THE FRANK FOX Memorial Cup is the prize at stake for the winners of the Galway Senior Football Championship final. It commemorates a Dunmore and Galway footballer of notable distinction and versatility, who brought honour and glory to his county by starring in the 1934 All-Ireland final victory over Dublin.
Very sadly, this outstanding Gaelic footballer and athlete died in the prime of his life after failing to recover from illness. He was taken to the Central Hospital, Galway on January 29th, 1940 and had an operation for appendicitis. It was well known at the time that his condition did not immediately give any cause for major concern and after a few weeks it was hoped that he would make a complete recovery to good health, but that did not happen and anxiety increased when blood transfusions were deemed necessary. There was still no improvement in his condition and, as time went by (five months), his great physical strength weakened and there were growing fears for his life. He died on Saturday morning June 29th, 1940 - at the age of 29.
Frank Fox was a very popular figure in sporting circles; it was often written about him in the early 1930s that he had a personality to match his prodigious talent: he loved life, always smiling, comfortable with people, modest about his achievements, and a young man with an impish sense of humour. MÌche·l ” Liod·in, in his history of the Dunmore MacHales club (published in 1983), tells the story of how the young Fox devised a plan to help the Dunmore team replace the only football (battered and ripped!) they possessed: "For devilment, Fox was the star turn in the club. Galway were playing Offaly in the National League at Parkmore, Tuam and Frank told a prominent Dunmore official to stand outside the high wall and wait patiently. Sure enough, in the second half of the game a brand new ball came flying over the wall; it was grabbed by the Dunmore official and 'man and ball' were quickly off down the town and out the Dunmore road." And this was the comment, reportedly, of one frustrated Galway follower watching the game at the time: "Oh my God, isn't Fox kickin' the ball awful wild today!"
If anything ever made him uncomfortable it was hero worship and that's what often greeted him on the athletics scene, in particular. He was a sprinter and he loved taking part in the many big sports days that were then a very popular feature of life in Ireland, always fiercely competitive and of high prestige for the winners. Fox dominated Connacht athletics for many years and he also had many victories outside the West, including the national Tailteann Games 100 yards for U-18s. He had started his athletics career at the age of 14, winning a boys' race at Ballyhaunis, and when he graduated to adult competitions he became almost unbeatable at 100, 220, 440 and 880 yards. He also became an all-rounder, winning the long jump competition at Shrule Sports and throwing the 56lbs at Ballindine.
From Sion Hill, Dunmore and son of local National School teacher James Fox, the talented Frank excelled from an early age in the company of great MacHales' players such as the veteran Mick Donnellan, Brendan Nestor, who was a star member of Galway's All-Ireland winning teams of 1934 and '38; Jimmy Glynn, a great full-back; Martin Thomas Walsh, Johnny Morris, Paddy Howley, Joe Fitzgerald, Brendan and Jarlath Ryan, and Frank's brother Tommy Fox who was also a good athlete. Frank Fox and Brendan Nestor won All-Ireland Junior Championship medals in 1931 and they joined Mick Donnellan on the county senior team that lost the 1933 All-Ireland final to Cavan.
In '34 Frank, now aged 23, had his finest hour when he gave a brilliant display at left half-back in the All-Ireland SFC final win over Dublin by two points, 3-5 to 1-9. It was the Golden Jubilee final, marking the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the GAA in 1884, and it was first time Galway wore the county's new colours: maroon and white.
The future looked bright for Frank Fox and Galway but although the county team went on win the 1938 All-Ireland title by defeating a great Kerry team in a replay, Frank's life had changed considerably in the years after the glory of '34; he had gone to Galway city to work for the Omnibus branch of the Great Southern Railways service, and he played football for the city club Galway Gaels for a couple of years. He also played rugby, a sport he loved, and he wasn't afraid of incurring the wrath of the GAA by doing so, even at the height of the infamous 'Ban' on so-called foreign sports. It was known that Frank and a Dunmore friend, Tommy 'Bradley' Walsh, played for the Tuam and Salthill rugby clubs in the mid-to-late 1930s.
Struggling with a knee injury, Frank returned from Galway to his home place and played junior football for the MacHales in 1938. It was a pity that, at the age of 27, he was not playing alongside his clubmate Brendan Nestor when Galway conquered the mighty Kingdom.
The funeral of Frank Fox was one of the biggest ever seen in the West. GAA and athletics people came from all over Ireland to pay their final respects to a sporting hero and charismatic young man who died too young but he had achieved so much in a relatively short time.
There was a 100-strong guard of honour, comprising footballers and hurlers who had played with Galway in the 1930s along with the County Football Board chairman JJ Nestor and all other officers of the football and hurling boards, for the long funeral procession that passed through Galway city. Former colleagues at Great Southern Railways also walked behind the hearse in processional order. The coffin, draped in the Galway and Dunmore colours, had been carried from the Central Hospital on the sturdy shoulders of a group of men including Mick Donnellan, Brendan Nestor, Bobby Beggs, Tadhg McCarthy, Ned Mulholland and Mick Raftery. In Tuam, the Cathedral bell tolled and Tuam Stars and Corofin footballers were united in a guard of honour standing to attention. There were over 120 motor cars in the funeral procession - at a time when very few 'ordinary' people owned cars and there was petrol rationing because of World War II.
That night, GAA players from Dunmore and the Galway team formed a guard of honour as mourners filed past the coffin up to 11.00 p.m., and on the next day from 8.00 a.m. until Requiem High Mass was celebrated at 11.00 a.m. At the burial of Frank Fox's mortal remains, members of the Galway football team were joined by a large number of Mayo and Roscommon players, and sports people from many other counties.
* In 1951, Mr Tom Fox, living in the USA, presented the trophy which honours the memory of his brother Frank, to Galway County GAA Board.
* FRANK FOX: Born in Dunmore, 1911; son of James and Nora Fox, Sion Hill. Died June 29, 1940.
FOUR MEN who captained Dunmore MacHales to Frank Fox Cup glory: Tommy Keenan, Brian Mahon, Mickey Noone and John Keenan. They were pictured at a club night out recently, at Walshs' Bar, to honour Michael Noone and other victorious captains of Dunmore MacHales senior teams down through the years. The two other winning captains were John Donnellan and SÈamus Leydon. PHOTO: TOMMIE HOWLEY