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Frank Stockwell's legacy treasured in Galway
In the decades of the 1940’s and 50’s gaelic football produced a raft of players whose fame spread far outside the boundaries of their own counties. Notably, this fantastic era had no TV and no Social Media outlets, and newspaper attention to gaelic football was not as generous, as the coverage afforded over the last four decades.
Radio was the main outlet of the 1950’s, and it would be the later years of that decade, before all Irish homes had electricity for everyday use. Thousands of homes relied upon fully charged battery radios to tune in to Míceál O’Hehir on Sunday afternoons for their weekly feast of summer football.
Super Heroes Of Renown: Having regard to the aforesaid facts, it is truly remarkable how Frank Stockwell and his terrible twin from the same town of Tuam in the Co. Galway, Seán Purcell, became household idols all over Ireland. Unlike Kerry, who were regularly winning Sam Maguires, Galway were only sporadically at the top table of gaelic football.
During the halcyon days of Frank Stockwell and Seán Purcell, Galway claimed just one solitary Sam Maguire in 1956, when they beat Cork in the final. The tribesmen also won the 1956/’57 National Football League. The stats, as illustrated prove, that Frank Stockwell and Seán Purcell’s achievements, in becoming everlasting gaelic football icons, now continuing into the 21st century, could not occur in the current era. These men came from the same club, Tuam Stars and the same county, Galway, and that uniquely adds to the magic that accompanied the Terrible Twins.
The fame of Frank Stockwell is directly linked to the fame of his illustrious comrade in arms, Seán Purcell, and the local authority even stretched that fame, by naming a local road in their honour.
And now the big question; who was Frank Stockwell?
For all their successes on the football fields, and their enduring fame, it remained a fascinating aspect of the lives of Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell, that in their childhood in the mid-Thirties, they were first taught how to play football by a nun, Sister Fursey Morris, at Presentation Convent National School, Tuam, and then by the Christian Brothers, at their school in the town.
Frank Stockwell was born on December 7th, 1928, to Jim and Sara (née Kenny) Stockwell, at Galway Road, Tuam, and the family later moved to Waterslade, Tuam, when he was a boy. Frank’s father was a painter and decorator contractor, and although his son was christened Francis, from an early age, he became known as Frank or Frankeen, and these names followed him throughout his life.
Frank Stockwell received his primary and secondary school education in Presentation Convent National School and Tuam CBS secondary. From kicking a football around his native streets of Tuam in his formative years with his neighbour, Seán Purcell, he was noted as a stand out act. Whilst at secondary school, Frank was selected on the combined Connacht Colleges team for the prestigious interprovincial series. It is recorded, that Connacht won the series, and the student scored a magnificent goal in the final.
Dundalk and London Exile..
After completing his education, he moved to work in Louth, and lined out for his adopted county. Frank’s began his inter-county career in 1948, at the age of twenty and continued to play for Galway for just one year. It was in 1949, that twenty year-old Frank, moved to live in Dundalk, when he took up a job in Paddy Quinn's Drapery shop in Church Street. He was immediately approached by local club, Young Irelanders.
The Galway man had already made his debut for his native county, but on moving to Louth, he was eligible to play with the wee county. Travelling in those days was an awesome task of endurance, and was an obvious factor in Frank's decision to switch allegiance from Galway to Louth..
Aware of his footballing prowess, Louth came calling on his services in 1950 and 1951, and he played eight times for Louth, four in the National League and four in championship matches in 1949. No doubt Louth would have liked to hang onto such a talented forward, but he returned to his native county the following year.
He was selected on the Leinster Railway Cup team, but did not actually play. London life was also sampled and he moved to the glitzy city of London for two years. Whilst in exile in London, he was a star of the gaelic football scene, and also in London, he met and married Pauline Lynn, a native of Crossmolina, Co Mayo.
In 1951 Tuam’s prodigal son returned to his native soil and resumed his football career with Tuam Stars and Galway. He returned to the Galway colours for the 1952 Connacht championship, and instantly reinstated a prolific attacking partnership with his Tuam Stars colleague and friend, Seán Purcell. Lining out at full forward, his ability to finish the chances, created by Purcell, brought considerable success to Tuam Stars and Galway, during the 1950s.
In 1956 Frank won his solitary All Ireland Celtic Cross medal and Cork were the Croke Park victims of Galway’s triumph, as the Tribesmen won 2-13 to 3-07. Ironically that famous Glaway team were trained by a Cork Lieutenant army man, Billy O’Neill, who was a dual star with Galway hurlers and footballers, and also the holder of a junior All Ireland hurling medal, won with his native Cork as captain.
The 1956 All Ireland final is inked in history, with Frank claiming a remarkable score of 2- 05 (60 minutes final and all from open play) and that established a record which lasted for many years. He also had a goal disallowed in that final. Winning seven Connacht senior medals is also a notable achievement and adds significantly to his reputation, as one of the famous Terrible Twins.
The Tuam Stars icon is widely regarded as Galway’s greatest ever full forward, and when speaking about Ireland’s greatest ever full forwards, mention of Frank Stockwell is always on the agenda. Frank’s 1950’s colleague, Seán Purcell, was almost an automatic choice on both the Team of the Century 1984 and The Team of the Millennium 2000.
For Galway fans, the emergence of Frank Stockwell at No. 14, alongside Seán Purcell at No. 11, was a sensational achievement and it could be stated, that as The Terrible Twins of gaelic football of the 1950’s era; greater national achievements may have been anticipated by Galway fans.
Galway lost three All Ireland finals in a row; 1940/41 and42, losing to Kerry twice, and Dublin were the other victors in 1942. Frank Stockwell was just a young impressionable garsúin of twelve years old in 1942, and listening to his elders recalling those three successive All Ireland defeats, was not for his ears.
The free flowing football machine of Stockwell and Purcell, earned Galway a National Football League title for the 1956/67 campaign and it needs to be stated, that winning the secondary national football title at that time, was truly respected.
Stockwell is also fondly remembered for the match-winning goal, from a well-timed cross from Purcell, in the League final against Kerry at Croke Park. Next morning in the Irish Independent, admiring the combination play of the two Tuam wizards, gaelic football writer, John D Hickey, colourfully described Frank Stockwell… as "a diviner of his neighbour's intentions".
The Tuam Star icon played at a time when the Railway Cup competition was at its zenith of popularity and Frank’s medal collection included two glorious triumphs in the colours of Connacht in 1957 and ’58.
With his boyhood club, Tuam Stars, he amassed a fabulous collection of ten county senior football championship medals (the first in 1947 whilst still a teenager) and at club level, with Seán Purcell, they were the leaders of the great Tuam Stars seven-in-a-row team, which went unbeaten in the Galway Senior Football Championship from 1954 to 1960. When the final whistle sounded on Frank’s inter county career, the year 1960 had arrived and little in the matter of titles was marked absent.
Following retirement, an active role in mentoring began, and he played a key advisory role in Galway's three famous All-Ireland victories in a row in 1964-'65-'66 and also in the 1981 National League success.He was also actively involved in the winning of three successive Connacht senior Championship titles in the early eighties.
In summarising Frank Stockwell, his working life was spent running the family painting and decorating business in Tuam. He was reputed to be a modest, gentle and good-humoured gentleman, who was predeceased by his wife Pauline in November 2000.
Standing at just 5’8”, and weighing 12 stone, he was, in the words of one colleague, “pound for pound, one of the best ever. He had everything – a great leap, skill, speed, courage, accuracy and a temperament for the big day.”
Frank Stockwell died on 9th March, 2009 and his funeral, like the funeral of his lifelong friend, Seán Purcell, brought the town of his birth to a grinding halt, on the day he was taken to his final resting place. He is survived by daughters, Fidelis and Marilyn and his son, Francis.
Derry JF Doody
@ All Ireland Hall Of Fame