Opinion

My GAA Life – Armagh Hurler Francie McMullen

Name: Francie McMullen

Which teams did you represent?
Represented Keady Lamh Dhearg (hurling) and Keady Michael Dwyers (Football) before joining St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna in 2011 after moving into the area.

What is your current involvement with the GAA?
I’m still playing with St Patrick’s Junior team whilst not ruling out a return to the blue and yellow of Keady Lamh Dhearg in the Armagh Junior Championship again in 2019. I assist with coaching at the club’s nursery and assist the camogie club with some sessions. I’m the current Operations Manager of Louth GAA having spent the last eight years as their Games Development Manager,

What was your greatest moment in the GAA?
Lifting the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2010 with Armagh having pipped London in the final in Croke Park. A close second would have to be beating Lavey in Dungannon with Keady to reach the club’s only ever Ulster SHC final, also in 2010.

What was the most surprising moment in your career?
Becoming a ‘starter’ in the early days with Armagh hurlers. Frankie Breen (then county manager) threw me in the deep end from day one and I didn’t look back after that.

Who was the best player you ever played with?
There’s a few that could go into this one but I had many battles with Armagh Harps’ Gareth ‘Nippy’ Swift down the years. Very athletic, could pick a pass and take his scores with a good work ethic – played with him at minor and u-21 level for Armagh.

What was the best score you ever saw in a game you were involved in?
An easy one this. Ciaran Hatzer from Culloville played the small ball also for Keady. In an Armagh Hurling League game, playing on the ‘40’ he doubled on a high ball in the air about 35 metres out from goal and it effortlessly sailed over the crossbar. That score wouldn’t be out of place anywhere down the country.

Which manager made the biggest impact on you and why?
In the early days I’d say Sean ‘Maco’ Hughes, Frankie Breen and Sean King gave me a great platform to enjoy and play hurling but in the later days probably Pat O’Halloran from Meath when he took Keady to the Ulster Intermediate final. He would make me feel 10 foot tall, more skilful than I actually was and stronger than any opponent you faced. Any player that worked under him I would think would
have been of the same impression. A top coach and an even better man!

What was the best piece of advice you ever received about playing?
Skill will only take your so far in an game. Heart, determination and work ethic will look after the rest.

What was the best thing about playing in your era?
I would like to think that in the mid 2000s that as hurlers in Armagh, we started getting the backing from within to help us reach our goals as a team and as individual players. We weren’t going to win a Liam Mc- Carthy of course but we trained as hard and as often as the footballing counterparts to start competing for the Nicky Rackard and then Christy Ring Cups during that period. We had earned
the right to more investment into the team’s preparation. From what I can see nowadays, that investment is still there for Armagh hurlers to prepare for and be the best they can be.

What was the worst thing about playing your era?
A lot of our games wouldn’t have been played in county grounds back then – apart from that there’s nothing really.

When did you know it was time to call it quits?
Still tipping away at club level, you’re along time done when the time finally comes around!

What interesting or funny story may readers not know about you or one of your former teammates?
After finishing up with county hurlers 2010, I was diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma late 2011.
This put everything in perspective for me. Following over a year of surgery and chemotherapy treatment at Mandeville Unit in Craigavon Area Hospital (fantastic staff and facility) I’m thankfully well and truly in recovery, aided of course by my wife, children and wider family. One of my motivations during this period was to return to Gaelic games, which happened in 2013 when I lined out again for St
Cullyhanna.