‘If you are a county player now and go for a pint you are off the panel!’

FRANKIE DOLAN – Controversial, brilliant and enigmatic – and still one of the biggest names in Roscommon football – Frankie reflects on a remarkable career…

If one were to open a debate on who has been the best club footballer in the county over the past 15 years then I would wager that the name of Frankie Dolan would be at the top of most people’s lists. The mercurial Frankie has not fully decided whether or not he will play again in 2016, but if he does, it will be his 20th year playing senior club football. Many would say that although he enjoyed some brilliant years with Roscommon at senior level, he never reached his full potential as a county player, retiring at the age of 28.

  However it is also a fact that since he retired from the inter-county scene he has played the best football of his life, leading St. Brigid’s to several county senior titles, four Connacht crowns and of course an All-Ireland title in 2013 (Frankie scored the winning point in injury-time).

  Frankie is still in superb physical shape and is a selector with the Roscommon U-21s who are getting ready for another season under manager Mark Dowd.

  This week Frankie spoke to SEAMUS DUKE about his football career, the rows, playing county football, the notorious ‘naked pool’ episode, his early retirement from county football and his great run with St. Brigid’s.

Frankie Dolan’s underage GAA career was not exactly a trailblazing one.

  “I played U-12 for St. Brigid’s and we won the championship, but I didn’t play again until minor. I played soccer then from age 12 up to minor level. There was a bit of a row with the club because they said that I had to choose to play only one sport, so I went and played soccer! Even at that stage I didn’t like being told what to do!

  “I played with a number of soccer clubs around Athlone – including Athlone Town – and a couple of games for Bohemians reserves, but I came back to Brigid’s at minor level and we won the championship. I played well in the championship and I think I was the top scorer.

  “I scored eight points out of eleven in the county final but I didn’t get on the county minor team. I think Kevin McStay was over that team too (laughs). I never even got a trial.”

  But soon Frankie was being noticed…

  “I was on the county U-21 team for two years and we won the Connacht Championship in 1999, under Frank Grehan. We beat Sligo in Hyde Park in the Connacht final. But we met Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final and we were hammered. Kerry had a brilliant team that year. The game was in Ennis.

  “I have to say that on the way to that game I remember it was a roasting hot day and the bus broke down outside Ennis and we had no proper warm-up or anything and it was a disaster. The players had to get to the ground in supporters’ cars. It was a bit chaotic.”

  Frankie also played his first game for the Roscommon senior team in 1999.

  “It was in Limerick under Gay Sheeran in the National League. In 2000 we were beaten by Leitrim in the championship in Dr Hyde Park –which was a disaster – and John Tobin took over as manager in 2001.”

  Frankie remembers 2001 with great affection.

  “We had a great year really. We played really well in Tuam against Galway and Seamie O’Neill was brilliant that day. Then we had a really great win in the Connacht final against Mayo, Gerry Lohan scoring a match-winning goal in injury-time. But we were well beaten by Galway in the quarter-final that year in Castlebar. We were looking forward to going to Croke Park so it was disappointing to have to go to Castlebar.”

  In 2003 (and after the notorious ‘nude pool’ controversy, alluded to elsewhere on these pages) Tommy Carr arrived as Roscommon team manager and Frankie probably had his greatest year as a county footballer. In one qualifier against Offaly, he scored an incredible 0-12 in Mullingar, and then two weeks later he improved on that with a haul of 0-13 against Kildare in front of 26,000 people at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Surely that was good enough to win him an All-Star? No. A nomination yes, but no gong.

  “I had a great year in 2003 and I was probably lucky it all went right for me but I have to say I was disappointed that I didn’t get the All-Star that year – but you get over these things and move on. But 2003 was good. We played well in the league and we were only beaten by a few points by Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park.

  “We had another good year in 2004 too and only lost out to Dubin by a few points. We were probably missing three or four class players to get us over the line, to be honest.”

  Frankie played on with Roscommon until 2008 when he decided to retire from inter-county football.

  “I had enough of it to be honest. We were getting too much stick and there was a good bit of it coming from local sources too and I had enough. I thought it was very unfair. But in a strange kind of way I was lucky to have given up the county scene when I did because the intense training that is required would have meant that I would never have been able to play for the club as long as I have done.

  “I would never have been able to stay playing as long if I was training and playing with the county. Looking back it was a great decision because I loved playing with the club after that and we were very successful.”

  Frankie will always be associated with St. Brigid’s, but he took a sabbatical with Ballymahon in the early 2000s. Needless to say Ballymahon won a Longford senior title with Frankie on board and he was named man of the match in the county final.

  “I had a fall-out with St. Brigid’s in 2002 and I went to Ballymahon. In 2002 and 2003 I was working in Tullamore and my uncle Dessie and Christy Cooney were managers in Ballymahon. I transferred over to them and they had a great team and won the championship there, which was great.”

  Frankie came back to St. Brigid’s in 2004 and the rest, as they say, is history.

  “We knew that we were going well in Brigid’s. The club were winning the U-21 title every year and we had plenty of young players coming on to the senior team every year and we were getting stronger. We knew we had a good panel.”

  Brigid’s had a super team. They were winning Connacht titles, and then they lost out to Crossmaglen Rangers in an All-Ireland final in 2011. But when Brigid’s lost to neighbours Garrycastle in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2012, did Frankie think that his chances of an All-Ireland club medal were gone?

  “Not really. I knew – and some of the more senior lads on the team knew – that if we got someone good in to manage the team we were good enough to do it. We were a bit overawed when we played Crossmaglen in the final and we knew if we got back there we would be much better. Then Kevin McStay and Liam McHale arrived and I knew from the first meeting we had with them in the Hodson Bay Hotel that we were in business. Everything was done to a tee. They laid it on the line for us and told us what was required to win an All-Ireland club title. They never left a stone unturned and every one of the players bought into their regime –that was so vital. To kick the winning point in an All-Ireland final for your own club was mighty, but we had a great year that year overall.

“We played some great football and we put up some great scores and some great performances. We got some superb coaching from Liam McHale and Kevin and Benny O’Brien and it was so enjoyable playing that year. It will only be in years to come that we will fully realise how big a deal it was. We should have won another one. We have regrets about our display against Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland final that we lost and also the semi-final and the way we played against Garrycastle but there are ups and downs and you have to take the rough with the smooth.”

  So the big question…will Frankie Dolan play senior football for St Brigid’s in 2016? 

  “I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’ll see how the Christmas goes. I was very disappointed the way things finished this year (Brigid’s were beaten by Clann na nGael in the county semi-final) and I’d like to finish on a winning note if possible.

  “I know that can’t always happen but I will see how I feel after Christmas and who the new team manager in Brigid’s is and I’ll make up my mind then. But I still love it. It’s hard to beat the banter and the camaraderie and it would be nice to be part of it again.

  “We have been together as a team for so long and won and lost so much, it would be nice to be able to do it again…

  “I’m a selector with the county U-21s again this year. We had a great team last year but we lost out to Tyrone and that was very disappointing because I thought we had a great chance to win the All-Ireland. We have a nice team again for 2016. We have a lot of exciting young players to work with.”

  Frankie says that county football is now far too serious and he is glad he is out of that scene.

  “I have been lucky with injuries to be honest but I know that if I didn’t give up the county training I would be retired a long time ago.

  “Club football is not as serious as the county scene, which is great. I honestly think that county football is far too serious now. If you are a county player now and go for a pint you are off the panel. When we were playing for Roscommon you could have a few pints after the game and go in and meet the supporters.

  “I was talking to a man last week who never misses a Roscommon game and he told me he knows none of the Roscommon players now…all because he never meets them socially and that is sad really. It is gone far too serious.”

  Frankie, married to Caroline and living in Roscommon town, has two sons, Ryan (3) and Jack (8 months) – so will they be Roscommon Gaels players?

  He laughs – and then answers! }It’s something that won’t be coming up for a while but I suppose they will in time but you don’t know what’s down the road. We will see what happens. As long as they are healthy and happy that’s all that matters.”