May 30, 2001
Eighteen-year-old Frank Lynch was an All-Ireland winner in 1957 and later became a fine servant of Louth County Board.
The rate of progress of the Louth footballers has been one of the most encouraging aspects of inter-county developments in recent times. Their recent defeat by Donegal was only the third competitive defeat in 12 months and the Wee County men are currently operating in Division 1 of the National League for the first time in three decades. They had been knocking on the door for some time and were twice denied promotion to the top flight by various re-structurings of the competition. And in 1998, they were beaten by a single point by Meath in the championship while earlier this year, eventual Leinster champions Kildare had to rely on a late goal from a penalty to overcome Paddy Clarke's charges. Louth supporters had good reason to be aggrieved on both occasions...one of Meath's points was questionable while the decision to award Kildare a penalty was in the same category...proof that Lady Luck seldom sides with the underdog.
Frank Lynch will have understood more than most. In 1991, he was in charge of the team that caused a huge upset by beating Kildare in the championship. Having previously disposed of Longford, they then faced Laois at Croke Park in the semi-final but were deprived of victory when squandering enough opportunities to win a bagful of matches. Laois forced a draw and went on to win the subsequent tempestuous replay. A place in the Leinster final had again proved elusive just as it had done over the three previous decades.
It was all so different on the evening of the last Sunday in September 1957. Then, Louth had just won the Sam Maguire Cup after a memorable encounter of David and Goliath proportions with Cork. Frank Lynch was at left-half-forward...at 19 years of age, the youngest player on the team. He could have been forgiven for thinking that his Leinster and All-Ireland medals were the first of many but it wasn't to be. Louth were beaten in the Leinster finals of 1958 and 1960 and have subsequently failed to make it back to the province's big day. It's a statistic that rankles with all of the heros of 1957 but especially with the Haggardstown native. Few Louthmen are as passionate about the welfare of football in the county than Frank.
His arrival on the 1957 team had an interesting background. As a student at St. Marys College Dundalk, he had little option but to play rugby and was a promising exponent of the oval ball game. He was captain of the team and was selected to play for Leinster at Youths level. Rule 27 was very much in force at the time and he was therefore ruled out of contention for a place on the county minor team.
His club form with the Geraldines couldn't be ignored and in 1956, he was selected for a National League game against Wicklow...he had not yet turned 18. But he had picked up an injury and didn't turn up for the game. He was left out of the original selection for the subsequent game against Roscommon but the selectors had a change of heart and he made his debut at left-hal-forward in Elphin, scoring 1-1.
Frank's mentors at St. Marys College were none to pleased that their rugby prodigy was showing signs of opting for a football career and, because of the threat of expulsion, he played the remaining games of the League under the name, Ollie Lynch.
Forty-three years on, it is difficult to believe that a number of Louth players were faced with difficult decisions as the 1957 championships got under way. Incredibly, the decision involved a choice of playing for the county Juniors or Seniors!
There was a feeling that the senior team was going nowhere and that the junior team had a decent chance of winning the Leinster title, at least. Frank, Jim Judge and Mickey Gartlan were eligible for the junior team and the latter pair opted for the 'second' team. Frank was determined to play at the highest level and informed the selectors accordingly prior to the first round of the championship against Carlow at Pairc Tailteann. The story then took another twist...senior team trainer then advised Frank to play for the junior team saying that if the senior team couldn't beat Carlow without him, then he was better off with the juniors.
Carlow were duly accounted for and Frank was included among the substitutes for the second round clash with Wexford. But he was ruled out of contention because the game clashed with the annual sports day at St. Marys!
He was on the substitutes' bench for the provincial semi-final against holders Kildare but wasn't used and was therefore still eligible for the junior team. There was still some pressure from the junior selectors but the Geraldines man was a serious contender for a place on the team to play Dublin in the senior final. And when Alfie Monks had to retire with an injury, Frank was called from the bench to make his championship debut.
He was in no way over-awed by the occasion and scored two points as Louth caused a major upset by taking the Leinster title at Dublin's expense.
Frank was named in the starting fifteen for the first time in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone and although Louth won, he did not have a particularly good game. The subsequent days were spent anxiously worrying about whether or not he would retain his place for the final against Cork but the selectors opted to play the teenager in the No. 12 jersey. The rest, as they say, is history. Frank made a substantial contribution to Louth's shock victory and became one of the youngest players ever to win an All-Ireland SFC medal. Interestingly his direct opponent in the final was Paddy Harrington, father of current top golfer Padraig.
The celebrations soon took off and the entire panel became heroes...nonemore so than the Haggardstown teenager. The future looked exceptionally bright for him even though it was something of a last hurrah for several of his colleagues.
There was a memorable trip to the United States in the following May, and although the team qualified for the Leinster final, they were beaten by Dublin.
Two years later, they were back in the Leinster final but emerging Offaly became champions for the first time.
Frank Lynch soldiered on throughout the 1960's, playing in a variety of positions including full-back. He was wearing the No. 3 jersey when Louth caused a major upset by beating newly-crowned National League champions Longford in the 1966 championship and it was against the same county that he made his final championship appearance in 1970.
He won Railway Cup medals with Leinster in 1961 and '62 but there was to be no repeat of the 1957 glory.
In contrast to most of his contemporaries at both local and national level, Frank subsequently invested heavily in the welfare of football in his county. He was County Board Chairman and also manager of the senior team. The breakthrough to a Leinster final almost came about in 1991 but the semi-final replay defeat by Laois turned out to be a real heart-breaker.
He will have been pleased to see his beloved red and whites making significant progress in recent years. Currently operating out of Division 1, they are now collecting the experience necessary to make a championship breakthrough. And nobody would be more delighted than the man from Haggardstown...still a legend in Louth football circles.
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