‘In Croke Park on All-Ireland Days,
In sunshine, wind and rain,
On Hill 16 the sign went up,
For scores, the teams there playing.’
— Gerry Nugent, graveside oration for Frank Hogan
The unique Christian message to the power of the GAA that was the John 3:7 sign made famous for over 30 years at stadiums around Ireland had its final day out in Limerick yesterday as Frank Hogan, who married his deep faith with a passion for Gaelic Games, was laid to rest in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery.
Those who knew Hogan through his born again Christian conviction, or simply by seeing him in the Gaelic Grounds, Semple Stadium, Croke Park, and well beyond with his John 3:7 sign, gathered to pay their respects at Thompson’s Funeral Home in the city and afterwards at his graveside.
Apart from his immediate family, those present included long-time friends from the GAA terraces and festival circuit around Ireland and fellow born again Christians, as well as a former government minister and family friend, Jan O’Sullivan.
“Frank got his message across in a very effective way,” said Ms O’Sullivan, the former minister for education and Labour TD. “He didn’t push it on anyone but a lot of people went to matches and automatically looked out for John 3:7. Everyone knew what he represented.
Everyone absolutely respected him and would have been impressed by him more than others preaching the same message. It was the quiet way he went about it and the fact that he went among the people to matches that people were passionate about.
“He had a message and brought it to the people in an always polite and gentle way,” she added.
“He was a man of the people and very down to earth and I say that having known him over 50 years,” said Jimmy Cooney.
“He was a character and a great man for a ball hop. I remember him when he had the clothes shop and he’d be going around in the best of gear and flying around in an E-Type Jaguar — he was like James Bond. He was ahead of his time in what he did with his John 3:7 sign. He knew his hurling and the last time I went to a match with him was the replay of the Munster minor final between Limerick and Waterford in Thurles [in 2013]. We went together and afterwards he went for tea to his friend’s house and I went for a pint in the Mackey Bar,’ he added.
“Anytime Frank came to Thurles he’d drop into me,” revealed Jim Dwyer, “Hurling was the big thing with him, because it’s such a great game and because he wanted to see Limerick win an All-Ireland.”
“He would have loved to be in Croke Park when Limerick finally won the All-Ireland, but was too ill at the time,” said Eamonn Phelan, assistant secretary of Limerick GAA. “He started in the Gaelic Grounds and from there travelled throughout the country to hurling and football games.”
“He loved his football as well,” said Gerry Nugent, who gave the graveside oration in Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery.
“In the documentary about him a number years ago he used Con Houlihan’s line that ‘football is for strong men, but hurling is for heroes’.
“He spent over 30 years walking up and down the country. He went to All-Ireland finals when he didn’t have tickets, but yet he got in. After All-Irelands he always travelled to the county that won the Liam MacCarthy or the Sam Maguire and slept in his car if he didn’t have accommodation.”
“Frank came to many festivals with me with his placard,” recalled another longtime friend, David Stevens.
First he had the John 3:16 sign, then John 3:7. We’d be at the Rose of Tralee, the Galway Races, fleadhanna, the Trip to Tipp, and more.
“I remember walking in Tralee and it took us two hours to get through the town, because he was talking to people all the time about what the sign meant. I love the way the media have talked about Frank being an evangelist because that’s exactly what he was,” he added.
“All the supporters grew to love him”, noted Phelan, “and he became an icon with his placard and a one-man show at games. People loved him because he was so approachable, young and old.
“At the Limerick match on Saturday night, I mentioned it to a few people that Frank Hogan died and they didn’t know who he was, but when I mentioned John 3:7 everyone knew. The reaction on social media to his passing was phenomenal and it showed how much affection people had for him.”
“I would not be surprised if they put John 3:7 behind the goal in Thurles as a permanent honour to him,” said another friend David Adams. “They should do it in Thurles or Croke Park. Something like that would be ideal, because John 3:7 was Frank Hogan’s life story and many followed that story. It was part of the GAA for over 30 years.”