Northern Ireland news

Martin O'Neill to discuss 'the ban' and the 1971 MacRory Cup controversy

The St Malachy's College MacRory Cup winning team from 1970. Martin O'Neill is seated in the front row to the right of Canon Walter Larkin

MARTIN O'Neill is to share his own experience of being caught up in one of the most controversial rules in Irish sport - 50 years after its removal.

The GAA's Rule 27 banned any involvement with `foreign' sports' and its demise in Belfast in 1971 was a historic moment.

Also known as `the ban', it was introduced in 1905 and outlawed GAA members from playing or watching other sports including soccer, rugby, cricket or hockey.

Those involved with any "imported game which is calculated to injuriously affect our national pastimes" faced suspension.

Previous attempts to delete it from the rule book failed.

It was finally abolished at the GAA Congress held at Queen's University Belfast's Whitla Hall on April 10, 1971.

It was the first time the congress was held in Ulster. Then GAA President Pat Fanning described the occasion as one of the most historic since the association's foundation.

To mark the anniversary, the Queen's GAA Past Members Union is to host two online events next week.

The first will focus on the history of the ban, from its introduction to the 1960s. Author and historian Cormac Moore will provide a talk titled The Steadfast Rule: The GAA's ban on rival games 1920s-1960s. It will be joined by GAA President Larry McCarthy.

The second event will include a talk by Dónal McAnallen on How the Ban was broken: The Road to Abolition at Queen's in 1971.

This will include a discussion with former international soccer player and manager Martin O'Neill about his experience and the controversy surrounding the 1971 MacRory Cup semi final.

Former Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

The match was played just weeks before congress lifted the ban.

O'Neill was captain of the St Malachy's College Belfast team that qualified for the semi-final against west Belfast's St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School.

It was anticipated that the game would be played at Casement Park in Andersonstown in the west of the city.

However, it was suggested to St Malachy's that the match could not go ahead at Casement if O'Neill played, as by 1971 he was starring on the soccer pitch for Distillery FC.

While the ban was not supposed to apply to school competitions, amid the controversy the game was re-located to Omagh where it was played on a practice pitch in private school grounds.

St Malachy's lost the match and O'Neill would later go on to have a successful soccer career.

The events will take place online on April 12 and 15, both starting at 7.30pm. To register, visit the link at

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