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Frank O Keeffe

Frank O'Keeffe, professional, 1922-23 In the season 1922, Church had unwittingly signed a player, Albert C Wright, who was under contract to Kent. Although there were brisk exchanges between Kent and the Club, Church bowed to the inevitable and the Wright stayed with the County. A whole series of substitute professionals were engaged including Sydney Barnes. However, it was as late as week ending June 24 that Church finally signed a replacement - Frank A O'Keeffe, an Australian who had played for both Victoria and New South Wales - 'a brilliant bat, a first-class bowler and smart in the field, and will undoubtedly prove as great an attraction in the Lancashire League as MacDonald'.

In New South Wales, O'Keeffe played with the Waverley and Pennington clubs and was a candidate for inclusion in the last Test team that distinguished itself against England in 1921. By profession, he was a commercial traveller. When the Test team came back from England, there was the usual game against the rest of Australia, and O'Keeffe vindicated himself by scoring 177 and 144. This was against the bowling which had decimated England immediately before. The last season he played with Victoria

He was described as one of the most brilliant cover point fielders in Australia, and the Athletic News remarked, 'All that I have heard from Australia respecting O'Keeffe proves that he is ambitious to make a name for himself as a player. It was because he considered that his merits were not recognised in New South Wales that he left Sydney for Melbourne where he at once stepped into the front rank, his success being almost phenomenal. Besides making runs galore, he was also used as a change bowler in one inter-State match and was deprived of a hat trick by a missed catch. He is too an excellent field. In the course of a few words, he has made his name familiar to cricketers the world over. If as stated, O'Keeffe is coming over with the intention of identifying himself in our cricket, no-one will be able to blame any club, county or otherwise which may endeavour to secure his services. He has left Australia of his own free will and with honours, and has every reason to believe his talent will prove of good marketable value. The closest analogy I can suggest to the position is that if Hobbs after his first season of first class cricket in England had left us to settle permanently abroad.'

O'Keeffe, in his debut against Accrington, scored few runs and, taking a fairly long run, bowled quickly, but somewhat short. The day, however, was miserable and the ball was wet and totally foreign to the player. 'The wicket was just of the right softness for LLewellyn's deliveries to nip. Church were 51 all out with Llewellyn taking 8-31 and O'Keeffe caught Sproule bowled Dickinson 1. Accrington wre 32-1 when rain terminated the proceedings.' At one stage, Church had six wickets down for seven runs.

The season was one of particularly bad weather and the announcement of the resigning of O'Keeffe indicated that he would be staying in England over the winter to acclimatise himself to the differences in temperature and weather. In the event, O'Keeffe's highest innings was 16 in an absolutely inundated English summer. He scored 88 runs from 9 innings, and took 18 wickets at an average of 18.16.

1923 was equally bad and the weather meant that only two clubs out of the whole League made profits. Church came sixth, 14 points behind the champions, Bacup. O'Keeffe scoed 650 runs (average 40.62) and took 50 wickets (average 14.38). O'Keeffe had signed a contract to stay with Church for 1924 but sadly, having stayed over in England once again, he died on March 26 in the New End Hospital, Hampstead, and was buried in Dill Hall Cemetery on March 31, 1924. His only surviving relative was his sister who presented in his memory the O'Keeffe Memorial Ball for competition among the Club's amateurs. His grave and headstone were contributed to by cricket lovers of the area. From then on, each Australian touring party, on coming to the Old Trafford Test, sent its representatives to Dill Hall Cemetery to pay their respects by laying a wreath on the grave of this tragic young man whose arrival in these cricketing circles caused such a sensation in the summer of 1922.

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