Friday 23 August 2019

He gave us one of the greatest joys of our lives

Eugene McGee. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eugene McGee. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

My first encounter with Eugene McGee was thankfully not a sign of things to come.

It was at an Offaly senior football training camp in the summer of 1982 in the shadow of Croghan Hill.

Yes, the famous summer of Darby's goal, of ruining Kerry's five-in-a-row dream. He 'banned' me from the training session.

Apparently, I was asking too many questions of too many players - and himself - as they sweated their fitness to unprecedented levels. I was distracting them. He didn't curse or swear. He just told me to clear off. He was perfectly correct, of course. I had no right to intrude.

But I was devastated.

Legendary goalkeeper Martin Furlong saw my plight, put his arm around my shoulder as I trudged away, and said: "Don't worry, young Cunningham. I'll talk to him later."

Martin brought me over to Eugene afterwards. Eugene shook my hand and explained his reasons for our earlier curt interlude. I felt an instant, and lasting, respect for the man.

Every time I've been in his company, I have never felt less than honoured to have known him.

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Not just Eugene the manager, not just the expert, but the real, warm, engaging, straight-talking and hugely interesting individual he was.

He was and always will be a 'great' for me and all Offaly people. He was responsible for Offaly people everywhere sharing one of the great joys of our lives - seeing the Sam Maguire held aloft by men in our jerseys.

I can only hope that his grieving family will take some little solace from how much the man meant and will always mean to us.

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