Louth is a proud G.A.A. county, being at the forefront of the Gaelic Athletic Association since its formation in 1884. In May, 1885, a branch of the Association of the Association was set up in the county following Michael Cusack’s visit to Drogheda. Shortly after, clubs sprung up the length and breadth of the wee county.
Louth were represented by Young Irelands from Dundalk in the first football All Ireland final held at the Benburbs club grounds, Donnybrook on 29th April, 1888. In the early 1900’s Louth qualified for three All Ireland football finals, losing the 1909 final to Kerry but victorious in 1910 and 1912, wins gained at the expense of Kerry ( walk-over ) and Antrim respectively.
In 1928, Louth man, Tom Burke from Drogheda refereed the All Ireland final, the first occasion, Sam Maguire was presented to the winning team, Bill “ Squires “ Gannon lifting the trophy for Kildare.
Louth minor footballers were to the fore in the 1930’s, regularly appearing in Leinster finals. They defeated Kerry in the 1936 All Ireland minor final and in winning the 1940 All Ireland final against Mayo, became the first holders of the Tom Markham Cup.
The 1940’s witnessed the start of the famous Louth – Meath rivalry in Senior football with a number of close encounters fought before huge crowds, culminating in 1949 semi final Leinster Championship clash, when it took three games to decide the outcome, Meath winning the decisive one by a solitary point. In 1949, Louth reached the final of the N.F.L. losing to Mayo by two points. The following year Louth and Mayo contested the All Ireland final, Mayo again triumphant, as a result of a late Mick Flanagan goal. It took two games that year to decide the winner of the Leinster final, Louth defeating Meath in the replay 3-05 to 0-13. Meath, however, gained revenge by winning the 1952 Leinster final.
A famous Louth double was achieved in 1953 in Leinster when the minor and senior footballers won their respective championships, the minors beating Kildare and the senior side beating Wexford. Four years later the whole county rejoiced when Louth, captained by Dermot O’Brien won the Sam Maguire Cup following a 1-09 to 1-07 victory over Cork. Sean Cunningham’s late goal was celebrated throughout the county for the remainder of 1957. Their followed Leinster final defeats, however, in 1958 and 1960. In 1961 further joy was provided when Louth won the Junior All Ireland beating British champions, Yorkshire, in Leeds.
In the years and decades following on, Louth teams have strived to get back to the top table. In 1973, Louth defeated Dublin in the Leinster S.F.C. before losing narrowly to reigning All Ireland champions, Offaly in a Croke Park semi final. Two years later a Louth side playing in an all red strip beat N.F.L. champions Meath in a Leinster S.F.C. quarter final before losing a high scoring semi final to Dublin at Navan, 3-14 to 4-07.
Many would argue that the late 1990’s was a period when Louth should have celebrated Leinster championship success and feel the team was denied by bad luck and controversy. Louth won the All Ireland B championship in 1997 beating Clare in the final but lost out in agonising fashion in Leinster S.F.C. semi finals in 1996, 1997 and 1998 to Dublin, Offaly and Meath respectively.
Louth have enjoyed success in the new millennium with N.F.L. Division 2 titles won in 2000 and 2006 with final victories in Croke Park and Cavan over Offaly and Donegal. But the break through at championship level was proving elusive and particularly a victory over our neighbours Meath. In 2002 at Navan, Louth were looking to an extended run in the “qualifiers“ when leading by four points going in to stoppage time but two late goals for the home side left the “wee“ county shattered. And then 2010!
Over 25,000 Louth supporters made their way to headquarters full of hope that a Leinster title could be achieved. Louth were appearing in their first final in fifty years and all appeared to be going well, entering stoppage time with a one point lead, Louth fans dreaming of paddy Keenan with the Delaney Cup aloft but Meath swoop for a winning score. Joe Sheridan’s late goal remains steeped in controversy but Louth have yet to fully recover from the wound inflicted.
Louth remain forever hopeful though, Louth minors reached a Leinster championship final in 2017, their first appearance in a final in 46 years and the senior team just missed out on league promotion in the current year.
As the present decade draws to a close, Louth Gaels have been given real cause for optimism with the County Board’s decision to purchase a site in Dundalk with a view to developing a modern stadium which it is hoped when completed will provide the catalyst for an upswing in the fortunes of Louth G.A.A.