Thursday 8 December 2016

Eugene McGee talks to Paul Kimmage: I find it hard to think of myself as anything other than ordinary

Published 16/08/2015 | 17:50

Eugene McGee pictured in Longford Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eugene McGee pictured in Longford Photo: Gerry Mooney
'I had that jacket and obviously it was starting to rain because you can see there (he's lifting the collar). The team had gone out at that stage, I would have been the last, but it's a great picture' Photo: Sportsfile
Eugene McGee in his role as chairman of the Football Review Committee Photo: Sportsfile

A few months ago, I was trawling through the archives in the National Library when I happened upon an old profile I'd written for the Sunday Tribune on Eugene McGee.

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I printed it off and started reading, and was reminded once again of our first meeting in Longford, and how awkward it had been.

It was March 1990: almost eight years had passed since he had guided Offaly to the All-Ireland (and denied Kerry a five-in-a-row) and he had just been announced as Ireland manager for the upcoming tour to Australia. He was also the Managing Director of two newspapers, The Longford Leader and The Cavan Leader, a father of two young children, Conor and Linda, and a star columnist with the Evening Herald.

But for a man who had spent more than a decade in the spotlight, he seemed strangely ill at ease:

He is agitated, restless, fidgety. He opens a letter then signs a cheque. Opens another letter and signs another cheque. He taps his feet then twiddles his thumbs. He stretches back in the office chair then slumps forward, arms on the office table. Hands behind his head, hands on his lap, hands on the table. "Fire away," says the managing director to the interviewer from his chair.

It didn't help, of course, that 'the interviewer' had never actually done much interviewing and had spent the previous 10 years trying to become a professional racing cyclist. The Sigerson Cup? He'd never heard of it. The '82 All-Ireland? Was that really a big deal? And what was the problem with McGee and his age? "Sure haven't you enough to be writin' about."

So it was awkward. Difficult.

We ticked the usual boxes about his upbringing and background and he had some interesting observations on how he was perceived.

"A lot of people say I am gruff, dogmatic and dour. I wouldn't completely agree with that. Take (Kenny) Dalglish or (Kevin) Heffernan - they rarely appear cheerful in front of the cameras either. You cannot command authority if you are just one of the boys."

But the finished article had little to recommend it except, perhaps, for the bottom line:

Sometimes you meet people for five minutes and you are left with an impression you have known them all your life. It would take more than five minutes to find the real Eugene McGee. I did not find him gruff. I did not find him dogmatic. I did not find him dour.

I simply did not find him.

Twenty-four years passed before we spoke again: Kerry were playing Mayo in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final and we were introduced by a colleague during the tea break at half-time as McGee held the table captive with a story about the late Albert Reynolds.

"How'ye Eugene."

"Nice to meet you," he replied.

The seed was sown: 'I need to interview this man again.'

Two weeks ago, on a wet Friday morning in Longford, he invited me into his home. We drank some tea, retired to his study and then, just when it seemed we were set for take-off, he seemed strangely reticent.

"You had better remind me again what the parameters are."

It was classic Eugene, and we had been here before, but this time I was prepared.

"The parameters are very simple," I replied. "I've spent three days reading about your life, I'm going to ask you about the things I find interesting, and you can answer what you like."

And (mostly) he did.

1. King of September

One night he landed in Ferbane looking for Seán Lowry, stayed up chatting all night and slept in Lowry's spare room. The following morning when Lowry got up , McGee was gone. "You could have a great old chat with McGee," says Lowry, "but you'd never feel you'd got inside him. There was a bit of mystery about him that way, too."

- Michael Foley, 'Kings of September'

Paul Kimmage: Eugene, you were editing two newspapers, a columnist with the Herald and about to tour Australia the last time I interviewed you. Your life is different now?

Eugene McGee: Yeah, I worked hard in the paper. I used to go in at seven every morning and it was a seven-day week and I enjoyed it. But I was lucky I got out without having to spend the rest of my life at it - 22 years was enough.

PK: You don't miss it?

EMcG: No. I made the decision to walk out and I haven't been back there (the Longford Leader) three times since. I don't miss it because I keep myself busy; I dabble a little bit in stocks and shares and that's a good thing for keeping you busy, but I'd have a problem if I stopped writing for the Indo. I probably wouldn't go to many matches.

PK: Really?

EMcG: A lot of the matches are shite, but the worst of all is having to write the column in wintertime. I sit down every Saturday night and say, 'What am I going to write here?'. I'm 30 years writing columns now, for God's sake! And some of the stuff I write on Monday is pure shite.

PK: It can't be gold every week.

EMcG: No, and people still remember you for some of the columns and that's a nice treat to get, but I don't envy the guys who have to work full-time GAA reporting on the dailies, it's a fate worst than death.

PK: You say that, but it's obvious the game still engages you.

EMcG: Well, it was such a part of my life that it couldn't disappear overnight, and you couldn't write about it unless you were intensely interested. I'm not a reporter, so I don't have to worry who got the 14th point in the 55th minute. I try to tell how the game was won and lost. It seems elementary and fiendishly simple, but isn't that what most people want to know if they weren't at the match?

PK: Sure.

EMcG: But its funny, I was in the local supermarket about three Saturdays ago and this fella - a hardy-looking buck of about 70 years of age - says, 'Ahh Jaysus, Eugene McGee! I'm glad I met you'. And we shook hands and so on, and he starts talking about the game (the '82 All-Ireland final) and I find it incredible that these things happen.

PK: What do you find incredible?

EMcG: Well, it's (nearly) 40 years since that match was played but they still refer to it and (Seamus) Darby's goal. I suppose, very few All-Irelands have had as singular a focal point so it's easy for people to remember. It sticks in the mind and is constantly shown.

PK: How do you feel about it? We were on the radio together a couple of weeks ago and I noticed you smiled when Seán O'Rourke introduced you as the former All-Ireland-winning manager?

EMcG: That's always the way I'm introduced, and it's an honour to be remembered, because I've always been aware that time moves on.

PK: I was just curious about your smile because there has always been much more to you than 'the football manager'.

EMcG: Yeah, but I never got any credit for that. I would be at business-related functions and the first thing anybody would say to me would be about football. It was never about the work I was doing in newspapers or business. All through my career at the Longford Leader, I was identified as 'the fella that changed the Offaly team'. That's the legacy I got from Seamus Darby; no matter what we did at the paper, it was always about football.

PK: Okay, so let's return for a moment to that day. This photo on the back page of your book [The GAA In My Time, published last year] was taken just before the game.

(I show him the photo).

EMcG: Yeah, the dressing room was in the corner of the Hogan Stand at that time. I had that jacket and obviously it was starting to rain because you can see there (he's lifting the collar). The team had gone out at that stage, I would have been the last, but it's a great picture.

PK: Yeah, a great picture. How old were you that day?

(He thinks about it and answers after a notable pause.)

EMcG: I'm not sensitive about my age and don't want to make a big deal about it, but I'd be happy if you didn't say - but that's up to you. I don't have a complex about my age, I'm in very good health and feel as good as I did at 60 or 50 and that's the way it is. What age are you?

PK: 53.

EMcG: Well, in 10 or 15 years' time you'll feel the same.

PK: Your wife, Marian, was Liam and Tomás O'Connor's sister. Had you met at that stage?

EMcG: That's a delicate question. No, I think, would be the answer, but you can ask her yourself, it's no big deal. When I was involved in football with Offaly, I devoted myself to it. That's it. Full stop. I was self-employed at the time...

PK: That was my next question.

EMcG: Yeah, I was working mainly in trade magazines. I would edit them and another guy would sell the advertising, so I hadn't a nine-to-five job. I was my own master.

PK: You were also a columnist with the Sunday Tribune?

EMcG: Yeah, but that was . . . I would have basically given my life to the GAA and Offaly at that time, and it's debatable whether I gave it too much time, but I ended up okay. I was fortunate to meet a woman and have children, so my life was normal.

(I reach for a notebook. He seems alarmed.)

EMcG: What are you reading? I don't like to see you reading from books like this.

PK: It's just a quote I've taken from your book about the end of the game: With total pandemonium engulfing Croke Park as the rain lashed down, I remember glancing across at the Kerry dugout a few yards away. It was a scene of desolation.

EMcG: Yeah, a lot of them had their heads (buried).

PK: This is what they said about you: They saw me with both arms outstretched standing in that (Canal End) goalmouth seemingly oblivious to what was taking place around the stadium.

EMcG: Yeah, I have no recollection of that. I had made up my mind if we won that I wasn't going to go near the presentation, it was the players' moment, my job was finished; that was it. I would have stepped out of the dugout and got away from the stampede but I have no memory of (standing in the goalmouth), which is astonishing, because I've always had a good memory.

PK: That's what I'm curious about.

EMcG: I never went near the madhouse of the presentation at all. Was I in the dressing room before the players arrived with the Sam Maguire Cup? Or was I not? It's incredible to think I can't remember.

PK: How did you feel?

EMcG: I was calm, I wouldn't have been jumping up and down.

PK: Because that's not you?

EMcG: No, I always operated individually with players and spoke to them privately when it was required.

(He loses focus and there's a long digression about his management style and Mick O'Dwyer's 'stupid' decision to play Ogie Moran out-of-position that day.)

EMcG: What led me into this?

PK: The question was how you felt? Because you've distanced yourself from the mad joy of the Offaly people and you are witnessing the devastation of what you've inflicted on Kerry. But how are you feeling?

EMcG: I was very happy, because I knew it was against the odds for me, a fellow who had never played football, to achieve something like that. I knew, on the spot, the enormity of what it meant for me, I did because . . .

(He loses focus again and delivers a ten-minute lecture about managers who try to impose draconian measures on players.)

PK: Eugene, you keep deflecting from what I'm asking you.

EMcG: Well, I'm too fond of digressing.

PK: There's a difference between digressing and deflecting.

EMcG: Deflecting?

PK: Yes, deflecting.

EMcG: Go on.

PK: Well, I'm trying to gauge your emotional state that afternoon in Croke Park; you've given me a couple of small insights, but I need a bit more.

(Marian enters the room and inquires if we'd like more tea.)

EMcG: This man has been persecuting me for the last hour... You wanted to ask her something?

PK: Had you met Eugene in 1982 when Offaly won the All-Ireland?

Marian: We had met, yeah, but he wasn't talking to me. I knew him, because I worked in Bord Na Móna where Tomás (her brother) worked. I was on the switchboard, although he probably forgets that, too. We had actually gone out and then I was dumped for a while because he hadn't time.

PK: When did he have time?

Marian: (Laughs) I got a call when he finished in Offaly.

(McGee snorts and gestures toward the garden.)

EMcG: Have a good look at him Marian because you won't see him again. Would you like to be buried there?

2. An Fear Ciúin

In my time writing for the various national newspapers I was regarded as something of an outsider. That is because I was somewhat removed in Longford from the inner circle of journalists who lived and worked in Dublin. For a start, I was a columnist with those newspapers which is very different from being a reporter or editor. A columnist was once described to me by an American author as follows: 'He is the guy who waits till the battle is over, comes down from the hills and shoots the survivors.' True to an extent, but perhaps just a teeny bit over the top.

Eugene McGee, 'The GAA In My Time'

PK: We met in Croke Park last year and I was fascinated by the stories you told about Albert Reynolds.

EMcG: Ah Jesus, he's not a great man to have to talk about - he was so artificial, like a lot politicians.

PK: No, but I was reminded again of this one-dimensional view of you as the former GAA manager. Take me back to your roots and growing-up in County Longford. The parish was Colmcille?

EMcG: Yes, because there was an island there where St Colmcille was supposed to have founded a monastery and was used by people to pray. The next townland was in Cavan - we were that close to Cavan - and only three or four miles from County Leitrim. My local village was Arvagh and we were 15 miles from Longford town. My father was a teacher and I was the second youngest of seven.

PK: Was your dad a native Longford man?

EMcG: Yes, he was born and reared about a half-a-mile away.

PK: And your mother?

EMcG: The same. All the schools at that time had a 'residence' for the principal teacher and we literally went out the door and walked 25 yards to the school. He was a strict teacher... well, stricter on me than he was on the others.

PK: What does stricter mean?

EMcG: He'd be harder, make sure I'd never get anything soft, but I think that would have been the norm in those times. And then, when I went to secondary school, I was taught by my brother, so whether that inhibited me or not I don't know, but most of my primary and secondary education was largely controlled by my family.

PK: What about corporal punishment?

EMcG: There was lots of it there, yeah.

PK: So you would have got more than the other kids?

EMcG: Well, I would have been first in line but the benefit it had was that you rarely earned it. My older siblings all went to boarding school and it only dawned on me recently that I didn't see much of them for a long time. They went to St Mel's, or to the convent, and were away for the greater part of the year.

PK: Why didn't your parents send you?

EMcG: My brother, the priest, had started to teach in Moyne, or the Latin school as it was called. He was living at home and had a car and it would have been a bit ridiculous if we didn't go to the same school.

PK: What about sport?

EMcG: We 'kicked' football, as they say in Offaly, in the local field with our contemporaries. There were a lot of good footballers when I went to Moyne, but no facilities. It was a day school, so you were gone at four o'clock, and only got to play at lunchtime in a jungle situation, 50 people fighting for the ball. So it wasn't real football.

PK: There was nothing organised?

EMcG: There was a team organised in my latter years. We played a challenge match at St Mel's - a big deal at the time because they were winning All-Irelands and wouldn't have recognised where we were from. We got to play in Pearse Park and I was corner-back, but I think that was my one and only time. At UCD I might have played a bit of junior (football) - well I did, because I got sent off once.

PK: What happened?

EMcG: We were playing a junior match at half eleven in Islandbridge in February - I know it was February because it was a week before the National League was due to resume and a friend of mine, Gerry McGee from Fermanagh, was playing illegally, because he was senior grade and wanted a match. So he got a match, and I was the 15th man, and don't ask me why but I got sent off in the first half.

PK: I'm going to ask you, why?

EMcG: I probably hit a fella a wallop or something... No, sorry, it was the other way around - Gerry McGee was sent off in the first half, and being a smart buck he decided to give his name as Eugene McGee. That was fine, but in the second half I was sent off, and I gave my name and was suspended - but I don't think they followed it up.

PK: There were no repercussions for having two Eugene McGees sent off from the same team in the same game?

EMcG: No, sure look - they knew bloody well what had happened and that still goes on in the GAA. No Dublin club team would ever have been legal in those times, apart from the diehard clubs like Vincent's. There was fellas coming in from everywhere and anywhere.

PK: You studied Agricultural Science in your first year at UCD?

EMcG: Yeah, I don't know why. There were no points at that time and you could go where you liked and I hadn't studied the curriculum of the degree and it included mechanical drawing and science, neither of which I had studied, so I dossed through the year and did a BA and the Hdip.

PK: Teaching was the family tradition?

EMcG: Yeah. My father was a teacher and my brothers went into education straight away, and my sister was a teacher all her life. I started in a vocational school near the Iveagh grounds in Crumlin, a brand new secondary school with a brand new staff and a brand new me - and a tough enough area. I did it for a year or two and could have persisted with it, but I joined Gaelic Weekly then and that's how I got into journalism.

PK: Through Gaelic Weekly?

EMcG: Yeah. There was no (journalists), it was mainly written by famous players or ex-players and it was very basic, very plebeian, but it lasted for about 10 years. And it was the forerunner of the All-Stars because they ran a similar thing for seven or eight years beforehand.

PK: You were also working as a sub-editor at the Irish Press?

EMcG: Yeah, actually that came first in '69. I remember it because I was subbing the All-Ireland semi-final between Cavan and Offaly in '69 - a typical old-style match - and the heading I put up was 'Rough, Tough But Terrific Stuff'. It was a bit tabloid and he (the editor) cut it to 'Rough Tough But Terrific' - but it always stuck in my mind. The greyhound results were always the last thing to come in at half eleven or twelve, and he'd always give that job to one of us.

PK: Your first byline in the Sunday Press was under a false name. How did that work?

EMcG: Well, that was all the rage at the time, it went on in all of the newspapers. I was Daniel O'Connor or something . . .

PK: Donal O'Connell.

EMcG: Was it? Whatever it was, it was very close to the provisional IRA fella at the time, Daithi O'Connell, but I don't know who picked it. The original Sunday Press GAA writer was Art McGann, a Clare man, and he used to write as 'An Fear Ciúin'. When he left Brendan McLua, another Clare man, took over and I think he kept 'An Fear Ciúin', so I don't know when it changed.

PK: It was a story you wrote about Derry refusing to play Kerry in the National League semi-final in 1973.

EMcG: Yeah, on page 1, that was incredible, to be on the main page of the Sunday Press, selling 475,000, and my name suddenly appears! All of my contemporaries were saying: 'That wasn't you, was it?' But I had inside information from Donal Keenan (the GAA president).

PK: What about those early pieces? Were they opinion? Analysis?

EMcG: They were news-orientated and probably match-related, I'd say. GAA writers over the years were famous for not offending anybody, it was always an arse-licking job; you were under the thumb of the county board secretary or whoever was in power, and that's probably what attracted outsiders to me at the start.

PK: Three years later (March, 1976) you write this famous obituary for Offaly football. A few months later, you're managing the team?

EMcG: Yeah, they had won two All-Irelands in '71 and '72, and were beaten by Galway, I think, in the All-Ireland semi-final of '73. They faded quite rapidly then and lost a crucial match with Mayo, and went down to the lower division of the league. I was at that game and wrote this article the following Sunday, and finished with a bit of poetry . . .

Even now my limbs tell an answer

To the Croke Park cheer

As borne on the murmurous air above

It fills Ireland from Malin to Clear

And now I raise my head

Not in grief nor in sadness grey

But rather in pride to whisper,

- I had my day.

Very unusual for me.

PK: (Laughs)

EMcG: But it was ironic that they should offer me the job.

PK: How do you combine writing for the biggest-selling newspaper in Ireland and this new role as manager of the Offaly team?

EMcG: Funny enough, I never had any problem writing and being involved - but there's a huge contrast to how managers behave now with the secrecy and all that shite. In '82, on the Tuesday before the final, David Walsh was on to me about doing some special or something (for the Irish Press). I said, 'Look, if you want to come down and tog out and behave as if you're an Offaly player, that's okay'. And that's what happened. He came down to Ballycommon and trained with the team and was there for the team talk afterwards. But you couldn't imagine that happening today.

PK: No, that is astonishing.

EMcG: Well, it just shows you the change. Would it do any harm if some of them did that now? What harm would it do? Wouldn't it be great PR? There'd be murder over which journalist (was selected) of course!

PK: You had left the Press at that stage and were working for the Sunday Tribune.

EMcG: Yeah, I had been getting £30 a week that time from the Press and they trebled it or more - it must have been over a hundred - colossal money in the context of my life.

PK: What about television?

EMcG: I've never been a fan of being on television. I have the height of respect for television, and did a lot of it over the years, but it's not my medium because, to some extent, it's contrived. You don't have full control, it's dictated by others and that's the system, and I accept that, but it's not my system. If I'm doing an article I can write any shite I want, good, bad or indifferent . . .

PK: (Laughs)

EMcG: On top of that, people often say that I'm grim and sour-looking (on TV) and that I don't smile, even my friends: 'Why don't you smile more?' Well, about 20 years ago, or at different times, I had a tooth knocked out here and a tooth knocked out there.

(He points to opposite sides of his upper jaw.)

EMcG: When I was in national school, the dentist gave me an injection one time and the needle came out and I panicked. And I was terrified of dentists ever since. Subconsciously I began to stop smiling because I had these two gaps and television is ruthless as you know. Then, about 10 years ago, my local dentist sent me to Mr Crotty in Dorset Street and he did a job on my face and replaced my teeth . . . but it's probably too late for my television career.

PK: (Laughs)

EMcG: I mean, you've been looking at me today and my facial expressions are relatively normal but I was always conscious when I smiled that people would say: 'Ahh Jesus, wouldn't you think he'd get something done with his mouth!' And it just grew on me, and probably inhibited me.

PK: Weren't you also naturally shy?

EMcG: Yeah, I suppose, but maybe it's the environment in which you are reared. Being the son of a teacher would always be a slightly inhibiting factor because you wouldn't have the same freedom to act the bollocks as your contemporaries. The teacher was…

PK: A pillar of society?

EMcG: Yeah, and then my oldest brother being a priest was a big influence on me, even (after he died) and things went on.

PK: You're not on Twitter?

EMcG: I'm not on Twitter, no.

PK: But you're aware of it?

EMcG: I follow a small section of GAA players; I listen to them and say: 'Jesus! Were we like that at their age?' They never talk about their sport first of all, it's mainly the Premiership, but you could have a fellow saying, 'I had a great feed of bacon and cabbage last night'. I mean, for fuck sake! These are mature, 20-plus, third-level students or graduates! And some of them are so egotistical that they'll put their name to that! We live in the Twitter age and that's it, but they put their names on it and they're open to libel, and more of them will get into trouble over it.

PK: You're not going to offend anyone by saying you had bacon and cabbage for dinner.

EMcG: No, but what surprises me most is that they never make any comment on a match they've just played. Or a match they're going to play. I don't know if that's some unwritten policy or something.

PK: It's probably a directive from the manager.

EMcG: Yeah, of course, the manager would stop them. Being a top GAA player now is too demanding and its no wonder they're all retiring under 30. If you have a job, or the ambition to improve your career, you have very little chance.

PK: You make the point in your book that it's inevitable they are going to get paid?

EMcG: It can't go on. You've got a dressing room full of people, all of whom are paid apart from the players - physios, dieticians, sports psychologists, forwards coaches, backs coaches. I mean, Dublin have what, 22 people? And that raises another question: How does the manager control all of them? Because not all of them would have the strong personalities of (Kieran) McGeeney or (Jim) McGuinness or (Jim) Gavin. Some of them would be fairly run-of-the-mill, and vulnerable to people in their camp more expert than they are. Take a guy like that (mentions a former manager) fella - a fucking lunatic! He might have been surrounded by five or six people, university graduates and specialists in their field, so who were the players going to listen to? Who had the final say? These are things we don't talk about but I'm sure they are present.

PK: That's interesting.

EMcG: Yeah, it might make a column for me one Saturday night if I'm struggling.

3. An Ordinary Man

I thought I knew what shock was until a Saturday morning last March when the doctors told us about Linda. It was hard at first but we knuckled down after a few days. Making her comfortable is the major challenge of the rest of my life.

Sunday Tribune, March 18, 1990

PK: Talk to me about your time at the Longford Leader. Was it a big call for you to take that on?

EMcG: It was a big call because the paper was closed for 37 weeks and not many people were sure it would come back, but I was at the height of my temporary power in '82 and knew I had a chance. I was more or less living at home at that stage, I knew the Leader inside out, and I knew Longford inside out, and more importantly the people of Longford knew me. So I was starting from a position of trust compared to an outsider.

PK: That's a good point.

EMcG: It's important. My name was good, and the GAA crowd would be happy because they'd assume, wrongly, there would be no boats rocked. I kept most of the staff and hired two or three new journalists and, within a year, we had built it back to where it was. Newspapers were beginning to have good times then.

PK: What does that mean?

EMcG: It was a good time for newspapers with the advertising. At that time, the financing of papers was roughly 60pc advertising and 40pc sales, or maybe it was the other way round? Anyway, the sales of the paper were never going to drop because every house in Longford had to buy the Leader and that was a big start. It meant you always had a cash flow and we were making a small profit from day one. So we kept building it up. We got a fleet of fairly good journalists over the years, some exceptionally good ones, and I put a lot more steel in the paper. The normal thing in a country paper is, 'Whatever you say, say nothing' and I began to have that changed.

PK: You started a sister paper in Cavan?

EMcG: We started a Cavan Leader for three or four years until we were hit with a libel action. Ciarán Mullooly, who's now a legendary figure in RTé, wrote a story and implied that this fella had... anyway, it was settled on the steps of the court for about 40 or 50 thousand and more or less wiped out the paper. But the Leader went from strength to strength. We maximised the circulation and it was very successful.

PK: Why did you sell it?

EMcG: Well, the catalyst for selling it was very simple: Aldi were coming on the scene at the time and began to take full-page ads in the Leader, which was unheard of. And then Lidl arrived six months later and we were getting two full pages, which was astronomical. This went on for about a year or so and there were three silent partners in the business with me from Longford. So I just said to them at some AGM: 'By the way lads, if you're ever interested in selling the paper - and none of us were - this is the time'. Aldi and Lidl were spending about two-and-a-half thousand a week (in advertising), which was colossal money over a year. I said, 'But as soon as they're established they'll stop'. So the others must have started thinking about it because they said, 'Have a look around and see if somebody wants to buy'.

PK: And you did?

EMcG: It took about two or three months - a radio company called Scottish Radio Holdings had decided to dabble in Irish newspapers and had bought the Leitrim Observer. I rang up the fella and said, 'Are you interested in buying?' And that was it.

PK: You say in the book: There can scarcely be anything more satisfying for a journalist, including an editor, than to be working for a good local newspaper.

EMcG: Yeah, it was very vibrant, all sorts of people got onto me about everything, good news, bad news, court cases, but it had its downsides as well. I didn't get involved in the chamber of commerce, or the golf club, or any of the local community things, because I'd feel myself compromised. And it was a strange thing because when I left the Leader, and was circulating a bit more around the town, nearly everybody would say: 'How'ye Eugene.' And nobody ever used to speak to me before.

PK: Really?

EMcG: No, they'd pass by and say nothing. The local papers have enormous power in the public mind and they were probably afraid until I left - a curious phenomenon.

PK: That is curious.

EMcG: Yeah, there was always a certain aloofness about the old local papers. I could have joined all the clubs, and given speeches, and been here, there and everywhere but I wanted to keep my neutrality, basically.

PK: Interesting.

EMcG: Some people didn't like it. The Fianna Fáil crowd always maintained I was anti-Albert Reynolds from day one, and you couldn't convince them otherwise, but I didn't give a shite about any of them.

PK: There was a photo of Reynolds in your office when I interviewed you in 1990?

EMcG: Yeah, well, we did a souvenir booklet for him when he became Taoiseach, and I presented it to him and so forth, but he would be constantly on the alert. I remember, when he was Minister for Finance, he came out of a meeting in Brussels to ring me, so that I could read out the latest apology that was going on page 1.

PK: (Laughs)

EMcG: It was hard on the journalist but I said, 'Look, he's riding high at the moment but bide your time, the wheel will turn'. And boy did it turn. He was a nice enough guy, but he was vindictive.

PK: And you weren't?

EMcG: No, I couldn't be bothered, there was no point, we had to swallow the apologies. There were times when you thought: 'Fuck it! I don't want this hassle'. But if you're involved with any newspaper you'll have hassle.

PK: Did it not stick in your craw to have to go up to Leinster House and make a presentation to him?

EMcG: Well, we were after doing a big supplement and making a lot of money so we were happy enough about it.

PK: You were pragmatic?

EMcG: Neither of us would have had any illusions about where we stood, because he was quite an intelligent man.

PK: You got a lot of money for selling the Leader.

EMcG: Yeah, we got ten million euro, but I didn't get it all.

PK: How did it feel to be a multi-millionaire?

EMcG: Well, I have a cheque in there that I copied, €965,000, which I had to pay in tax. And that's something you wouldn't forget in a hurry.

PK: (Laughs)

EMcG: I qualify for the free travel now, so I have no qualms about taking it.

PK: When did you get married?

EMcG: '84.

PK: Why did it take so long?

EMcG: Well you can't do everything, can you?

PK: (Laughs)

EMcG: Or you'd end up doing everything by half.

PK: That's what it was?

EMcG: It was a factor. I got involved in the football and it just kept going and getting married with the level of commitment that I had was going to be (a problem) if I hadn't married someone like Marian, who was involved in football. And my father didn't marry until about the same age.

PK: Really?

EMcG: Yeah, and that didn't do any harm. He had seven children and so on, but we would never have had seven children. When Linda came along we devoted all our attention to her and it's a bonus in a certain way that, well, she'll be with us all my lifetime, and maybe her mother's, because the lifespan of Down Syndrome people can be 50 or 60 at least. She's a fantastic person and we're blessed to have her. You might say, 'Okay, if she was so-called normal now, she'd have a degree and might be thinking about getting married'. But I have a son who's thinking of getting married, and he has a degree, and I couldn't imagine our life without Linda, to be honest with you.

PK: She was a year old the last time I interviewed you?

EMcG: Ahhh, it was an awful shock. I had never heard of Down Syndrome. I went into the Mater, not the Mater, the one at the bottom of Merrion Square...

PK: Holles Street?

EMcG: Yeah, and I was at Conor's birth, because it happened in the middle of a snowstorm in January, and I expected to be at the birth of Linda, but it ran a couple of weeks late and I wasn't there every day. I got a phone call then at seven o'clock on a Saturday morning to say the baby had been born. I went straight up and went into Marian and the baby wasn't there and I didn't know anything. It was just . . . ghastly!

PK: The way you were informed?

EMcG: Yeah, I hope they've changed it, to just hit you with a rocket like that. But look, experience and all these things are a part of life. There are probably former GAA players and rugby players out there who live in a dream world because they were stars, and national heroes, and icons. And they think the rest of their life will ramble along at the same pace. But that's not the way it works.

PK: No, it's not.

EMcG: I find it hard to think of myself as anything other than ordinary, and I pity the people who are the reverse - who are ordinary but think they're extraordinary.

(He gets up from his chair and notices the microphone)

EMcG: Are you still recording this?

PK: Yeah.

EMcG: Are you using this?

PK: Of course!

EMcG: Ah Jaysus!

PK: (Laughs)

Legend.

Sunday Indo Sport

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