THE Glenfin club has always been the heartbeat of Frank McGlynn.
Now, Frank McGlynn is the heartbeat of the club.
And of his county.
Long before the All-Irelands and All-Stars, the young McGlynn spent countless Saturday mornings ‘down at the field’. That was before the field became known as Pairc Tabhoige.
Picture caption: Frank McGlynn in action for Donegal. Picture courtesy of Geraldine Diver.
The bells and whistles had yet to arrive.
His formative years with Glenfin shaped a player who became one of the key components of a Donegal team that set new foundations for the way Gaelic football was played.
He was on the short-list for Footballer of the Year in 2012, when he won his first All-Star.
He scored 1-5 from wing-back that year, including a goal in the Ulster final that finished with all the poise of a seasoned forward and a point against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final after being forced onto his left, his so-called ‘weak side’.
He eyed the target and nonchalantly sailed between the Hill 16 uprights.
At the head of McGlynn’s highlights reel from that campaign is that moment, early on the Thursday morning after Donegal defeated Mayo to win the All-Ireland.
It was the morning he took Sam Maguire into Glenfin.
“That was a special day,” says McGlynn.
“Coming back into the club on a Thursday morning really showed the effort that people made for it. They could have been working or whatever, but they went out of their way to go down. It’s a day I’ll cherish for life.
“Our success in Donegal wasn’t just because of what Jim McGuinness did with the county – it’s all been built up from what we did with our clubs.
“It doesn’t take much sometimes to put youngsters off football, but I couldn’t say a bad word about any of the people I worked with at underage in the club.
“If you have a bad experience with a club manager it could set you back so much, but all my experiences in the club were all positive. I have always been very thankful to the club for where I got in my career.”
With Gaelic football’s most prized chalice under his oxter, McGlynn’s mind wandered back to more innocent days.
It was under the likes of Gerry McCool and Johnny McGinty that he learned the basics as a seven-year-old.
By the time he was at
Under-12s, Paul Houston and PJ Scanlon had quite the team on their hands.
McGlynn’s team defeated Bundoran 2-8 to 2-5 to win a Donegal Under-12 ‘B’ title. A year later, they were Donegal Under-13 ‘A’ champions thanks to a 4-13 to 1-15 win over Ardara.
Paddy O’Connor and Gavin McDermott played on both sides, as did the likes of Yvonne McMonagle, Grainne Houston and Mari Herron, who won an All-Ireland Intermediate crown with the Donegal ladies in 2010.
There, too, was Sheila Campbell, one of Glenfin’s brightest prospects whose career was ended by injury, but who is now on the management team with the Donegal Minor Ladies.
McGlynn has managed several of the club’s underage teams and also had a stint as the manager of the senior ladies, at the same time as he was slicing open opponents at Croke Park.
The changes now at the foot of Alt na Péiste to when McGlynn first sheepishly walked in all those years ago mean the place is almost unrecognisable.
A state-of-the-art clubhouse now stands by the roadside and the pitch resembles a billiard table.
This year, they’ve got a new patch to train upon.
McGlynn says: “We have the best of everything at the club now – and
all the people who made that possible have to be thanked for that.
Those facilities didn’t just appear out of thin air. The conditions now down at the field are so much better than when I’d have started off.
“We used to change in the portacabins at the side of the field on a
Saturday morning. You look now and there are two separate buildings with fine changing rooms.”
The natives to dabble in other sports at times. Some will keep occupied in the winter months playing soccer in the Donegal League with Cappry Rovers or Fintown Harps, but the GAA club is at the heartbeat of the parish.
McGlynn was one of those who locals feared might’ve been lost to them at one stage.
Former classmates at St Columba’s College in Stranorlar remember him as a supremely-talented sportsman who could turn his hand to almost anything.
Teachers would react sometimes with surprise if the young McGlynn appeared for class: ‘Is there no football on today, Frank?’ was a common question.
He played soccer for Drumkeen United. Like now with Donegal, he could defend and attack, whatever the occasion demanded. Having played for Donegal in the Kennedy Cup in 2000, he was asked to play for Everton in the Under-15 Milk Cup that year.
He played, and scored, on an Everton team that included a certain Wayne Rooney.
He says: “You’d have heard the other players talking about how good he was and he was always destined to make it. The stories boys would have told about him and his physicality showed you that he was going to make the breakthrough.”
Leeds United, Preston North End and Wolverhampton Wanderers were others who came calling, but McGlynn opted for Glenfin and Donegal.
It was no surprise to those who knew him best.
He says: “I had a few stints over in England, but if there was a Gaelic football game on, it would have come first.
“In my mind, I was always happier in my mind playing Gaelic football, playing with my friends and the people from my local area. That was a big factor. When I played soccer, it was with people from other places.”
There’s not even a modicum of regret for McGlynn, married to Diane (nee Toner), with two children, Harry and Gracie. A schoolteacher at
Stramore NS in Glendowan, McGlynn is happy with life and with football.
He says: “My family have always been very supportive. I was very lucky in that there was never any great pressure put on me to go out and perform. Football was always about enjoyment and that’s the way it stayed. I look now at the pressure and think back to my time and about how different it is. I was lucky
“Diane has always been into her football too and it’s great now that the children are at an age that when they go past the field, they know it’s where mammy and daddy play.”
Interestingly he lists college and club mates like his brother Seamus,
Leigh Herron and Christopher Morrow among the influences on his career.
He says: “They were always focussed on the club and it really helped with getting to training. You see some young fellas heading away for college and they go down a bad road or whatever. I was very lucky.”
They threatened on a couple of occasions to make the ultimate breakthrough, but Lady Luck didn’t hoist their flag when the time came.
Against St Eunan’s in a Donegal senior championship semi-final in 2007, Glenfin drew a game they should’ve won before an injury-ravaged side lost the replay. That first game is a day that will haunt Seamus Ward and company for eternity. What might have been.
In 2011, Glenfin lost to St Michael’s in a semi-final. They’ve taken big scalps, but the big one has, so far, proved elusive.
McGlynn says: “We had one or two years where we should have gone further.
“We could have made better work of some of those games. We definitely should have made it count more.
“After winning the Under-21 Championship (in 2002), the likes of
Stephen McDermott, Kevin McGlynn and those boys, we probably thought that with that group and our crowd that was coming into minors that we’d have the makings of a team to challenge consistently.
“We always had sporadic years where we’d do well, but the next year you’d be out in the first round.”
McGlynn teaches in Stramore NS in Glendowan and around the club he can see the work that’s being put in to ensure the club retains a beating heart.
They recently defeated Burt in a play-off to retain their status as a Division 2 team and they’ll play again in the Senior Championship next summer.
“We’re drawing from a couple of very small schools, two or three-teacher schools and then we’d have a good share of Dooish,” he says.
“You’re only picking out of a pool of 200 underage kids from 5 to 13.
That’s not a lot when you break it into the age groups. Most kids of that age are targeted by the club and they’re all taking part.
“One or two even dropping off can make a huge difference. The club is doing great work, though. The coaching work is fantastic and there is football all year round now for the underage ones. It’s looking good for the future.”