An Irishman's World Cup medal and a whole lot more on display in Cork

Eddie Foley, at the display case where his World Cup referee jacket is displayed (top shelf), with his wife Colette. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Jerseys, memorabilia, and a special medal that has only ever been presented to an Irishman on one occasion are on display in Cork as part of a national tour of a football history exhibition.

The National Football Exhibition forms part of the promotion to celebrate Ireland’s hosting of matches at Euro 2020, and will be in St Peter’s Church, North Main St, until March 24.

The exhibition had its launch last night, and among the attendees was Eddie Foley — the only Irishman to have officiated at a World Cup finals.

Mr Foley has loaned the exhibition the jacket and medal he was presented with for his work at France 98, where he was part of the refereeing teams for the matches between Argentina and Japan, Belgium and Mexico, and Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

“I held onto the jacket for the past 21 years, and the FAI asked if I had anything I could give for the exhibition on tour,” he said. “It was just hanging in a wardrobe, never to be worn again so I gave it to them.”

The jacket and medal are on display in the exhibition, which features 60 years of Uefa European Championship and Irish football history. The free event hosts a range of iconic items

celebrating Ireland’s footballing history with special memorabilia from contributors and the local League of Ireland clubs at each regional venue.

The National Football Exhibition has six separate zones, designed to give attendees an overview of the history of football in Ireland, with each zone packed with memorabilia, interactive features, videos, quizzes, and the opportunity for visitors to record their own commentary for some of Ireland’s greatest goals.

Luke McManus, 6, from Douglas, holding a football used in the 1926 Free State Cup Final between Fordson and Shamrock Rovers, comparing it with the modern ball on display at the FAI exhibition at St Peter’s, North Main St, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Irish referees at the sport’s biggest tournament are rare. Wexford’s Michelle O’Neill will be an assistant referee at this summer’s women’s World Cup in France, having previously officiated at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

Mr Foley is the only Irish person to officiate at a men’s World Cup.

Starting off his career as a referee by doing a basic beginners’ course, Mr Foley rose through the ranks at the AUL before moving up through the Munster Senior League and then refereeing in the League of Ireland.

In 1995, he was appointed to an international panel as an assistant referee, and two years later his performance at the U16 European Championships in Germany caught the eye of Uefa’s refereeing committee.

“I didn’t achieve it on my own, and I had great help from others coming through the ranks,” he said. “There is no bigger occasion than a World Cup, I’d have gladly gone as a ballboy. It was a great achievement.”

The Corkman said while he ran the line in three World Cup games, the presence of star striker Gabriel Batistuta ensures that the clash between Argentina and Japan is the first match he is asked about when the subject of France 98 arises.

“He scored at my end of the pitch,” said Mr Foley. “All you want is a normal game, for it to go reasonably OK, and it did. You try to be as inconspicuous as possible.”

The exhibition has already been in Sligo, and will take in Limerick, Waterford, Donegal, Dundalk, and Galway between now and the Euro 2020 kick-off.

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