Art Foley's save against Christy Ring in the 1956 All Ireland Hurling Final

December 9th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

Just like the Seamus Darby goal in the 1982 All Ireland final and the Mickey 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. Now we all have our favourite memory of the legendary broadcaster Micheal o Heir. 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 St home as that final entered its closing minutes. It was pulsating stuff to listen to. It was a match which captured the imagination like few others back then. Tradition favored Cork. They had won twenty two titles and Wexford the defending champions had just two wins 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 23rd because of a polio scare in Cork. Over 83,000 people 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 Foleys team, the defending champions, were leading by two points with just three minutes to play, when Ringey, in search of that 9th All Ireland 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 Heir described in vivid and dramatic detail Foley saved brilliantly, cleared down field, Nicky Rackard goaled, Dixon pointed and Wexford were champions.  Then Ring did a noble thing, he ran into 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 histories pages. Of course time dims the greatest minds but for me o Heirs description of those final pulsating and dramatic closing minutes remained forever etched in my memory and the names Art Foley and Christy Ring are since that memorable day forever spoken of in unison. 

And now just three short weeks ago here I was speeding down the highway towards Long Beech over an hours drive from New York City. The beautiful autumn sun shone brilliantly from cloudless blue sky lighting up the magnificent autumn foliage on the forests around us. And I was on my way to meet Art Foley. Thanks to 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 they 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 traveled 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". 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 come back in the history of the game and Nicky Rackards 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.

Then of course 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 light 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 twenty one. Why he didn't keep going, I didn't know. I'm still surprised. Well, he shot and I blocked just under the cross bar straight up in the air.

This 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 ran shook his hand and said something to Foley, "I won't repeat what he said Weeshie 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, meeting him was easily the highlight to my recent visit to New York. We viewed his All Ireland medals, he showed us his collection of photographs, presented me with a sighed pic of his team, we viewed news cuttings and other awards accumulated during his eleven years as county goalkeeper. He has come home many times for all the get togethers and presentations with his former hurling 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.  Art Foley and his lovely wife Ann, alive and well living in Cumberland St Mastic Long Island New York.

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