March 20, 2002
Lar Foley is one of Dublin GAA's true greats. The St Vincent's clubman enjoyed a sensational career at club, county and provincial levels in both codes, in the process guaranteeing himself a permanent place in GAA folklore.
A GAA immortal in every sense of the term, the brilliant dual player was at his prime in the '60s but his extraordinary career also stretched well into the preceding and succeeding decades.
The first time he came to national attention was in 1958, when the then young St Vincent's star featured at corner back on the Dublin side that pipped Derry in the All-Ireland senior football final. By the time he collected his second senior All-Ireland medal five years later, Foley had made the No.3 shirt his own and had established a reputation for himself as one of the most formidable full backs in the business.
Like his brother Des (and, indeed, many other St Vincent's players of that era), he was also already widely acclaimed as a dual-coder of exceptional ability. Both brothers featured (Lar at left corner back) in 1961 when Dublin came agonisingly close to toppling a star-studded Tipperary side in the All-Ireland senior hurling championship final. Incredibly, the Premier County prevailed only by the narrowest of margins, 0-16 to 1-12.
Lar had his fair share of success at national league level. He played against Down in the 1961/62 national football league final. Four years earlier, he had entered the fray as a substitute as Kildare were ousted in the 1957/58 decider. He was also on the Dublin team which defeated the Mournemen to win the 'home' final of 1963/64.
He lined out at midfield for the 1955 and '56 All-Ireland minor football finals, in which the Metropolitans accounted for Tipperary and Leitrim respectively, and came in as a sub for the 1963 and '64 Railway Cup final defeats at the hands of Ulster.
Lar met with more luck at interprovincial level in the small code, however. He wore the No.4 jersey in three successive Railway Cup hurling finals, 1962-64, collecting winners medals in '62 and '64 but losing narrowly to Munster after a replay in the intervening year's showpiece.
Lar Foley didn't experience the glory of All-Ireland club final day success - not because the team wasn't good enough but due to the fact that the competition didn't even exist until the tail end of his career. The great St Vincent's side of the 'sixties would undoubtedly have been a dominant force at national level but the All-Ireland club championship was only inaugurated in 1970.
Vincents took on Nemo in the 1973 final. It went to a replay before the Cork kingpins came out on top, Foley appearing as a substitute in both games. He had retired by the time St Vincent's won their first and only All-Ireland title to date three years later.
The St Vincent's team Lar and Des Foley starred on was one of the greatest ever in the history of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Having featured on the team beaten by Erin's Hope in the 1956 county final, Lar went on to win an incredible total of TWELVE senior county football championships - 1957-62, '64, 1966-67 and 1970-72 . . . not to mention Dublin SHCs in '57, '60, '62 and '64!
There were three other Foley brothers as well as Lar and Des - Martin, Anthony and Fran - the latter two of whom played football with Vincents and soccer with Malahide. But Lar never played any soccer at all. He just never had the time: "Would you believe I never togged out for a single soccer match in my entire life?" he enquires, almost rhetorically. When this writer counters that he'd probably have been quite a useful exponent of the 'foreign' game, the Dublin great simply deadpans: "I'm sure I'd have been well able to kick the ball anyway."
His dry wit is infectious and pleasingly honest.
Looking back on his career, Lar believes the competitive nature of the club scene in Dublin back in the '60s and '70s was of great benefit to the county as a whole: "It was fiercely competitive. It was very difficult to win the senior hurling championship, in particular, with teams like Faughs, Young Irelands, New Irelands, Eoghan Ruadh and Columbas.
"We had a lot of intercounty players but sometimes came up against teams with all intercounty players! I think Dublin football and hurling were a lot stronger at the time. All the lads from outside counties who were based in Dublin used to play their club football and hurling here and that enhanced the whole scene greatly. Now, they can be back home to virtually any part of the country within an hour or two. Nobody from Galway, for example, stays in Dublin for the weekend anymore. The scene used to be a lot more competitive and stronger and we miss that now."
Considering he played in his first county final in 1956, it's amazing to think that Lar Foley only missed out by a few years on Vincents' All-Ireland breakthrough of 1976. Does he regret not having been around for that one? "Are you mad? I could never have lasted that long. I played so much football and hurling with both club and county right through from the mid-fifties into the early seventies . . . it's not that you get fed up doing it, it's just that you get tired doing it. I never liked training anyway at the best of times but eventually it got to the stage where I knew I had given enough."
More recently, Lar managed the Dublin senior hurling team for four years, 1989-93. Regarding that period he says: "I honestly think we could have had a great hurling team in Dublin if everybody was available. I'd love to have had the likes of Dessie Farrell available to me, for example. Dessie was a fantastic footballer but he had great natural talent for hurling as well."
Lar's last game for the Dublin footballers was a national league fixture against Kildare at Navan in the early 'seventies . . . his first championship campaign had been the 1957 one, when Dublin were edged out by Louth in the provincial final.
"I played nearly all my hurling in the '60s," he says. "After that, I just found I no longer had the time. I was self-employed as a farmer and got married and had a young family . . . the time just wasn't available to me any more."
When I make mention of the 1961 All-Ireland hurling final and how close Dublin came to defeating mighty Tipp, Lar scratches his head and murmurs: "Why does everyone have to keep asking me about that one, after all the things I've won? That was a brilliant Tipp team if you look through the team-sheet; we played against some of those lads for years after that in the Railway Cup and we managed to beat them twice, which we felt was quite an achievement." Indeed, revenge was had.
The highlight of Lar's career? "Being born!
"I'd have to say just surviving it and coming out the other end without any major injuries. When I look back at all the games I played with the club and county - and it was uncompromising stuff at the time - I'm pleased to have come out unscathed.
"To win your first All-Ireland is something else. You always remember the minor ones, but the first senior is something very special. In '58, when we beat Derry, I was the baby of the team - I wasn't even 20 yet.
"One of my regrets is that because of the way the championships and leagues were structured at the time I played most of my games against the same counties over and over again. For example, I never played against the likes of Antrim, Mayo, Tyrone, or Donegal."
Lar has some very forthright views on some controversial issues currently doing the rounds: "I think that if you split Dublin they'd be twice as bad as they are now! The problem in Dublin is that there are too many clubs, all competing for the same players. What we need to do is create a system whereby the quality players are guaranteed a game every Sunday.
"We used to play for Vincents three times a week and we never needed to train, but the games don't seem to be there any more and there's too much emphasis on training and running rather than catching and kicking the ball."
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine March 2002
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