The story behind GAA fan Frank Hogan's famous John 3:7 shield

The story behind GAA fan Frank Hogan’s famous John 3:7 shield

Analysis: How a born-again Christian and his sign became one of the most recognizable faces in the crowd at GAA games across the country

There is no shortage of GAA supporters across the country, but very few are truly trusted on a national level. Many of them are recognizable by their attire: Jonty O’Leary and Cyril Kavanagh in their cork sombreros, or Limerick’s Pa Buckley in a cowboy hat and makeup. Other fans just slip on our radar because they make themselves felt at so many games: Mick McDonagh behind the empty stands in his Offaly jersey or Buff Egan with his trusty rubber ducky and power bank so he can capture key moments and share them with his thousands of social media followers.

But arguably the most famous GAA supporter of all was the late Frank Hogan and his yellow John 3-7 shield. Like many GAA supporters, Frank spent each summer weekend attending games across the country. Originally from Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary, he settled in Castletroy, Co. Limerick and followed Limerick GAA for over 30 years.

What set him apart from other fans was the large “John 3:7” sign he carried to every game. As a believer born again Christian, Frank’s mission was to take God’s message to others through his distinctive hoarding presentation at major GAA games.

Frank Hogan with the John 3-7 at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick in 1999. Photo: Damien Eagers/Sportsfile

Inspiration for the sign came after Frank noticed a similar design in the crowd when tennis player Pat Cash was presented with the trophy after winning the men’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 1987. This sign was much smaller than Frank’s and read, “John 3:16,” a reference to a verse from the Bible that reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life”.

It’s a verse that has a significant legacy in sport. The original John 3:16 signs at sporting events were primarily the work of Rolle Stewart, known as the “Rainbow Man” for the brightly colored wigs he wore as he held up the signs for television cameras. During the 2009 US National College Football Championship, University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow drew “John 3:16” under his eyes. WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin also incorporated it into his slogan “Austin 3:16.”

Frank adopted “John 3:16” on his shield for a time, but found that the verse was too long for him to recite when people asked for its meaning. Then he went back to “John 3:7,” which says, “Do not marvel that I said to you that you must be born again.”

Frank Hogan takes a stand. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The sign, printed in black letters on a bright yellow background and encased in a wooden frame, was understandably awkward for Frank to carry to and from the matches, but he always persevered. In 2009 the sign was stolen on his train journey to LImerick but mysteriously turned up at Kildare Garda station a few days later and made headlines when it was returned. In 2003 his shield was thrown off the Cork to Limerick train after the Munster Championship quarter-finals, but Frank resolutely replaced the sermon and carried his message further the following week.

The shield has been imitated and redesigned numerous times. When Offaly was playing Limerick in the 1994 All Ireland hurling final, Frank was positioned with his sign at Canal End and discovered another sign on Hill 16 that read ‘John 3:7, Offaly 4:8’.

At a rugby match in Auckland in 2019, when the All Blacks played Australia in the Bledisloe Cup, a similarly designed sign was held up in the crowd by Irish fans. The fans wore Kilkenny and Tipperary GAA jerseys in a nod to the All-Ireland Final between the two teams that took place the following day. Presumably their aim was not to spread the Word of God, but that the sign attracted attention, their shirts were shown on television on the eve of the All-Ireland Final and spotted by eagle-eyed television viewers. Mission accomplished.

Frank’s iconic mark has crossed GAA circles as he has also had it in tow to visits to the Rose of Tralee Festival, Galway Races, Fleadhanna and music concerts. In 2009, TG4 aired a documentary titled John 3:7which focused on Frank’s varied life and status as a renowned GAA fan due to his mark.

When Frank died in 2020, his signs were distributed among his many neighbors and friends. One of the recipients was Aengus D’Arcy, owner of Limerick’s oldest pub JJ Bowles at Thomondgate proudly displaying the sign outside the pub overlooking the River Shannon.

One of Frank’s signs was placed on permanent display in the Mackey stand at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick as a tribute to his commitment as a supporter. Another recipient

Frank’s legacy is still fondly remembered in GAA circles. With his signs now taking on new life and being displayed in public places, he has fulfilled the message of John 3:7 and will be born again for new generations of GAA supporters.

Frank Hogan’s John 3:7 sign is one of the objects appearing in Siobhán Doyle’s book A History of the GAA in 100 Objects, published by Merrion Press.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ

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