Looking Back At: Frankie McMahon

Frankie McMahon

Date of birth: 4.1.50, Born: Belfast

Height: 5ft 10in, Position: Midfield

City appearances: League: 54(2), 2 goals, FA Cup: 3, League Cup: 3

Total: 60(2), 2 goals

Francis Gerard McMahon, usually known as Frankie or Frank, started his career with his home-town club of Distillery before attracting the attention of Coventry City who paid a fee of £5,000 for the 19-year-old. However, after failing to make the grade with the First Division club he returned across the Irish Sea in early 1971 to join top League of Ireland club Waterford where one of his senior team mates was former Manchester United star David Herd. A few months later Herd was appointed manager of Lincoln City in place of Bert Loxley and he brought the 21-year-old Northern Irishman back to England as one of his summer signings for the club for an undisclosed fee.

City started the season with the experienced Nobby Lawton partnering Phil Hubbard the previous season’s top scorer in midfield, but when Lawton suffered an injury in the sixth game of the season McMahon was brought in for his first team debut. This took place at Ewood Park in a League Cup Second Round tie against a Blackburn Rovers side newly relegated to the Third Division. The game finished 0-0, a scoreline repeated when McMahon made his home Fourth Division debut against Reading the following Saturday. With Blackburn beaten 4-1 in the replay McMahon had now begun to catch the eye, not only for his having possibly the reddest hair of any City player in history, but also due to the energy and skill he displayed, particularly his ability to read a game and seize on anything loose in midfield. He then really won the supporters over with his first goal for the club, a crashing 25-yard shot to give City an early lead and set them on the way to a 3-0 win over Grimsby Town in front of over 15,000 at Sincil Bank.

With McMahon’s energy, Dave Smith’s skill and the power of Trevor Meath in midfield City had begun to look capable of mounting a promotion challenge until Meath suffered what was to be a career-ending knee injury in mid-October. There followed something of a hiatus with a variety of other players tried in midfield together with changes in formation as McMahon himself suffered an injury at the beginning of December which confined him to the subs’ bench for three matches. He was then back in the side as Herd switched recently-signed defender John Kurila into midfield to provide the strength missing since Meath’s injury.

The re-creation of the successful midfield combination of earlier in the season saw City then embark on a run of results to rise into the top four places, achieved with a 2-0 win over Bury at Sincil Bank which included McMahon’s second goal for the club. A three-month run of results with McMahon ever-present saw City established in second place following a 1-0 win at Reading at the end of March, although he missed this game and the next one before returning.

Unfortunately, City’s form then began to deteriorate and they fell away to finish the season in fifth place. McMahon did have the slight consolation of finishing as runner up to Terry Branston in the poll for City’s Player of the Season beating Percy Freeman into third place. He made a total of 41 appearances in all competitions and scored two goals.

Although manager David Herd made few changes to the playing squad during the summer of 1972 one that turned out to be significant was the departure of John Kurila. His replacement in midfield was to be Irishman Jimmy McGeough, another player to arrive from Herd’s previous club Waterford. Although with a pedigree which included appearing for both the Irish League and League of Ireland representative sides McGeough proved to be a very different sort of player from the hard-tackling Kurila. Slotting into the latter’s place in the midfield trio he initially created a good impression in City’s defeat to Second Division side Burnley in the pre-season Watney Cup competition. But the league season kicked off with a 2-1 home defeat to Hartlepool and McMahon was left out of the side that then went out of the League Cup to Mansfield. He was back for a draw at Darlington as McGeough was in turn removed from the side, but after heading into his own net in another home defeat by Aldershot McMahon was again dropped, left out for three games as another summer signing Colin Symm took his place.

City’s results then took an upturn as Herd paid Notts County £5,000 to bring in defender Terry Cooper to bring some bite into midfield in the style of the departed Kurila. McMahon then returned in place of the injured Symm as City continued on an unbeaten run that stretched to ten matches and moved them up to 3rd place in the league table. There were signs that the Irishman was back to his best of the previous season as he starred in a 3-1 win over Torquay, but after the unbeaten run came to an end with defeat at Chester, he lost his place again to Symm.

In contrast City then embarked on a very much longer run of games without a win. McMahon made an appearance from the bench in a defeat at Exeter and replaced Symm for three games, the last of which brought an FA Cup exit to Third Division Blackburn Rovers. The following game which ended in a 3-1 defeat at Bradford City made it a sequence of one win in eleven games and led to the replacement of David Herd as manager by player-coach Graham Taylor. The new boss found no place for McMahon in his side, but as the winless run continued the Irishman was brought back into the side towards the end of January, holding a place down for six further games. However, after being sent off in a defeat at Hartlepool the next game which saw a home defeat by Newport was to be McMahon’s last for the club as he was made available for transfer. It was then during his suspension that City’s winless run came to an end with a 1-0 win over Darlington with new midfield loan signing Terry Heath in the side.

Graham Taylor was now in the process of rebuilding the side and with McGeough going on loan to Hartlepool McMahon also headed to the north east to join Darlington on a permanent basis. Generally speaking, McMahon had looked a shadow of the player he had been the previous season and although there have been some player-exchange deals over the years which have seen City come out worse, this time it was a good bit of business for the club to bring in Alan Harding from Darlington in exchange for McMahon and £7,000, the Irishman himself being valued at £7,500.

Once his suspension was finished McMahon went into the bottom of the league club’s side as a straight replacement for Harding, playing the ten remaining games of the season for Darlington as they were unable to rise above last place. Added to these games, McMahon had also made a total of 21 appearances in the season for City in all competitions.

The early part of the 1973/74 season saw him make a handful of appearances from the subs’ bench for Darlington with just one start before he joined fellow north eastern strugglers Hartlepool on loan towards the end of October. After a month in which he played regularly, making 7 appearances he returned to the Quakers and was soon given another run in their first team, scoring his only goal for the club in a 5-2 defeat at Workington. After eight games though he was out of the side, making just one further appearance as substitute in the last game of the season for a total of 13 games and one goal for Darlington and 7 games for Hartlepool.

Released on a free transfer by Darlington in the summer of 1974, Frankie McMahon’s Football League career then ended at the age of 24 as he joined Yeovil Town managed by ex-Sunderland full back Cec Irwin who was in the process of bringing in several players from his former area to join the ambitious Southern League Premier Division club. In his first season at Yeovil McMahon was a regular first-teamer, making a total of 49 appearances.

In March 1978, another ambitious non-league side in Bath City who were on their way to the Southern League championship thought enough of McMahon to reportedly pay £7,000 for his services. Unfortunately, after just 13 minutes of his first game for the Romans he suffered a knee injury which effectively ended his playing career. He made an unsuccessful attempt at a comeback in Bath’s reserve side the following season before having a brief spell as their youth team manager and in the summer of 1980 becoming manager of lower division Southern League side Taunton Town. He later moved to the United States where he ran a bar and coached at a soccer school in New Jersey

Frankie McMahon’s Football League record totalled 86 appearances with 3 goals scored.

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