PROUD PARENTS: Frank Toman, who played for Armagh in the 1977 All Ireland gaelic football final, and wife Janice with their Great Britain hockey star daughter Anna.
MORE recently he has been better known in sporting circles as Anna Toman’s dad, a proud parent following his England and GB hockey star daughter home and abroad, at least in a pre-pandemic world before coronavirus restrictions curtailed travel and attending events.
But, back in the day, Frank Toman was famous in his own right thanks to his exploits as a gifted gaelic footballer who firstly shone brightly as a schoolboy, uniquely winning Hogan Cups with two different institutions, and went on to play in an All Ireland final for Armagh.
The talented Lurgan lad’s first MacRory and Hogan Cup successes came aged just 15 in 1967 with Newry school St Colman’s College, where he boarded before moving to St Mary’s CBS in Belfast to facilitate A-level choices.
In an interview with Andy Watters in the Irish News last summer, Toman recalled with some indignation being snubbed by the opposition manager when he returned to face his old school in a MacRory Cup tie and how he made them pay by scoring a few goals!
After all he had done for St Colman’s, including captaining teams, the hostile reception incensed Toman and the star forward fired St Mary’s CBS to a huge win on their way to becoming the only Belfast side ever to be crowned All Ireland schoolboy champions.
A player who became known amongst other things for a sweet left foot, Frank Toman was playing club football for Clann Eireann at adult level from the age of 15 and, having won an Ulster Minor title with Armagh, made his senior Orchard debut when still just 18.
He was set for a long inter-county career and had enrolled to study at the newly-established University of Ulster, but, unenamoured by the increasingly fractious community divisions in Northern Ireland in the early seventies, Toman temporarily moved away.
“(After Bloody Sunday), I thought there was going to be a civil war and I would have to take a side. A lot of the lads I ran about with were Protestants so there’s no way I was going to be told who I had to identify with or what side I was on,” he told Watters in the interview.
“In those days, people only had to ask you your name or what school you went to, and they’d know whether you were a Protestant or a Catholic and put a label on you and I disliked that intensely. So, I cleared off, firstly to the Channel Islands and then London for a few years.”
By the time Toman moved back in 1976, his old St Colman’s coach Gerry O’Neill was the Armagh manager and an Orchard county team featuring his schoolmate Jimmy Smyth, also from Lurgan, and Crossmaglen’s Joe Kernan was starting to go places.
Frank weighed in with three points each against Cavan and Monaghan as Armagh reached the 1977 Ulster final but, troubled by an ankle problem and feeling his face didn’t fit with the county chairman, he was dropped to the bench for the decider against Derry.
Armagh made the All Ireland final for only the second time in Orchard history and last until the historic 2002 triumph under Kernan’s management, but the big game against Dublin was already effectively lost by the time Toman was brought on in the last quarter.
Captained by Smyth, the orangemen were beaten 5-12 to 3-6 by the Dubs in front of a crowd of 66,542 in Croke Park with Kernan netting twice and Paddy Moriarty scoring the other Armagh goal.
Incidentally, Paddy’s daughter Maebh Moriarty would later play gaelic football for Frank Toman’s club Clann Eireann and she came off the bench for Armagh ladies in their only All Ireland final to date in 2006.
Two more members of that Armagh All Ireland final team of 1977, Noel Marley and Brian McAlinden, had seven daughters between them who went on to play gaelic football for the Orchard county, but circumstances meant Anna Toman taking a different sporting path.
Frank had taken up rugby at the age of 30, playing outhalf for Lurgan before a move to Belfast saw him join the Civil Service club for whom his wife Janice played hockey. The couple later moved to Derby in 1988, a few years before Anna was born.
Sport remained an important passion and Toman not only kept playing rugby until the age of 50 but helped set up a gaelic team in Derby. They won the Midlands Championship but hopes of a British Club Championship success were scuppered.
In his Irish News interview, Frank ruefully recalls how they lost the semi-final by a point to a London outfit packed by ringers from the Kerry Under 21 team who had apparently been brought over specially for the occasion, all expenses paid!
She might be closing in on a century of international hockey caps, going for gold with Team GB at the Olympics and a possible future England captain but, back in this part of the world, Anna accepts she’d probably be referred to first and foremost as ‘Frank Toman’s daughter’.
“I’m hugely proud of my dad’s gaelic football background and the fact he’s so well remembered back there even now. I was always very aware of his sporting prowess and grew up with him telling me stories about his gaelic career,” she told Your Lurgan's sister newspaper, the Ulster Gazette.
“When I got older, understood sport properly, and was competing myself, that became more meaningful. Anytime we’d be over, including for one family funeral, people would be talking admiringly about his playing days and telling me how good he was.
“Even in the past year, that Irish News feature has really brought his career to life for me,” reflects Anna, who having been born and brought up in England, would admit she may not have a full grasp of the context or just how big gaelic games is on this island.
Anna thinks she “may have seen a female match somewhere when very young” but is sketchy about the details and hasn’t personally played ladies gaelic football but is blown away by the size of the record crowd of 56,114 who attended the 2019 All Ireland final.
“I haven’t watched as much gaelic football as I should, and indeed haven’t been over there as much in recent years now I’ve no longer grandparents alive, but as a sportswoman myself it’s brilliant to hear that the female side of things is so strong and well supported.”
Given her hockey prowess, you suspect camogie might suit Toman more than the bigger ball code and she says: “I’ve actually played that in the garden when young and do have a stick (hurl) at home, though it’s probably collecting cobwebs somewhere.
“I’ve watched camogie matches, hurling too, and it’s certainly a very fast, physical sport. Some people think hockey’s crazy, but I think hurling takes that to a whole different level!” she exclaims.
The options were different in England but, with such sporty parents, it was no surprise that Anna and her brother, who not only followed his dad by playing rugby but was good enough at soccer to get a trial with Leicester City, caught the bug.
Soccer and athletics competed for Anna’s attention in the early years, but her mum’s sport of hockey won out as her evident talent was rewarded with call-ups to regional and national teams, meaning increasing commitment and then exclusive focus.
As she progressed through the ranks with the England age group sides, including captaining her country at Under 16, Under 18 and Under 21 level, it was apparent that the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree and Anna says she has inherited traits from her parents.
“I’ve got quite a calm nature on the pitch compared to some of the girls, who can be a bit hot-headed, so they look to me to calm them down. Mum says that’s something I’ve taken after dad from his sporting days whereas she was a bit more feisty!”
Anna describes her proud parents as “my number one supporters” and, now approaching 70, Frank Toman along with wife Janice have got great joy from their daughter’s hockey career, getting good use out of their mobile home following her around Europe.
Unfortunately, they won’t be able to make it to Toyko due to the current restrictions, but Frank is savouring this sporty parent phase as ‘Anna Toman’s dad’, though he has admitted to getting more nervous watching her in action than he ever did in his own playing career!