Monday 25 November 2013

The Jimmy Cooney Case

In 1938 Tipperary beat Clare by 3-10 to 2-3 in the Munster Senior Hurling championship game played at Limerick, but later lost the game in the Council chambers after a controversy that is now recalled as the Cooney Case.

Tipperary star hurling mid fielder, Jimmy Cooney, who played with the Carrick-on-Suir Davins club, and was based in Dublin as an officer in the Irish Army, fell foul of the notorious GAA Rule 27, commonly known as the 'ban'. In February 1938, he accompanied his brother, who was on holiday from his priestly duties in New Zealand, to a rugby international in Dublin. He received three months suspension and in due course was reinstated by the Leinster GAA Council. Tipperary were delighted that he would be available for duty in the Munster championship.

But alas, their dream was shattered!

Ten days before attending the rugby game, Cooney forwarded his signed declaration form to the Tipperary County Board, as was required at that time, but for some reason it was not forwarded to Central Council until around Easter and the then President of the GAA, Padraig McNamee from Antrim, ruled the declaration invalid because Jimmy Cooney was debarred from all GAA activities (even making a declaration) while suspended, and would thus be unable to play in the Munster championship.

The Tipperary County Board were furious over the decision and threw caution to the wind by playing Cooney in the Whit Tournament in London and in the Munster semi-final against Clare. Before the game, Clare captain Paddy Callaghan informed referee Jim O'Regan from Cork that Clare would object if Tipperary won.

Clare duly objected to Cooney and were awarded the game by the Munster Council. Tippperary counter-objected on the grounds that a member of the Clare team also attended the same rugby match. The only evidence was a statement by Jimmy Cooney which was not admissible because of his status as a suspended player. A further objection to another Clare player whose declaration was held to be invalid was not proved to the Council's satisfaction.

Tipperary, who had been impressive winners of the 1937 All-Ireland championship, only won a solitary All-Ireland title in 1945—when five members of the 1937 team played—until 1949 ushered in a golden era for the county.

Back through the years, having spoken to hurlers and supporters from that era, I became aware that Jimmy Cooney was the greatest mid-fielder of his time. However, his star waned after the 1938 debacle.

Leaving aside the demerits of the 'ban' rule, which was kept in place by brain-washed extremists, the fault for what happened lay squarely with the Tipperary County Board. Firstly, for not forwarding Jimmy Cooney's declaration form to Central Council promptly; and, secondly, by playing the player when they knew that it would be in breach of the rules and would result in loss of the game.

After winning the objection in 1938, Clare lost to Waterford in the Munster final—played at the Cork Athletic Grounds—on a score of 3-5 to 2-5 giving the Decies their first Munster Senior Championship title. Waterford overcame Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, but were beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland final.

An interesting aspect of the 1938 All-Ireland hurling final was that both captains were born in Carrick-on-Suir. Mick Hickey, the Waterford captain, was born in Carrickbeg on the Waterford side of the river. As a youth he moved with his family about 8 miles to a farm south of Portlaw, Co.Waterford. Mick Daniels, the Dublin captain, was born on the Tipperary side of the River Suir, and was a member of the Irish Army based in Dublin in 1938.

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