The 1956 All Ireland final

“Grey beards may tell tall stories of ‘The days 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 1956 decider yesterday in Croke Park where Galway defeated Cork by 2 – 13 to 3 – 7.

“The splendour of the football was inspiring, if not awesome; the tenseness of the closing stages simply beggar description; there were individual displays to rank with the greatest I have ever seen, and yet, despite the supercharged atmosphere of the combat, the conduct of everyone of the contestants was a model of good sportsmanship.” Thus began a report in the Cork Examiner by John D Hickey on the game.

‘Pat O’ reported as follows on the match: “I must confess I was staggered by Galway’s electric opening with Purcell and Stockwell the master-planners in every fast goalward move. On either side of these two, Galway had very capable wingers in O’Neill, Coyle, Kirwan and Young. In fact, Galway was unique in having every one of the 15 positions capably manned. Purcell’s anticipation and shrewd distribution of the ball was the best we have seen since the days of Con Brosnan of Kerry and Larry Stanley of Kildare. All his flankers seemed to know where and when to expect Purcell’s diagonal passes, they were all smoothly laid in front of his man who was racing goalwards. Then Stockwell played ‘will-o-the-wisp’ football. He did not part with the ball to a colleague, he shot hard and true, he put two goals and five points on the board, a great achievement in a final.”

In the first half, Galway pulled away to a 2-6 to 0-6 lead, and two points by Stockwell seemed to herald a comfortable victory, but a goal punched by Johnny Creedon set the game alight. Jackie Coyle and Frank Evers pointed for Galway but then Cork came back with two goals by ‘Toots’ Kelleher and a point by Eric Ryan, leaving just a point between the teams with six minutes to go. In a welter of excitement, Galway came back and scored two points to win a thriller.

The O’Neill mentioned above was of course Billy O’Neill, originally from Cork but by this time he was working for the Army in Renmore. A song that was composed by ‘Graniauaile’ in honour of the 1956 team contains the following verse:

“Now raise up your toast in magnificent gesture

I aim to give honour where honour is due

And who deserves more than that-player-cum-trainer

One Billy O’Neill whose equals are few.

An asset to Galway, to Cork he’s a credit

He too is their loss, but a gain for the West,

Whether hurling or football or physical training

The versatile soldier will give of his best.”

Billy’s daughter has just published a book dedicated to her dad entitled In Our Father’s Time, an account of his life from his early days in Cork to the present. It is a delightful collection of reminiscences, photographs, newspaper reports, etc, which covers his growing up, his sporting career, his army career, and much more. Highly recommended and available in good bookshops.

Our photograph shows captain Jack Mangan leading out the 1956 team to glory. Behind him are Seán Keeley, Gerry Daly, Tom Dillon, Jack Kissane, Jack Mahon, Mick Greally, Frank Evers, Mattie McDonagh, Jackie Coyle, Billy O’Neill, Joe Young, Gerry Kirwan, Frank Stockwell, and Seán Purcell.

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