In memory of Jim Foley

February 9th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

The Foley brothers from Keel. After all these years the phrase still resonates in the mind, reviving memories of a time long since gone when the greats of Kerry football would be discussed on train journeys to and from the big games in Croke Park. Who was the greatest? Who was the best? Who was the most stylists of all? And who was the greatest Kerry footballer to emigrate? And always the same names kept recurring when the latter question was posed, the Foleys from Keel, Mickey Moynihan from Rathmore and the Hennessey brothers from Ballyduff. All sadly lost to the oceans of the world, emigration at its peak in the hungry fifties. They all headed for New York, the GAA was their life line there, and they became part of the greatest Gaelic football team ever seen outside these shores.  And as you would expect Kerrymen were the back bone. They contested six National League finals, pitting themselves against the best Ireland could produce. And there lining out against the league winners and champions of Ireland were the Foleys of Keel Jim, Mick and Jack. Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Meath, Longford, Galway, all journeyed to New York or welcomed the visitors to Croke Park for those finals.

The phone call came from one of these exemplary men, Brendan Hennessey renowned hurler and footballer from Ballyduff and great friend was on the line with the sad news, Jim Foley was dead. The man generally acclaimed to be one of the greatest players ever to leave The Kingdom of Kerry had died suddenly at his home in San Diego on Saturday January 18th 2014. The request from Brendan was simple and sincere, "Weeshie please let the folks at home know that Jim Foley has died". Jim was born In Keel in 1936 to his parents Dan and Ellen (Flynn) and prior to settling in California he immigrated to New York in 1957. He lived in San Diego for thirty six years, in Connecticut for several tears and his working life saw him visit forty three states as a foreman, teacher and nuclear welder with the firm Bechtel.

Jim first wore the Kerry jersey for the minors in 1953, he was in goal, and Cork beat them by a point. The following year he was again in goal but fate was to play a hand in his career. Following a draw with Waterford the re-play was fixed for Kenmare, the Dingle car conveying four players got held up behind a funeral on the Kenmare road. Panic in the Kerry dressing room, Jim was moved from goal to mid field and it singled the beginning of a magnificent out field career. That was in many experts' opinions the best Kerry minor team never to win an All Ireland. They met Dublin in that 1954 final, one of the most dramatic ever played. Dublin won 3-3-/1-8, Kerry were five points ahead with three minutes to go. Farnan got a Dublin goal and then in injury time a free to Dublin near the corner flag given amid great dissent. Vinnie Bell centered and Kavanagh fisted to the Kerry net and the better side had lost. Referee Bill Jackson (Roscommon) blamed for the long injury time added, six minutes. Brendan Kennelly the renowned poet met Jim Foley on o Connells Bridge the following day, they threw their arms around each other and cried bitter tears. 

That long forgotten team lined out as follows J Cournane (Tralee), Tom Barrett (Tralee), Jack Dowling (Castlegregory), Liam Coughlan (Beaufort), Brendan Kennelly (Ballylongford), Pat o Shea (Dingle), Frank o Leary (Dingle), Jim Foley (Keel), Tom Long (Kerry),Teddy Dowd (Tralee), Johnny Culloty (Killarney Legion), Freddie Lynch (Tralee), Tom Garvey (Dingle) Brian Sheehy (Tralee), Georgie White (Kenmare).Subs; Teddy o Sullivan (Kenmare), James Lamb(Dingle), Tom Burke (Castleisland), George Weir (Tralee), Johnny Foley (Tralee), Eamon Horan (Tralee), Tommy Mulvihill (Tarbert), Mick o Dwyer (Waterville.

When living in Hartford Jim won two American League championships with the local GAA club. And also during this time, New York played in the National Football League which was an amalgamation of local Irish players from all over the East Coast. Jim Foley was part of this New York team that contested six and won two National League titles in 1963 and 1966. He was part of that team which beat Dublin and the famous three in a row Galway side. He played against and matched the very best those counties put up against him. Legendary names such as Lar and Des Foley, Mickey Whelan, Paddy Holden John Timmons, Des "Snitchy" Ferguson (All Dublin) and the Galway greats included, Johnny Gearghty, Enda Colleran, John Donnellan, Mattie McDonagh Seamus Leydon Liam Sammon and Patie Donnellan. The Keel man was a star among stars. I firmly believe emigration robbed Kerry of at least two more All Ireland titles during the fifties. Jim was also part of the first GAA team to travel the world and to meet the Pope in 1969.

He then moved to San Diego in 1978 and opened the Blarney Stone in Clairemont with his wife Pat a year later. He had been very involved in organizing the St Patrick's Day Parade in Hartford, and quickly found himself organizing the very first parade there in San Diego with the help of many others and specifically Tom Mulcahy. The parade hit the streets in 1981. Up until last year both Jim and Tom would stand on 6th and Juniper Street to give the high sign "to let the parade begin"  Over the past thirty five years, Jim Foley had been a huge part of the GAA and Irish community in San Diego. He managed the old Club Clan Na Gael, being actively involved in supporting local teams and through his bar kept the Irish song, story and Irish traditions alive. Asked once what be believes his greatest accomplishment was in relation to the game, he replied, "Winning those two NFL All Irelands and playing alongside my favorite and the greatest player ever to play Gaelic Football; Mick O Connell"

Jim who was predeceased by his wife Pat is survived in San Diego by his daughter, Siobhan and her husband Jeff Lytle and his niece Mary Frances Stanton and her daughter Kara; in Connecticut by two brothers, John and his wife Anne of Manchester, and Michael and his wife Patricia of Niantic, and two sisters, Mary Traynor of Enfield, Ellen (Nell) Hosey and her husband John of West Hartford; and in Ireland by his brother Timothy Foley and his wife Julie and his sister Bridget Kelliher. His sister, Catherine and his four brothers, Thomas, Patrick, Jeremiah and Daniel, predeceased him.

Tribute to Jim Foley from Noel O'Connell (Barr na Sraide)

I missed 'Terrace Talk' tonight,very busy at work. When I got home my brother Gene called and told me that there was much discussion about the great Jim Foley, Rest in Peace, and the famous League Final of 1969 between Kerry & New York in Gaelic Park. At the time I was 14 and 1/2 years old and in New York since I arrived from Cahersiveen when I was six years of age. Although I was far away from home and availability of football news and coverage via the media were nothing akin to today's methods, I was very much glued in to all that was Kerry football. Like many other exiled and first generation GAA youngsters of that era, we lived in Gaelic Park and ate, slept and talked football from dawn to dusk. I was fortunate to have spent a few summers at home in the late 60's and was taken to matches all over the county. And like any young fella', I could tell you the line outs of that great Kerry team of '69/70 in a flash and still can. So being an avid, if not possessed football follower at that age, I can give you some details of that 2 game saga,

In June of 1969, just to let you know, the 'away' league final was played on two consecutive Sundays, with the aggregate score of both matches determining the winner. At the end of regulation time of the second match, the sides were level. It was a blistering hot day and most people thought that Kerry would wilt in the New York heat. Well my friend those geniuses thought wrong, Kerrry came out and put on an exhibition of football that day. Akin to what I saw them do in the second half against Derry in the All Ireland semifinal of 1970. Kerry trailed Derry 08 to 0-6 at halftime that day. Mick O'Connell lost his togs (a big media photo op at the time) and in the second half Kerry outscored Derry 17 points to 2, winning 0-23 to 0-10, I believe. Well back to Jim Foley and that 1969 saga. My friends and I, as I stated  earlier, were engrossed with football and for good reason. New York had a serious panel at the time with Jim & Mick Foley, Mick Moynihan, Tim Fitzgerald, Seamus Nugent, Des Ryan, Tom Furlong, Paddy Cummins, Jim Halpin, Peter Maguire, Brendan Tumulty and Tom Feighery, to name a few. I will try to name the Kerry team that day but may be off a bit Johnn Culloty, Seamus Murphy, Paud  O'Donoghue, Seamus Fitzgerald,  Tom Prendergast, Mick Morris, Mick O'Shea, Mick O'Connell, D. J. Crowley or Mick Fleming (I am not sure), Brendan Lynch,  Pat Griffin, Eamon O'Donoghue, Mick Gleeson, Liam Higgins and Mick O'Dwyer-Dennis O'Sullivan may have been in the backline?

What an epic, game of football. Not for the faint of heart mind you but there was more class than brawn contrary to myths that abound. I went home that day with my piece of gold, a Kerry team jersey given to me by Teddy Bowler, I will always remember that gift, it was extremely special to a youngster who was mad about Kerry football.

Now about Jim Foley, what a class footballer and person. I remember going to Gaelic Park on Saturday mornings when some of the Kerry (New York) panel would do some light training. Jim would take frees and I would feed the balls back to him. For my chore of retrieving balls for Jim, he would teach me the proper way to strike a dead ball free. I watched him and Mick Moynihan as they would stroke the balls so sweetly between the posts, kick after kick.These two men were truly talented Kerry footballers and I am sure they would have been on that Kerry team that won 'Sam' n 1969 & 1970, had they not immigrated. What a debate that would have been for the coveted #11 jersey. I fancy that Pat Griffin & Mick Moynihan were among the best men on the '40' that I have ever seen play the game.

Jim Foley was a special player, very seldom would he make a mistake when in possession. When his brother Mick went for a ball, I rarely saw him beaten in the air. Jim meanwhile, was a more finesse footballer but his physical attributes mad him a very formidable player. These are cherished memories that came rushing back this evening, I am glad that I could share them with you-as always-Ciarrai Abu!!!!!!!!

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