Jody Corcoran: 'A class apart, that was Eugene'
The sudden death of Eugene McGee is a great sadness for Offaly people, and GAA folk in general, who held him in such respect in the years up to, and forever after he masterminded the famous victory over Kerry in 1982.
The last time I met him was at a fundraising event in Tullamore some years ago, which was attended by the team, during which we discussed my view that Offaly had almost lost the game by his decision to swap midfielder Padraig Dunne with half-forward Gerry Carroll mid-way through the second half.
I say discussed: "Dunne needed a rest," he stated, in what people affectionately have said since his death was in typically blunt fashion, but he wasn't really. He was merely blessed with uncommon common sense, expertly expressed with the minimum of fuss.
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That said, when Padraig Dunne was returned to midfield, I think you will find, Offaly regained the upper hand and began to whittle down Kerry's four-point lead, before my good friend Seamus Darby was introduced and, well, the rest is history.
I know this, the ebb and flow of the game, because every Christmas without fail I take out a recording and watch it again. It will be 37 years ago this year since that victory. Its sweetness has not diminished through the years; it has sweetened, if anything. For Offaly people, it has become a calling card around the world. Everybody remembers it.
My relationship with Eugene began five years earlier, when my father brought us to Portlaoise to see McGee's then new-look Offaly team take on the mighty Dubs. Offaly took the game to Dublin that day, and for a long time it looked as though a shock victory was on the cards, inspired by the great Tomas O'Connor at midfield. Tomas, whose sister, Marian was subsequently to be married to Eugene, won an All Star that year. A great win was denied, only by the introduction of a second-half substitute for Dublin, one Kevin Moran, who was on the books with Manchester United at the time.
And so began a great voyage, pock-marked by memorable moments on and off the field, a stage advanced each year until the denial of Kerry's five-in-a-row in 1982. Such memories: Jimmy Keaveney's dismissal in 1979, and Bernard Brogan's heart-breaking late goal; the half-time move of the great Matt Connor from corner to centre-forward, and his goal with Ray Hazley in his wake which delivered us victory in the Leinster final in 1980; Matt's stunning 2-9 (and Gerry Carroll's brilliant 2-1), but still defeat by five points to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final that year; Jack O'Shea's thunderbolt goal which led to defeat in the All-Ireland final in 1981, tempered only by our first All-Ireland hurling final win that year. And then '82.
Throughout it all, we took the bus each Sunday, for football and hurling matches, from Daingean to Dublin, parked at Parnell Square, a bag of sandwiches in hand, to the Parnell Mooney pub, a glass of lemonade, and then to Croke Park.
Those Sundays are the fondest memories of my life. For that, I have all of the players to thank, of course, and family and friends, and Roy Francis the bus driver. But above all of them, Eugene McGee hovered. We loved his remoteness, his calculated, unemotional analysis of the game; his post-match interviews - blunt they say, but always eloquent.
He put into fewer words what we could not say at all, and we were proud of him for it. He made us look not just good, but somehow different from others, and from ourselves. He looked Micko and Heffo, and all comers in the eye and did not blink. A leader of men. A man apart. That was Eugene, a class apart.