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The 5 Worst Provincial Finals Of The Modern Era

The 5 Worst Provincial Finals Of The Modern Era
By Conor Neville
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1. 1993 Connacht Football Final

Before the 1995 Connacht Football Final between Galway and Mayo in Tuam, one of the on-duty Sunday Sport presenters (forget who it was) recounted a recent conversation with a Mayo supporter who'd informed him that he hoped Mayo would lose because he couldn't face up to the thought of a meeting with Ulster opposition in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Connacht football - which hadn't exactly led the way in the 1980s - managed to plumb fresh new depths in the early 1990s. Ulster had been similarly oppressed during the 70s and 80s but they enjoyed an era of dizzying success in the first half of the 1990s, winning an unprecedented four straight All-Irelands between 1991 and 1994.

The absolute low point for the west was probably 1993. A Mayo team who were some disarray managed to win back-to-back provincial titles due to the poverty of the competition. Both victories were overshadowed by meek displays in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They lost dismally to Donegal in the 1992 semi-final in a match which was declared at the time as the worst ever played in Croke Park and which reportedly convinced the Dublin players in attendance that Sam was more or less in the bag. Tommy Carr detailed how a small clique of Dublin players left early, remarking that they'd beat the pick of the two teams in the final.

However, as bad as 1992 was, at least it wasn't the eye-rubbingly one-sided humiliation that was served up the following year. Mayo played Roscommon in the 1993 Connacht Final. One doesn't need to look far past the scoreline to know it was an appalling match. Mayo won 1-5 to 0-7 thanks  to a second half goal from Ray Dempsey and aided by a bizarre long range point which bounced over the crossbar after veteran goalkeeper Gay Sheerin opted to run alongside the ball rather than catch it in his chest before it hopped. 'Desultory' was the mot juste employed by Keith Duggan in his study of Mayo football.



2. 1998 Ulster Football Final

No sooner had Connacht football climbed out of the slough of despond and into the bright shining uplands than Ulster re-assumed its former status as the runt of the litter - albeit only temporarily.


Derry beat Donegal in two Ulster Finals in the 1990s, both of which were horrifyingly low-scoring and both of which were played on grim, grey days when the rain absolutely booted it down.

However, the conditions that blighted the 1993 final (really not a vintage year for provincial deciders) were on a whole other level and offer, in retrospect, a truckload of mitigation into the bargain. That Derry landed the big one two months later persuades us we'd have got a different game in more amenable conditions.

No such guarantees can be offered in the case of the 1998 Final, when Derry beat Donegal 1-7 to 0-8. The only memory anyone has from the game is Derry's hulking, shaven-headed super sub Geoffrey McGonagle winning a ball, feeding Joe Brolly, who part rounded the keeper and booted the ball to the net. Joe was deep in his kiss-blowing phase at the time and the Donegal supporters were treated to a sustained blast of it after the goal.


A month later, Derry barely raised a challenge against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final and were deeply flattered to only lose by five points. Only an injury time penalty allowed them get the margin down to that. Brolly later said that he barely touched the ball all game but he does now boast that he kept Galway corner back Tomás Mannion scoreless.


3. 2008 Leinster Hurling Final 


While we've focused thus far on dour football matches where scores came dropping very, very slow, there are other provincial letdowns which more resemble last Sunday's Munster hurling final. Grizzly hammerings so brutal that any future re-screenings or youtube clips should be preceded by some form of trigger warning.


Kilkenny's dominance was never more total than in the 2008 season. They won four matches on route to another All-Ireland title, their narrowest margin of victory being a mere nine-point win over Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. Truly, it was squeaky bum time.

In the Leinster Final, they put 5-21 past Wexford for the loss of 17 points in front of a swathes and swathes of blue folded up seats.


The following year, the GAA, presumably with a view to improving the competition in Leinster as much as solving the western conundrum, insisted that Galway be admitted to the Leinster championship over the heads of the Leinster counties themselves. Though Kilkenny remain massively dominant, Leinster hasn't been quite so drab and one-sided since.

Galway are getting a hard rap currently for failing to improve vis-a-vis having recently dumped their manager. But at least they're not losing Leinster Finals by seventeen points.


The Galway county board are not feeling the love from the Leinster brethren and growing more and more antsy. The other Leinster counties, essentially sticking  the two fingers up to the concept of fair play, have refused to engage in a home and away arrangement with Galway.

The county board in Galway are deploying the leave threat once more. But there be no doubt that Gexit would harm the Leinster hurling championship. Just remember the last pre-Galway final.

4. 2015 Leinster Football Final

A toss up between the 2014 and 2015 Leinster finals here. But at least in 2014, there was a sense of outrage in Meath at the margin of defeat.


Last year by contrast, Dublin weren't even clicking properly for large parts, still won by thirteen points, and the feeling afterwards was that Westmeath had avoided disgrace and had perhaps even stolen a moral victory for themselves.

Nothing signified the death of Leinster football more than the reaction to last year's final.

5. 2016 Connacht Football Final 

It's arguable that no match since the Dublin-Donegal 2011 All-Ireland semi-final has attracted such anxious discussion as last weekend's Connacht Final. Once more, the future of Gaelic football hangs in the balance, supposedly threatened by defensive managers and, perhaps more importantly, by statisticians who terrify players with 'possession stats'.

The cursory allowance can be made for the conditions. The common consensus is that the Galway rain shouldn't ship all the blame for this one. As our Gavin Cooney noted, 'football is a game where 30 men handpass the ball from side to side and then the hurling comes on'.

Galway are perhaps unfairly roped into this discussion. Kevin Walsh has done a sterling job in building a defensive structure in a county hitherto renowned for laid-back, cavalier football. They played some intelligent stuff early on but seized up with victory in sight, a sign perhaps that Galway are still mentally fragile following so many defeats.

The Rossies, by contrast, played miserably and will be scratching their head at how they escaped with a draw. The  most damning moment was the sight of Roscommon failing to shoot in the dying seconds with the match there for the winning. Despite their proximity to the Galway goal, referee Conor Lane can't be faulted for presuming they were never going to score.

Read more: Are Roscommon The Biggest Overachievers In Gaelic Football?

Read more: Remembering The Strangest Football Championship Of The 21st Century

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