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20 years on - Mike Frank Russell looks back on the most memorable day in his career

Former Kerry forward Mike Frank Russell will always fondly remember 1996.

Michael Frank Russell in action for Kerry back in 2001.
Michael Frank Russell in action for Kerry back in 2001.
Image: INPHO

TWENTY YEARS AGO, Laune Rangers captured their first ever All-Ireland senior club football title. Mike Frank Russell was only 18 at the time but his memories of that afternoon, and year, are still vivid.

He was in Leaving Cert year in Killorglin at the time and if that wasn’t enough to occupy him, he was training with the county minor and U21 sides as well.

Of all the years he’s played football – and he’s still playing by the way, nothing compared to 1996.

Yes, there were Munster and All-Ireland minor titles before it with Kerry (in 1994) as well as plenty more after – but playing with school and club was a little different, a little more special.

“I was so young at the time it probably didn’t sink in as much but looking back, it was absolutely massive,” he said about Laune Rangers’ march to the St Patrick’s Day showdown with Eire Og from Carlow at headquarters.

He was one of five Kerry minors on the Laune Rangers squad but incredibly, all of them were subs, such was the quality of the team.

“Being in Croke Park with your county is unbelievable but you don’t get too many chances to do it with your club, that’s what made it so special.

President Mary McAleese 11/7/2004 Meeting President Mary McAleese before the 2004 Munster football final. Source: INPHO

“We probably didn’t appreciate it at the time but looking back on it, it’s absolutely huge when you think of the level the game is played at.

“It ranks as one of the best moments of my career for sure.

“I suppose 1996 was a particularly great year for me personally because we won the Hogan Cup with our school and it was the first time we’d won that as well – and we also won an All-Ireland U21 title with Kerry.

“Football in Killorglin that year, I don’t think it’ll ever be surpassed. It was such a special time for the town.”

Laune had a galaxy of stars in their team, with the Hassetts, Mike and Liam the standout players. And with John Evans in charge, they were a formidable unit.

“It’s surreal to be going to Croke Park with your club,” he reflected.

“It almost surpasses anything with Kerry. Obviously anything to do with Kerry is great too but it’s the fellas you grew up with, went to school with, socialised with. I’d definitely put it up there as one of the highlights of my career.

Mike Frank Russell and Eoin Brosnan 5/8/2006 Celebrating with Eoin Brosnan at Croke Park. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

“John Evans used say when you go as a club you might never get back there so you might only get one chance.”

And they took that chance with aplomb, beating the Leinster champions by 4-5 to 0-11.

“The colour and everything, it’s one of those days you’ll never forget as a young fella.”

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In the space of a couple of months, Frank Russell was part of several teams welcomed back to Killorglin.

The Munster Colleges (Corn Ui Mhuiri) was big, the All-Ireland Colleges (Hogan Cup) was bigger but coming into Killorglin, over the bridge and up the hill in the town is still etched in his memory.

“The homecoming was absolutely fantastic and a month previous we had a homecoming with the Hogan Cup as well, it was just great to be involved.

“Even as a sub for Laune in the final, it drove me on as a young fella and I know there are lads in Castlebar and Ballyboden in the same position I was in.

“People say it’s the toughest one to win and I’ve no doubt it is.

“The intercounty level is almost gone one-sided now with a few counties monopolising it but at club level it’s a more even playing field so it’s tougher to win.”

Dr Crokes won the All-Ireland Club SFC 1992 and Castleisland Desmonds won it in 1986 but Laune are still the last Kerry team to have won it.

Mike Frank Russell 28/8/2005 The forward retired from inter-county football in 2009. Source: INPHO

“Kerry might have dominated at intercounty but not so much at club level, I don’t know why and it’s hard to believe.

“But we had an amazing crop of players.

“Timmy Fleming, Joe Shannon, Gerard Murphy, Billy O’Shea and the Hassetts were all there so you were walking into a team of seasoned senior players and it made it easier for us young fellas – and it  definitely helped me starting out.

“We had John Evans training us and he’s gone onto great things. Five or six years before that we’d won a few Kerry minor championships and that was the basis for it that All-Ireland win.

“Eire Og had lost an All-Ireland previously so they were a serious outfit but it was a special group of players that we had too.”

“We’ve come full circle now I suppose and it makes you realise how lucky you were, looking back.

“The last few years have been tough for the club; we’ve been in transition but it makes you appreciate those days a bit more.

“I’m still playing, I’m 38 now this year, it’s hard to believe it’s 20 years ago since then but I still enjoy it.”

The primary school teacher coaches the underage at the club and two decades on, is still in love with the game.

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Brian Canty

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