“I hope people aren’t expecting it to be a version of Roy Keane or Brian O’Driscoll,” joked Eugene McGee as his new book ‘The GAA In My Time’ was launched by the legendary Mick O’Dwyer last Thursday evening.
An array of high-profile GAA personalities congregated at Croke Park to get their copy of the impressive 43-chapter hardback publication, which extends to 336 pages, and in Eugene’s own words: “it is not your run of the mill book” and “it is personalised quite a lot.”
Regarded as Ireland’s foremost GAA analyst, Eugene dedicates the book to his wife Marian, children Conor and Linda, and also to his late brother, Fr Phil McGee, ‘who inspired him to become involved in gaelic football in his formative years’.
The Colmcille native, who served 22 years as the Managing Editor of the Longford Leader, writes about the tragedy of losing a brother and sister, and the football triumphs he masterminded with UCD, Offaly, Cashel and Ireland.
His sister Alice died in July 1966, aged 27, after she was struck by a falling granite block in a freak accident. “That horrific death left an everlasting impression on me,” wrote Eugene.
Nine years later, in 1975, his brother Fr Phil McGee suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 47. He spent most of his priesthood in education as a teacher in Moyne Latin School and as a founding member of the new Moyne Community School. He was also highly influential in Longford county teams in the mid ‘60s. Eugene says, “When I visit his grave and see the inscription confirming his death at 47, it dawns on me just how young he was.”
Eschewing the usual autobiographical route, Eugene instead reveals many untold stories while giving his view of the big controversies and the behind-the-scenes activities he witnessed personally over a half century.
Hailing Mick O’Dwyer as “a genius”, Eugene would have liked if the late Kevin Heffernan could have co-launched the book even if Dubs messiah Heffo once declared, “McGee and I would’ve spat at each other up and down sidelines.”
Eugene explained, “It was unusual. O’Dwyer, Heffo and I were the only three managers in the public mind for over a dozen years (1974 - 1986). I was the small boy there because they were superstars and super footballers. I never played football so I was the first manager to get a team to win an All-Ireland who wasn’t a famous footballer.”
Eugene spent 20 years in Dublin and his book, published by Ballpoint Press, includes reflections on life and football in the Capital in the ‘70s. “Heffo was technically the best manager. He had the most influence in so much as he changed the face of the GAA in Dublin and Ireland whereas Mick O’Dwyer was a better manager because he won more All-Irelands. O’Dwyer was a highly intelligent man. He was a genius. Micko went to Kildare and Laois and got them to win Leinster Championships. Neither of them had won one for 50 years and they haven’t won one since. That was an extraordinary thing. I couldn’t do it, I don’t think.”
While the Offaly highs of ’82 with Seamus Darby’s late goal which denied Kerry’s five-in-a-row and the Offaly lows when he was almost shafted as manager a few years before feature prominently in the book, Eugene writes proudly about leading Cashel to a first Longford county title in 1977. “I regard that achievement in helping Cashel to that first Longford title as one of my most rewarding in football because I realised what a county championship really means to a rural parish.”
Eugene has played a series of diverse roles at all levels in the GAA as a mentor, manager, commentator, and innovator through his recent involvement as Chairperson of the Football Review Committee (FRC).
He predicts that paying players will come within a decade and in his chapter ‘Fifty Football People Who Mattered To Me’, he includes Paul Barden and Liam Mulvihill.
“It is a great mystery how Paul Barden has never been selected as an All Star even though on at least three occasions he seemed the obvious person to be named, only to be passed over by a player from one of the strong counties. But Paul Barden will be remembered far longer in Longford than many players from strong counties who collected All Stars.”
He says the new Croke Park stadium is ‘the real monument’ to Liam Mulvihill, who served 29 years as the GAA’s Director General. “Liam was very much the outsider of the candidates for Director General in 1979 but it turned out to be one of the most fruitful decisions ever made in the history of the GAA.”
Eugene presided over the introduction of the ‘black card’, led Ireland to Compromise Rules success against Australia in 1990, and there is plenty of material of interest to Longford readers.
His daughter Linda is a client at St Christopher’s Services and Eugene, writing in a chapter entitled ‘From Special Players To Special Needs’, says, “When my daughter Linda, entered St Christopher’s Special Needs School many years ago it led to my involvement with a world that I had previously never encountered and scarcely knew existed. I am constantly struck by the achievements of the clients there who do extraordinary things despite the very serious setbacks they have inherited.”
On the financial woes currently facing St Christopher’s, Eugene told the Leader, “It is a worrying time. St Christophers is very unusual. It is a jewel in the crown of Longford as a county. Nearly every parish in Longford makes a contribution to raise funds every year. It is like the GAA, it is recognised all over the county. Everyone knows where it is and what it does. It is a great tribute to the people who set it up 50 years ago. It is an iconic part of Longford life and it is in danger of being eroded and that is why people want to help out as much as they can.”
Retailing at €16.99, ‘The GAA In My Time’ is insightful and compelling and it is on sale now.