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Galway GAA : The-Three-In-A-Row

Across Europe in the late 19th century popular pastimes were becoming formally structured spectator sports. Many of the sporting organisations had a broader cultural, imperial or national purpose.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, in 1884, when Michael Cusack convened the first meeting of the ‘Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes’ at Hayes’s Hotel. The objectives of the Association were to promote Irish identity, to give control of Irish athletics to Irish people, to end class divisions in Irish sports and to revive indigenous football, hurling and athletics.

Still a dominant force in Irish sporting, cultural and social life, the GAA played an influential role in the Irish cultural renaissance of the late nineteenth century and in Ireland’s struggle to re-establish its own political, linguistic and cultural identity.

Gaelic Football

Gaelic football is played by two teams of 15 players each on a rectangular pitch. The goalposts are the same shape as in rugby, with the crossbar lower than in rugby and slightly higher than in soccer. The ball can be carried in the hand for a distance of four steps and can be kicked or “hand-passed”, a striking motion with the hand or fist. After every four steps the ball must be either bounced or “soloed”, by dropping the ball onto the foot and kicking it back into the hand. You may not bounce the ball twice in a row. To score you must put the ball over the crossbar for one point or under the crossbar and into the net for a goal, the latter being the equivalent of three points.

The Championship

First contested in 1887, the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is the premier competition in Gaelic football. Historically, the counties in each of the four provinces – Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster – played each other on a knockout basis and the four provincial winners met in the semi-finals. As in the past, the final is played in Croke Park, Dublin, on the third or fourth Sunday in September with the winners receiving the much-coveted Sam Maguire Cup.

Portrait of Michael Cusack (1847-1906), co-founder of the GAA. Courtesy of NUI, Galway.

The Sam Maguire

Made of silver, the Sam Maguire Cup is modelled on the 8th century Ardagh Chalice. Simply called “Sam”, it is named after Sam Maguire, a Cork man who was a key figure in the GAA in London in the early 1900s. The original cup was first presented to Kildare in 1928. It was retired in 1987 and replaced by an exact copy.

The Sam Maguire Cup. Courtesy of GAA Museum, Dublin.

Croke Park

Situated in North Dublin, Croke Park or “Croker” is the principal stadium and headquarters of the GAA. The GAA bought the site at Jones’ Road in 1913 and named it in honour of Archbishop Croke, one of the its first patrons. Redeveloped between 1993 and 2003, the stadium has a capacity of 82,300 making it the third largest sporting stadium in Europe, and the largest not primarily used for soccer.

Croke Park, Dublin. Courtesy of GAA Museum, Dublin.

There’s an All-Ireland in this Galway Team

There is an All-Ireland in this Galway team ran the headline of a Gaelic Weekly article the week after Galway lost to Dublin in the All-Ireland final in 1963. In fact, there were three successive All-Irelands in that Galway team!

From the early 1960s, the GAA was thriving, especially with television adding pictures (Black and White) to the famous voice of Mícheál O’Hehir whose radio commentaries had brought the big matches into the kitchens of the country from 1938 on.

A youthful Galway team lost the 1963 All-Ireland final to Dublin, and the 1967

Connacht semi-final to Mayo. In between, they won three successive All-Ireland finals, the 1964-65 National League and the 1966-67 “home” League final. In the process they captured the hearts of GAA fans everywhere. Under the guidance of John (“Tull”) Dunne, Brendan Nestor and Frank Stockwell, the Galway team

developed a distinctive style, a fast, skilful, quick-passing game with methodical support play, especially in attack, and

they also brought a new dimension to how GAA teams togged out and conducted themselves in public: Galway always looked fashionably neat and stylish; they were fiercely competitive by nature but they still managed to look like they were enjoying themselves; their enthusiasm was infectious, and huge crowds flocked to see them.

It was a magical time for youngsters taken by their parents to Connacht finals in Tuam and Castlebar, and on All-Ireland Final days Maroon and White flags were seen waving all around Croke Park.”

Jim Carney, Tuam Herald, 2014

1964 All-Ireland Champions Galway. Courtesy of Irish Independent

The managers behind the three-in-a-row (Frank Stockwell, Brendan Nestor & John Dunne). From Jack McMahon (1966) Three in a Row.

Player-Wills Reception, Dublin, 1964. Courtesy of Michael O’Donoghue.

1964 Donnellan and Dunne the Stars:

All Six Forwards Scintillated — It’s Galway’s Cup — Superlative Football Shatters Myth of Kerry Football Final Invincibility


“At Croke park yesterday, the dream of a lifetime came true for fifteen Galway men, who not merely beat but trounced the Munster champions by fifteen points to ten.”

Paddy Downey, Irish Times, 1964

All-Ireland Final

Croke Park, Dublin 27 September 1964 | Result Galway 0-15 — 0-10 Kerry | Attendance 76,498 | Referee J. Hatton

Team Johnny Geraghty; Enda Colleran; Noel Tierney; Bosco McDermott; John Donnellan (Captain); Sean Meade; Martin Newell; Mick Garrett; Mick Reynolds; Cyril Dunne; Mattie McDonagh; Séamus Leydon; Christy Tyrrell; Seán Cleary; John Keenan

Substitutes Frank McLoughlin; Kieran O’Connor; Michael Coen; Pat Donnellan; Brian Geraghty; Tom Sands; Tommy Keenan

1965 Galway Make it ‘Two in a Row’!

The proud position at the pinnacle of Gaelic football which Galway attained by winning last year’s All-Ireland, and further established by winning the National League title in New York, was consolidated beyond yea or nay when, at Croke Park yesterday, they repeated their All-Ireland final victory of a year ago over Kerry, and thus became the first Galway team ever to win the title in successive years. It is a heart-stirring achievement by the men of the west, worthy of the wild enthusiasm with which it was greeted by Galway supporters after the game.


All-Ireland Final

Croke Park, Dublin 26 September 1965 | Result Galway 0-12 — 0-09 Kerry | Attendance 77,735 | Referee M. Loftus (Mayo)

Foireann / Team Johnny Geraghty; Enda Colleran (Captain); Noel Tierney; Bosco McDermott; John Donnellan; Sean Meade; Martin Newell; Pat Donnellan; Mick Garrett; Cyril Dunne; Mattie McDonagh; Séamus Leydon; Christy Tyrell; Seán Cleary; John Keenan

Ionadaí / Substitutes Greg Higgins; Tom Sands; Mick Reynolds; Jimmy Glynn; Brian Geraghty; Tommy Keenan

1966 Champions Galway Superb!

But how does one describe the greatness of this Galway team? Some feats and those who perform them stand out like beacons in the history of sport; a Bannister cracking the four-minute mile; a Delaney in Melbourne; a Snell in Rome and in Tokyo; a Clay with spitfire fists in the ring; and Arkle striding over high fences … In the context of football, Galway were all of these yesterday … a team of superb athletes, incredibly skillful, fantastically fast, brilliantly polished, and, to hapless Meath, demoniacally clever.

Paddy Downey, Irish Times, 1966

All-Ireland Final

Croke Park, Dublin 25 September 1966 | Result Galway 1-10 — 0-07 Kerry | Attendance 71,569 | Referee John Hatton (Wicklow)

Foireann / Team Johnny Geraghty; Enda Colleran (Captain); Noel Tierney; Bosco McDermott; Colie McDonagh; Sean Meade; Martin Newell; Pat Donnellan; Jimmy Duggan; Cyril Dunne; Mattie McDonagh; Séamus Leydon; Liam Sammon; Seán Cleary; John Keenan

Ionadaí / Substitutes John Donnellan

One Family

Three Generations of All-Ireland Winning Footballers

Galway All-Ireland Senior Football Victories

1925 Galway declared Champions Michael (Mick) Donnellan Snr
1934 Galway 3-5 Dublin 1-9
1938 Galway 3-3 Kerry 2-6 Replay Galway 2-4 Kerry 0-7
1956 Galway 2-13 Cork 3-7
1964 Galway 0-15 Kerry 0-10 John & Pat Donnellan
1965 Galway 0-12 Kerry 0-9 John & Pat Donnellan
1966 Galway 1-10 Meath 0-7 John & Pat Donnellan
1998 Galway 1-14 Kildare 1-10 Michael Donnellan
2001 Galway 0-17 Meath 0-8 Michael & John Donnellan

The Donnellan family from Dunmore, Co. Galway, have had a family member on six of the nine Galway All-Ireland Senior Football Championship winning teams from 1925 to 2001.

Michael (Mick) Donnellan Snr(1900-1964), played in three All-Ireland finals – 1922, 1925 and 1933 as captain – enjoying success in 1925. Mick was also a leading political figure in the west of Ireland. Having joined Fianna Fáil in 1926, he later left the party and became involved in the establishment of Clann na Talmhan, (the Farmer’s Party). Donnellan led the party from 1939 to 1944.

Having played with their local club team, Dunmore McHales, Mick’s two sons John and Pat, were major contributors to the Galway ‘Three in

a Row’ with John captaining the 1964 team to victory. Tragically, it was during the 1964 All-Ireland final at Croke Park that Mick passed away, unbeknowst to his two sons until the game was over.

In 1998, thirty-two years after the famous ‘Three in a Row’, the family tradition continued with Mick’s grandson Michael, who was part of the Galway team to win the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship against Kildare and in 2001 (with another grandson John on the panel) against Meath.

Michael Donnellan Sr. & the first Galway All-Ireland winning team which beat Cavan in 1925. Courtesy of Clada Minerals.

Michael Donnellan Sr. in Dáil Éireann. Courtesy of Frances Spelman

The Galway team featuring brothers John (left) and Pat Donnellan, Connacht Tribune, 1965. Courtesy of Jim Carney

Player Focus: Enda Colleran

An inspiring captain especially when operating at right half back
Jack Mahon, Three in a Row, 1966

Enda Colleran (1942-2004), a native of Moylough, Co. Galway was one of the outstanding members of the famous Galway ‘Three in a Row’ team, captaining the side in 1965 and 1966. Having played with his local club Mountbellew/Moylough for a time, Colleran’s talents were first noticed on the national stage in 1960 when he won an All-Ireland minor medal with Galway and an All-Ireland Colleges (Hogan Cup) medal with St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, Co. Galway. He made his senior debut for the Galway team in 1961 and between 1963 and 1966 played at right corner back in four successive All-Ireland senior finals.

Colleran’s sporting achievements and prowess were recognised in his selection by a panel of experts including journalists and former players, for the Team of the Century (1984) and by a panel of GAA past presidents and journalists for the Team of the Millennium (2000). Colleran was one of just two Galway men along with Seán Purcell to be named on both teams and the only member of the three-in a row generation to be honoured in this way.

Having retired from his playing career, Colleran went on to manage the Galway Senior Football team and led them to a Connacht senior title in 1976. Colleran also featured as an analyst on the RTÉ programme The Sunday Game in the 1980s.

Enda Colleran accepting the Sam Maguire Cup, 1965. Courtesy of Jim Carney

The Galway team featuring brothers John (left) and Pat Donnellan, Connacht Tribune, 1965. Courtesy of Jim Carney

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