wexford put in a massive performance and nearing the final whistle Kilkenny were clinging on to a 1-16 to 1-15 lead and Wexford had a sideline cut, which was caught in the air by Kilkenny’s Peter Barry who moved to clear the sliotar, Michael Jacob blocked him down, swivelled and smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Kilkenny players were shocked, and Brian Cody who was directly behind the goal, fell onto the ground, thumping the grass in frustration. Wexford were in hysteria as fans and players celebrated together like they had just won the Liam McCarthy.

Wexford would go on to beat Offaly in the Leinster final and ultimately lose to Cork in the All-Ireland semi-finals a few weeks later, but that victory over the team who would go on to win six of the next ten All-Ireland’s, still lives long in the memories of Wexford fans.

London vs. Sligo – 2013 Connacht Football Quarter-Final

Ok, so Sligo aren’t exactly Goliaths (apologies to any Sligo people) but London’s victory over the Yeats county in 2013 highlights what an upset in the GAA is all about. London had not won a Connacht championship game since 1977 and had only won one championship game in the meantime.

In the months leading up to this game London were banned by the GAA from travelling to Ireland for warm-up games, this was done as a result of the GAA putting in a rule that prevented county teams from travelling aboard for training camps, this greatly hampered London’s preparations for the opening round of the Connacht championship.

The Exiles got off to a brilliant start, with Lorcan Mulvey firing home an early goal and were able to stretch their advantage to six points before Sligo start firing back. Sligo reduced the deficit to three points, and London’s (and Sligo native) Patrick McGoldrick saw his penalty saved by the Sligo goalkeeper. As half time rolled around London remained up by four points.

As the second half progressed London were up 1-10 to 0-06 at one stage, however, they suffered a setback when McGoldrick was sent off, Sligo’s confidence increased, and they began to close the gap as the game creeped towards the end. Late Sligo points made it a one-point game in the dying seconds as Sligo hit a wide and struck the crossbar as they attempted to draw level.

But London held on and would go on to further success a few weeks later, as they beat Leitrim to reach their first ever Connacht final, were they would ultimately fall to Mayo. For London players in Ruislip that day, they saw the Sligo match as a turning point for London GAA, one were they no longer considered themselves the whipping boys of the Connacht championship.

Antrim vs. Offaly – 1989 All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final

For our final entry we have probably the biggest shock to occur in hurling in the 1980s. Antrim had routinely made it to All-Ireland semi-finals over the past few decades, due to the way the championship use to be structured and the fact that between 1950 and 1988 no Ulster hurling championship was played. Antrim would regularly lose these matches by high scores and hadn’t appeared in an All-Ireland final since 1943.

They were going up against the mighty Offaly, who had dominated Leinster during the 1980s and had secured two All-Ireland’s in 81’ and 85’. With the likes of Joe Dooley and Daithí Regan in their ranks, Offaly were expected to get back to another All-Ireland final with relative ease.

In the early goings Antrim stayed close to Offaly, as Offaly tried to pull away near the end of the first half, an Aidan McCarry goal kept Antrim close to Offaly as the half time whistle came. Then in the second half, Antrim’s full forward line ran riot, with Olcan McFetridge snatching two goals for the Saffs.

These goals helped Antrim control the rest of the game and they ran out comfortable winners on a scoreline of 4-15 to 1-15. In a lovely touch, Offaly players formed a guard of honour as a mark of respect to their unlikely conquerors and Antrim manager Jim Nelson was carried off the pitch.

Antrim took their place in the All-Ireland final, an achievement which inspired the then leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock to attend his first All-Ireland hurling final. Unfortunately for Antrim and Kinnock, Tipperary hammered them in the final, but just the chance to be involved in such a day meant everything to the Antrim players and supporters and shows how sport gives us such joy, particularly when your team is going up against Goliath’s you never expect them to beat.

Can you think of any David vs. Goliath moments from GAA history, if so let us know in the comments below.

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