Wexford's Art Foley on that save from Christy Ring in '56 Final
Just like the Seamus Darby goal in the 1982 All-Ireland final and the Mikey Sheehy goal in the 1978 final when he chipped the ball over Paddy Cullen's head into the net, the Art Foley save in the 1956 All-Ireland hurling final against Cork is one of the great iconic moments in the entire history of the GAA. It has been described as the greatest save ever made in a hurling final.
We all have our favourite memory of the legendary broadcaster Micheal O Hehir. If he must be remembered for one broadcast for me it would be the closing stages of that 1956 All-Ireland hurling final. And bear in mind television had yet to arrive in Kerry.
I was glued to our old Bush radio in the kitchen of our new Street home as that final entered its closing minutes. It was pulsating stuff to listen to. It was a match that captured the imagination like few others back then.
Tradition favoured Cork. They had won 22 titles and Wexford the defending champions had just two titles to their name. Such was the interest in the game in Wexford that two funerals had to be postponed until the following day because the hearses were needed to transport people to Dublin. The final had also been delayed until September 23 because of a polio scare in Cork. Over 83,000 was the official attendance but unofficial figures added thousands on to this. Christy Ring was going for a record ninth All-Ireland medal, having won his first back in 1941.
Art Foley's team, the defending champions, were leading by two points with just three minutes to play, when Ringey, in search of that ninth medal, bore down on the goalkeeper and fired a bullet of a shot from just twenty yards out that seemed destined for the back of the net and put Cork on the road to glory.
But as O Hehir described in vivid and dramatic detail, Foley saved brilliantly, cleared down field, Nicky Rackard goaled, Dixon pointed and Wexford were champions.
Ring then did a noble thing; he ran in to Art Foley and shook his hand in full appreciation of a magnificent save. Drama, excitement, suspense of the highest order and Art Foley in that split second had written his name indelibly into history's pages.
Of course, time dims the greatest minds but for me O Hehir's description of those pulsating and dramatic closing minutes remain forever etched in my memory and the names Art Foley and Christy Ring have been forever spoken of in unison since that memorable day.
Just three weeks ago I was speeding down the highway towards Long Beach, an hour's drive from New York City. The beautiful autumn sun shone brilliantly in a cloudless blue sky lighting up the magnificent autumn foliage on the forests around us. I was on my way to meet Art Foley. My two exemplary travelling companions, Dan O'Connor from Bonane just outside Kenmare (he emigrated in 1981) and his friend and GAA fanatic Bernie Freeney, had arranged the visit and we would spend three unforgettable hours in the company of Art and his lovely wife Ann. They welcomed us into their home with open arms and the story of these two Wexford emigrants soon began to unfold.
Two years after that memorable day in Croke Park, Art Foley travelled to New York with Wexford and decided to stay. So why did this legend of the game make a decision to remain in New York?
"Well, I was 27, and I had a wife and three kids [of an eventual six] and the prospects in Ireland weren't too good. I worked at anything and everything. Eventually I went to work for TWA. I stayed there for 34 years as a crew chief," he explained.
I fully expected that the 1956 final was the highlight of his career, but no, and he explained why.
"To tell you the truth the greatest game I ever played in was the League final that same year. We came back from sixteen points behind in the second half and beat Tipperary 5-9 to 2-14. It was probably the greatest comeback in the history of the game and Nicky Rackard's rousing speech in the dressing room at half time, not to be repeated, inspired us to eventual victory. Of course not making little of the '56 All-Ireland but this was special," Art said.
Then I posed the inevitable question; our reason for being in the Foley home far from his native Wexford and his club St Aidans with whom he won seven county championship medals.
"So Art, what are your memories of 'the save?"
His eyes lit up and his expression changed to delight as he replied: "Oh, sure I remember it distinctly; I can still see it clearly. There was a long clearance from Cork and Christy won the ball. He took off on a long solo run, cutting across the field. He came straight down the middle and stopped at the '21'. Why he didn't keep going, I didn't know. I'm still surprised. Well, he shot and I blocked just under the crossbar straight up in the air.
"This is where they always get it wrong. They always say I caught it and cleared it, straight to Nicky [Rackard] and he scored the goal. But I blocked it out and Pat Barry [Cork] doubled on it, and it hit the outside of the net. I then pucked it out to Jim English and he passed it to Tom Ryan, and he got it to Nicky and Nicky got the goal, and we went on to win."
Christy Ring shook his hand and said something to Foley. "I won't repeat what he said and at the final whistle we shouldered him off the pitch. That was how much we respected him."
Art Foley for me is an icon. His name revives memories of an age long since past, and meeting him was easily the highlight of my recent visit to New York. We viewed his All-Ireland medals, he showed us his collection of photographs, and presented me with a signed photo of his team. We viewed cuttings and other awards accumulated during his 11 years as county goalkeeper. He has come home many times for all the reunions with his former team mates. However there are only few of that legendary team now alive and Art is doubtful if he will ever see his native Enniscorthy again.