Cummins, Frank

04 September 1992

Frank Cummins
Frank Cummins

The man Kilkenny found hard to replace and with a foot in both camps

I always said it”, announced a perceptive Tipperary man after watching Offaly dump Kilkenny out of yet another Leinster Championship a couple of years ago.

“The day Frank Cummins retired, Kilkenny would never be as successful again”. The facts bear out contention. Frank Cummins has not been replaced and the Black and Amber are still seeking their first All Ireland title since he won his last, in 1983.

A coincidence? Not in the slightest. The reason Frank Cummins hasn’t been replaced is that he was, simply, irreplaceable. Might as well set about removing the Rock of Cashel and putting in a substitute Rock in it’s place. Or knocking down the Great Wall of China and building a new one. The Cork-based demolition expert was the nearest his native county ever came to producing a flesh and blood hurling equivalent of the Rock of Cashel. Stylists may come and go, but a rock of ages like Cummins happens on the scene once in a lifetime

And a Kilkenny team without him and that other great warhorse Ger Henderson must, by definition be easier to beat than any which included the pair of them. No slight on their successors is intended there, it’s just the way it is and has to be. Longevity, someone once remarked, is a true indicator of greatness. (It was an American racehorse trainer, and he was commenting on Vincent O’Brien’s fabulous record over a span of four decades in the sports of kings). If that holds water, then Frank Cummins is indeed one of the modern greats.

The man holds eight All Ireland Senior Hurling medals, seven of them won on the field of play. All seven for the position – midfield – in the years between 1969 and 1982. (His first was as a substitute in 1967). Think about that for a minute. Not the medals so much (after all, his colleagues weren’t bad hurler’s!) as the timespan. Fourteen years at the top, ever present in the most energy-consuming of positions in the fastest of field games. Where standards of fitness and preparation became more demanding each year.

And yet Frank Cummins was still as fit and as hungry – maybe even more so – in 1983 as he had been in 1969. For a man who could in later years definitely be classed as a hurling veteran, incredible going. His record, and it’s components, are unlikely to be ever matched. All Star awards in 1971, 1972, 1982 and 1983: All Ireland club medals with mighty Blackrock in 1972, 1974 and 1979: Texaco hurler of the year in 1983. He did bestride the world like a colossus…

That he enjoyed such success with Blackrock is ironic. Ironic in that the first year the Rockies captured the national club Championship, the side Frank would have hurled with had he remained in Kilkenny was only being formed. It’s name? Ballyhale Shamrocks, future three- times club champions also. Seldom can a player have swapped such success for such success. Whatever way you look at it, Cummins was a man of taste!

Unusually for a Kilkennyman, he first sprang to general notice in the colours of Dublin’s Belcamp College in the early 1960’s. St. Kieran’s won the All Ireland title the same season, but not before they’ve been given the most searching of taste along the way by Belcamp, who forced them to reply thanks in the main to the efforts of a rampaging Cummins.

At first a Garda, he changed careers to become a demolition expert in Cork. His demolition firm duly went from strength to strength and only last week a group of people journeying from the press night in Pairc Ui Chaoimh to the press night in Nowlan Park – arrived in Kilkenny with tidings of the big man; they’d stopped off for a drink along the way and who was knocking down the old local school but a Cummins crew!

The demolition bit was apt. All his hurling career Frank Cummins was a midfield demolition expert. Hitting hard but fair, handing out bonecrunching tackles with those mighty shoulders of his. Size, strength, skill, discipline, honesty – he had it all. Cork, of course, were his favourite opponents. Marriage to Leeside wife, Madeleine, and a happy life in his adopted city certainly didn’t prevent him doing his utmost to put one over the Rebels when the two counties met. The records prove his success. Five All Ireland final appearances for Kilkenny against Cork, four winners’ medals. Highly satisfying.

Images of Cummins in full cry in these games spring to mind unbidden. Bullocking through the Cork defence in 1972 to crash home the goal that set the Black and Amber on their way to an improbably comeback and an amazing eight-point triumph… the hefty shoulder shot he hit that other great competitor, Tim Crowley, under the Hogan Stand in the early stages of the 1982 decider… his crucial role in Kilkenny’s success the following year when dropping back to play as almost a twin centre half alongside Ger Henderson under Ger Cunningham;’s gale-assisted second-half puckouts.

Says Brian Murphy, an opponent in the 1972, ’78, ’82 and ’83 encounters: “Frank was one of best, if not the best, Kilkenny players I’ve ever seen. He put in some fantastic performances for his county over the years and occasionally didn’t receive enough credit. Invariably he rose to the challenge against Cork. He was brilliant in 1982 and 1983 and it must have been an unbelievable boost to his colleagues to have this guy in such form at midfield. And for Blackrock he was a truly great player also, one of the main reasons they won so many honours.

A perhaps even more meaningful tribute was paid unconsciously, on the hour of Offaly’s breakthrough in 1980. The midlanders and Kilkenny went into the dressing rooms halfway through the Leinster final of that year with Offaly well in the hunt. Only one thing was troubling Diarmuid Healy. How would his Offaly men cope with Cummins at midfield in the second half? Legend has it he spend almost that entire interval agonising over the problem. When the sides took the Croke Park award again, Healy couldn’t believe his eyes: Cummins had been taken off! Offaly’s very first provincial title was only 35 minutes away.

It’s true. Greatness is never appreciated till it’s gone. Thankfully Frank Cummins had eight All Ireland medals to accompany him into retirement. Just as importantly, he left an adoring public behind. Things just haven’t been the same since he called it a day. Oh, Frank, will you no’ come back again…

Taken from Hogan Stand magazine 04-09-92

Written by Enda McEvoy.