Eugene Mc Gee

Like so many people I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Eugene McGee as the news spread on Sunday morning last. In the days since it is amazing how many people have so many fond memories of the great man from Colmcille and I am certainly no different. He touched so many people’s lives in a positive way.
Of course he will be remembered as the man who steered Offaly to probably the most famous All Ireland senior football final win of all time in 1982 but he had so many more strings to his bow.
I first met Eugene in the late 70’s when he was in charge of a famous and very successful UCD team that contained our own Tony McManus. Tony often regaled us of some fantastic stories of his coaching methods and no-nonsense approach and when you first met Eugene he appeared off-hand and gruff but once you got to know him he was anything but that.
He was a man who was way ahead of his time in terms of his attitude and thinking. When local radio started in 1989 there were many people in the local newspaper industry who viewed this new form of local media as a possible threat however Eugene was one who embraced the idea and was of the opinion that it would be a big addition to local communities and of course he was proven right.
As the GAA commentator and reporter in those early days I spoke to Eugene and sought advice several times a year and he was always so helpful and supportive. He was also very quick to point out anything that he disagreed with too!
But Eugene McGee was far more than a GAA coach and columnist. As the Editor of the Longford Leader (and before that the Cavan Leader) he was a tireless advocate for people in Rural Ireland. He used his high profile to highlight many issues in terms of unemployment, emigration, health services transport and infrastructure. He spared no one in power if he thought they were selling Rural Ireland short.
He had a brilliant mind whether it was to do with the GAA or other issues but his dour demeanour meant that some people thought he was off-hand and gruff. But when you got to know Eugene the exact opposite was the case. He loved seeking out people’s views and in recent years we would chat on the telephone and his love of rural issues and of course his love affair with Gaelic Football never waned.
In recent years he was not as frequent a visitor to Croke Park as in former years as he had some health problems. The last time I met Eugene was in Croke Park at the Roscommon v Dublin Super 8 match last year. He was in good form and we had a long chat about loads of stuff including blanket defences, club matches, Offaly football, Roscommon football, and whether Dublin would win the All Ireland again. As we parted that day he said to me “you know it’s nice to be back here again” He loved the big day and especially the big day in Croke Park.
He was a fearless GAA columnist and he regularly lashed the GAA when he saw fit. In fact I remember at one stage there was talk about banning Eugene McGee from the Press Box in Croke Park because of his criticism. But thankfully sense prevailed. The criticism was coming from one of their own, a man who loved the GAA and knew it’s positive impact on communities around the country.
There are so many stories that I could tell about Eugene over the years and his blunt, straight talking way of going on. I will choose two short ones. One of the first Sundays that Shannonside was on the air after the station had opened there was a presenter on air who hadn’t a clue about sport. At one stage he read out the following: “And the latest score from Ballybofey is, Finn Harps nil Longford Town one point” The phone rang immediately at the station. It was Eugene who said to the girl who answered the phone “Would ya tell that bloody ejit that there’s no points in Soccer” and he put down the phone.
On the morning of the All Ireland final between Offaly and Kerry in 1982 a journalist asked Eugene how badly did the Offaly players want to win the match. He snapped back “There are men in that dressing room who haven’t had a pint since last Wednesday night”
So many more of those stories about Eugene will be shared this week by those of us who were privileged to have known him. He was one of the finest men that I have met in my lifetime.
This weekend hundreds of thousands of people will do the ‘Darkness Into Light’ charity walk. Eugene McGee brought light and hope to many people throughout the country over the years. An innovator, a deep thinker a very intelligent, witty and caring man who spoke straight out as he saw it and never suffered fools in any walk of life.We won’t see the likes of him again.
To Marian, Linda and Conor I extend my deepest sympathy.

May he rest in peace.

(From The Roscommon People)