By Noel Coogan
From 1961 to 1973, the football Grounds Tournament was part of the GAA calendar in the months of October and November. The competition was for the four All-Ireland semi-finalists.
The pairings for the Grounds Tournament semi-finals were the opposite to the championship pairings with the Sam Maguire Cup finalists kept apart. In 1961, Down completed an All-Ireland two-in-a-row with a narrow victory over Offaly before a record crowd of over 90,000 and the great rivals of the time clashed again in the first Grounds Tournament final.
In the semi-finals of the October competition, Down defeated Roscommon by 0-11 to 0-7 in Belfast and Offaly overcame Kerry on a 2-12 to 1-7 scoreline in Tullamore. The final was played at Croke Park on October 29 and Offaly won by 0-11 to 0-8 before an attendance of 22,949.
In his Irish Press match report, Mick Dunne offered the opinion that the latest Offaly v Down clash – they had also met twice at the semi-final stage of the 1960 championship – was better than the previous month’s tussle.
Down were forced to line out without their injured star forward James McCartan and after the sides were on level terms, 0-6 each, at half-time, Offaly had the better of the second 30 minutes. Harry Donnelly took the scoring honours with a contribution of five points. Jimmy O’Hanlon also impressed in the winners’ attack and the defensive efforts of Greg Hughes, John Egan and Phil O’Reilly were also praised.
Kerry were the winners of the second Grounds Tournament, defeating Dublin in the decider by 0-14 to 0-7, having got the better of Cavan in a replayed semi-final. Kerry were completing an autumn double after winning the All-Ireland title with a victory over Roscommon.
Dublin also did the double in 1963 when they repeated their All-Ireland final victory over Galway and the metropolitans were back in the Grounds Tournament final in 1964 – this time in rather bizarre circumstances.