Having captained the Dublin minor football team which won the All-Ireland Final in 1958, in 1962 he became the only player in history to play in two provincial Railway Cup finals on the same day, winning medals in both codes for Leinster, writes Noel Coogan.
Since the mid-1980s, the All-Ireland club football and hurling championship finals have been major attractions for GAA supporters at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. But before that the Railway Cup deciders drew enthusiastic crowds to the Jones’s Road venue on March 17 for many years.
The Railway Cup interprovincial competitions began in 1927 when Munster (football) and Leinster (hurling) were the first winners. Over the next few decades there was a big interest in the annual games with players from strong and weaker counties considering it a proud honour to be selected to represent their province.
Countless top-class footballers and hurlers graced the Railway Cup and a select band represented their province in both codes. One of them, Dublin midfielder Des Foley, gained the distinction of starring for winning Leinster teams in finals on the same afternoon.
That magnificent feat was achieved on St Patrick’s Day, 1962 when the St Vincent’s clubman made a piece of history as Munster were mastered in the hurling and then Ulster were overcome in the football.
Foley, only 21 years-old, was on the pitch for all of the 120 minutes.
Des was born into a farming family at Kinsealy in north County Dublin on September 12, 1940, and during his teenage years he began to display exceptional talents in football and hurling. He captained Dublin to All-Ireland minor football glory in 1958 and St Joseph’s, Fairview, to an All-Ireland Colleges football title the following year.
In the hurling final, a late goal from Kilkenny substitute Denis Heaslip gave Leinster a 1-11 to 1-9 victory with Des Foley sending over two points. To make the occasion even more memorable for Des, his older brother, Lar, was at left full-back while other Dublin players involved in the success were team captain Noel Drumgoole, Dessie Ferguson, Mick Kennedy, Achille Boothman, Fran Whelan and Billy Jackson.
An attendance of 40,429 paid in to Croke Park on that Saturday 57 years ago when the relatively new Telefís Éireann showed the second half of the hurling game and the entire football match.
In the hurling Leinster wore white jerseys for the benefit of television viewers and the province’s customary green in the football.
Young Des Foley showed his class in the football final as the side, captained by Offaly full-back Greg Hughes, defeated Ulster by 1-11 to 0-11, with another Dub, Mickey Whelan, netting the decisive goal.
The Leinster football team of that year was backboned by players from Offaly, who lost narrowly to Down in the previous year’s All-Ireland final, and Dublin, with Mick Carley from Westmeath partnering Foley in the middle of the field. Paddy Holden, another All-Ireland minor winner in 1958, Mickey Whelan, John Timmons and Kevin Heffernan were other Dubs on the side.
In 1963 Des Foley captained Dublin to an All-Ireland senior football success when partnered by John Timmons at centrefield in the 1-9 to 0-10 final victory over Galway.
The dual star was on the Dublin team which lost by one point to Tipperary in the 1961 All-Ireland senior hurling final, having defeated Wexford in the provincial decider. He gained another Leinster football medal in 1965 when Longford were beaten in the final.
Also, in that year Des Foley embarked on a political career, being elected as a Fianna Fáil TD before resigning from the party in November ‘71. He unsuccessfully contested the 1973 General Election as an Independent.
Des Foley passed away on February 5, 1995, at the age of 54. Sadly, it was an early departure for one of the GAA’s greatest ever dual players who played the games in a very sporting manner.