The Taming of the Game


It is generally believed that the decision of the founders of the GAA to make the parish and county the units of the Association was responsible for the strong and determined loyalty and pride in parish and county, which is such a feature of Ireland.

Yet tradition has it that it was a cross-country hurling match between Tipperary and Kilkenny that took place in the vicinity of Fennor long before the GAA was founded and finished with Tipperary losing the day and turning to throwing stones at their opponents, thereby gaining the unenviable title of "Tipperary Stone Throwers". This would seem to suggest that identification with county was already present in pre-GAA days and that Tipperary men couldn't bear the thought of being beaten by Kilkenny. Throwing stones at the victors wasn't very honourable but is probably understandable.

The type of game played on that occasion was cross-country hurling as distinct from playing within a strictly confined area, such as a field between opposite goals. Cross-country hurling, known also as hurling home, abhaile, seuaibin, had as its object to bring a ball a distance of some miles across the countryside or along a road to the team's base, which might be the parish chapel, a landlord's house, a particular gate or some such landmark.

Bringing Order to the Game

It took a long time for the GAA to reach its present state and there were many teething problems along the way. The mention of the presence of the priest and the landlord in Conyngham's account is significant. They were important for law and order.

During the Golden Age of hurling in the 18th century, the landlord on horseback rode up and down beside play with his whip ready to break up any rows or punish those guilty of foul play. When the GAA was founded one of the first things it had to do was to formulate rules, behind which Maurice Davin was the main driving force. The referee took over from the role of the priest and the landlord and became the upholder of law and order on the field. He wasn't always successful and many a time the parish priest and local police had to be called in to supplement the his authority.

There were many cases where the referee had a difficult task imposing his authority. One such instance occurred on February 24th 1888 when Thurles played Slieveardagh (John O'Leary's) in the county football championship. According to Sport 5,000 people turned up to see Thurles win by two points to nil. (The football must have been very heavy!). The referee, Mr T O'Grady. was kept very busy 'as the order of the people was anything but commendable and they kept constantly trespassing on the players ground'.

Many Infringements

Another instance was a football game between Ballingarry Smith O'Brien's and Inch at Horse and Jockey on September 2nd 1894. Inch won by two points but Ballingarry objected because;

1) The referee refused to allow a free kick to Ballingarry after an Inch player had struck out the ball defending their goal.

2) The ball was not in play when a point was scored as the referee did not blow the whistle when the ball went out and it was improperly thrown in.

3) One of the Inch players caught a Ballingarry man from behind and knocked him to the ground, and when the Ballingarry man in turn knocked down the Inch player, he was put off the field while the Inch player was allowed to play on.

4) The Inch goalkeeper knocked down a Ballingarry player from behind.

5) In the Inch team some of the best players were from other parts of the county.

6) One of the Inch players carried the ball about 30 yards hopping the ball with both hands, but only one hand was allowed.

A real litany of complaints and infringements indeed! What is interesting is the knowledge of the rules the writer possessed. In fact, it would appear that he had a greater knowledge of them than the referee had. Does the incident tells us that the rules were quickly learned and, (although they were not always observed on the field of play), recognised and accepted? A long distance had been travelled from the stone throwing days at Fennor!.



'Olde Rules' Hurling Match, Stonethrowers vs Cats, Gortnahoe, July 31, 1998