‘We considered him one of our family’

Story by Olga Aughey

Friday, 10th May, 2019 2:17pm

 ‘We considered him one of our family’

Eugene McGee has been remembered as fierce leader who brought Offaly to All Ireland success in 1982, and in doing so, denied Kerry the five in a row.

Huge numbers from the county travelled to Longford to pay their respects on Wednesday at his removal, and his funeral in St Mel's Cathedral, Longford the following day which heard that people all over the globe will be mourning his loss.

As the sad news broke on Sunday, thoughts immediately turned to that fateful day when Offaly finally put a stop to The Kingdom's rule.

"The untimely death of Eugene McGee has robbed us of one of the most celebrated GAA managers of all time," were the sentiments expressed by the Offaly GAA board.

"While Eugene was very much proud Longford man, steeped in the traditions of the GAA in that county, it was for his brilliance in managing Offaly to that never to be forgotten All-Ireland Senior Football title in 1982, that he will be forever remembered," it went on.

"When Seamus Darby crashed the ball to the net to end Kerry’s dream of five in a row, Eugene McGee was to be forever immortalised in GAA folklore. Rarely if ever has a sporting event in this country stood the test of time like the 1982 All-Ireland Football Final.

"The modest Longford man's tactical genius moulded a group of players into a team that will be forever remembered.

"Eugene’s departure from this life has left all who were fortunate enough to have known him, with heavy hearts, but also much richer for having had the benefit of his enormous wisdom," the statement said in tribute to McGee, who was inducted into the Offaly GAA Hall of Fame back in 2007.

Magee was appointed as Offaly manager in the winter of 1976 and was something of an unknown quantity.

Football was very much in a transition phase in Offaly, but with a BA and hDip graduate from UCD, he earned his managerial spurs and under his guidance, UCD won two Dublin senior football championship titles, six Sigerson cups and most notably, All-Ireland club titles in 1974 and 1975.

Firstly, he had to make some very hard calls. Those trend setting players of the 1971/’72 teams were still heroes in Offaly and some of his decisions did not win any popularity contests.

McGee, however, had a very clear vision and by 1982 just Martin Furlong, Sean Lowry and Seamus Darby remained from the great team of the ‘70s, while Eugene Mulligan, Mick Wright, Kevin Kilmurray and Paddy Fenning were instrumental in the Leinster championship success in 1980.

Kerry and Dublin were in the midst of their legendary rivalry. Offaly’s first task was to overcome the Dubs in Leinster and after ’77, the gap closed every year. 

In 1980, Offaly finally overcame Dublin in a teak tough Leinster final and the Faithful were back in the big time. Now it was Kerry that were in their sights.

By 1982, Kerry were bidding for an unprecedented five in a row and were regarded as unstoppable. As five in a row mania gripped the Kingdom and premature songs and t-shirts emerged on the scene, Offaly quietly prepared away from the limelight.

McGee never forgot his time in Offaly, even acting as mediator in 2004 when the senior football squad embarked on a highly publicised strike following the resignation of then manager, Gerry Fahy.

"For me he was an incredible influence on my life, both on the football field and off," says Stephen Darby, a sub on the 1982 team.

"I had the utmost respect for him because he influenced my life to such a tremendous extent in those formative years," continues Stephen who was 23 when he began working with Eugene.

"He could instil incredible confidence, it wasn't that we could match Kerry, we were every bit as good and better than them that year," he explains.

"He was ahead of his time and I was very sad to hear of his death. 

"There was no home of any player that Eugene McGee didn't call to. He knew all of the lads well, their families, their siblings and that helped him gain a better picture of the players as individuals. By learning everything about their background, he knew their strengths and their weaknesses - he was incredibly organised.

"I remember when he and Richie Connor went to watch Man United train, to watch how they trained, their tactics.

“He was a trainer, a father, a psychologist all wrapped into one," Stephen says.

"I don't think we could have won the All Ireland if it wasn't for his brand of football - it was a simple brand but it worked," he recalls.

"He had incredible insight into the opposition, their strengths and weaknesses, and how we could exploit the latter.

"He surrounded himself we with very knowledgeable men too, a group of astute selectors who knew what was necessary to win. And Fr Seán Heaney has to be acknowledged for his crucial role, but Eugene he was the central piece of the jigsaw.

"It's a very sad day to hear of his passing. We considered him one of our family, it truly is the end of an era."

Formerly of Aughnacliffe, Longford, Eugene, a former editor of the Longford Leader is predeceased by his brothers Fr Phil and Páid, and by his sisters Sr Kathleen and Alice.

He will be sadly missed by his beloved wife Marian, loving son Conor, special daughter Linda, daughter-in-law Saoirse, sisters Ita (O'Dowd) and Evangeline (Cummins), brothers-in-law, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and a wide circle of friends.

His Funeral Mass took place on Thursday in St Mel's Cathedral and this was followed by burial afterwards in Colmcille Cemetery.

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