Galway made it to the All-Ireland final in 1956 for the first time since 1942. They beat Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, and Tyrone on the way and faced Cork in the final. The match was delayed for three weeks because of an outbreak of polio in Cork. It was played on October 7 in front of more than 70,000 people and it turned out to be one of the most exciting and thrilling finals in the history of the sport.
The demand for tickets was insatiable and the County Board had only 3,000 to distribute. Galway took to the field in the all white strip of Connacht while Cork were in the blue of Munster.
After some end to end action, Gerry Kirwan pointed for Galway, then Frank Stockwell punched the ball over the bar for another. A few minutes later he soloed through the defence and pointed again. Cork levelled the score but then Sean Purcell took a sideline kick and floated the ball into the square. Billy O’Neill jumped high and palmed the ball to Stockwell who was running towards goal, and he forced the ball into the net. Again Cork fought back to get within a point of Galway, but then Sean Purcell received a pass from Jackie Coyle out on the wing. As soon as he saw this Frank Stockwell was off and running, leaving his marker behind. Purcell expertly flighted the ball into his hands and he buried it in the net. By half time Galway were leading by 2 – 6 to 0 – 6.
They went eight points clear before Cork staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in All-Ireland final history. Two quick goals put them right back in contention. Galway then scored two points but Cork got a third goal which left them just a point behind. The pressure was relentless, any Galway person there will tell you the clock never ticked so slowly, but then up stepped the ‘terrible twins’ again. First Purcell pointed a free, and then seconds later took a sideline kick and, with great accuracy, found Stockwell who swivelled around and put the ball over the bar.
John D Hickey, writing in the Irish Independent, said: “Grey-beards may tell tall stories of ‘when men were men’ but never, I feel certain, was there an All-Ireland Senior Football final so completely, and let me add, so distressingly satisfying as the decider yesterday when Galway defeated Cork by 2 – 13 to 3 – 7. The game had just everything! The splendour of the football was inspiring if not awesome; there were individual displays to rank with the greatest I have ever seen, and yet, despite the supercharged atmosphere of the contest, the conduct of every one of the contestants was a model of good sportsmanship.”
Our photograph shows Galway captain Jack Mangan leading his team on the parade lap before the game. The rest of the team were Tom ‘Pook’ Dillon, Gerry Daly, Jack Kissane, Mick Greally, Jack Mahon, Sean Keely, Frank Evers, Mattie McDonagh, Sean Purcell, Jackie Coyle, Gerry Kirwan, Frank Stockwell, Joe Young, and Billy O’Neill.
The photograph and the above information come from a new book entitled Legends of Galway Football, 1900 – 1960 by EJ Healy, published by Original Writing. It consists of profiles of 15 players, who, over the years, wore the maroon jersey with distinction. It is a must for Galway football fans and is in good bookshops at €20.
Another recently published book is Paul Duffy’s Galway, History on a Postcard, a remarkable collection of old postcards of different parts of the county (the city volume will follow ) with very informed and informative texts accompanying the illustrations; a simple formula that works beautifully. Highly recommended, at €22 in good bookshops.