The second most important cup in the Donegal GAA calendar is 90 years old this year and the battle to get possession of it begins on Sunday next.
The Democrat Cup, presented to the winners of the All County League Division One, was first presented by the proprietors of the Donegal Democrat to the Donegal Co. Board in 1926.
The Donegal Democrat of Friday, April 23rd, 1926 recorded the following:
“On Sunday evening last a meeting representative of Gaelic clubs of County Donegal and a number of members of the County Board GAA was held in The Mall Hotel, Mr. Cassidy, NT, Ardara (Chairman Donegal County Board GAA) presiding. Also present: Messrs McDyre, NT (Ardara), Logue (Donegal), Dawson, Co. Secretary, GAA (Letterkenny), J J Norton, JJ Woods, Seumas McFadden, Bro. Cassin, T Donaghue (Ballyshannon), McGlynn (Letterkenny Geraldines), Flynn (Letterkenny).
“Mr. Cassidy said that as they were all aware, the proprietors of the ‘Donegal Democrat’ newspaper had very kindly presented a Cup to the County Board of the Gaelic Athletic Association for football competition in the county.
“Mr. C A Stephens, who represented the ‘Democrat’ said the management of the paper were offering the Cup for competition with a view to keeping Gaelic football alive in Donegal during the summer months. To his mind it was a mistake to have a Cup won outright and he thought a club who won a Cup should be satisfied to retain the trophy for a period and have the name of the club inscribed on the Cup. Otherwise, what usually happened was that if a Club which won a Cup for a season was unable to field a team the following season the Cup became private property, and that was the last heard of it.”
At a subsequent Co Board meeting the Democrat Cup competition was put adopted and entries sought. Indeed, an advertisement appeared in the Donegal Democrat seeking entries with a deadline of 4.30 p.m. on Sunday, 23rd May, prior to a Co. Board meeting in the Butt Hall, Ballybofey.
The entry fee for each club to take part in the competition was 2/6.
At that Co. Board meeting in the Butt Hall, the following regulations were made for the competition:
1 - The rules drawn up by the ‘Donegal Democrat’ were accepted.
2 - The competition is subject to GAA laws.
3 - The travelling team to get two thirds of the gate - the home team to get one third, and bear all expenses.
4 - The ‘final’ gate to go to the County Board, who shall give a set of medals with the cup to the winners.
The following draws and fixtures were made:
Section 1 (North-East)
Clonleigh v Castlefin St. Mary’s at Clonleigh, June 13th
Castlefin Emmets v Letterkenny Rovers at Castlefin, June 13th
St. Patrick’s, Derry v Carrigans, at Brandywell Grounds, Derry, June 13th.
Ballybofey v Castlefin Emmets or Rovers
Clonleigh or St. Mary’s, Castlefin v Derry or Carrigans.
Semi-final between winners of second round.
Section II (South and South-West)
Finner A v Ardara at Bundoran, June 6th. Referee, Rev E O’Harte, CF
Ballyshannon v Glenties at Glenties, June 13th. Referee Sean Cassidy, Esq., Ardara.
Finner B - a bye
Finner B v Ardara or Finner A
Ballyshannon or Glenties v winners of second round. Final to be fixed
The first games played appear to between Ballyshannon and Glenties and Castlefin and Letterkenny Rovers on 13th June with Ballyshannon defeating Glenties 5-2 to 1-1 in a game played at The Curragh, while Castlefin Emmets defeated Letterkenny Rovers 0-5 to 0-2.
It seems that St. Mary’s, Castlefin, had a walkover against Clonleigh, and St. Pat’s had a narrow win over Carrigans.
But after these games were completed, Letterkenny Geraldines, Buncrana and Bundoran were permitted to enter the competition and the following additional draws were made: Geraldines v Buncrana; Bundoran v Finner B.
There were the usual objections and the Castlefin-Letterkenny Rovers game was refixed and then ended in a draw, 0-2 each before Castlefin won the third game 0-7 to 0-6. Buncrana defeated Geraldines 2-2 to 1-2. In the second round Castlefin Emmetts defeated Ballybofey while Buncrana defeated St. Pat’s, Derry.
In the South/South-West, Finner A defeated Ballyshannon to reach the final while Castlefin Emmetts prevailed in the North/North West.
The final, played in Ballybofey, on Sunday, 31 October, 1926 between Finner and Castlefin with the Army side coming out on top 3-3 to 0-3. A report in the Derry People said that the game played was only a challenge as ‘Castlefin failed to turn up at the appointed time’ and that Finner were awarded the game.
The Donegal Democrat just reported that the final had taken place with a short summary. Finner led by 3-1 to 0-2 at half-time.
Like many games of the time and in many years to follow, there was a sequel story. Finner went home with the Democrat Cup but they did not receive the medals that were to accompany them.
Correspondence to a County Board meeting the following February, 1927, was revealing:
“A letter was read (from Finner) claiming a set of medals stated to be offered to the winners of the ‘Democrat Cup’ (were not received).
“Mr Curran said his recollection was that the Co. Committee offered medals but not expenses for this competition. The Finner team had received their expenses and could not reasonably expect medals as well.
“It was decided to inform Finner to this effect.”
After Finner, Cúil na gCuirdín did a two in-a-row in 1927 and 1928, while Gaoth Dobhair won it four years in-a-row from 1936 to 1939.
The original Democrat Cup was last won by Sean MacCumhaill's in 1963-'64. It was then replaced by the Golden Grill Cup with the Democrat Cup presented to the Division Two winners, before a new Democrat Cup was presented in 1984.Kilcar were the first winners of the new cup in 1984.
Over the years the Cup has travelled to most areas of the county with St. Michael’s getting their hands on the trophy for a first ever time last year. The only area which has not won the competition is Inishowen.