Tuesday 24 April 2018

McDonagh leaves lasting impression on and off the pitch

Joe McDonagh attending the GAA Annual Congress in April 2000 at Galway’s Great Southern Hotel, where he handed over the presidency to Sean McCague. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Joe McDonagh attending the GAA Annual Congress in April 2000 at Galway’s Great Southern Hotel, where he handed over the presidency to Sean McCague. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Joe McDonagh taking part in a pre-match warm-up with the Galway hurlers in 1988. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It remains an iconic moment in All-Ireland final history. Joe Connolly’s summoning of the Galway tribes to celebrate a first trip west by the Liam MacCarthy Cup for 57 years was followed by Joe McDonagh’s rendition of the ‘The West’s Awake’.

The 1980 All-Ireland win is still recalled in Galway as one of the county’s most special occasions, with Connolly’s superb speech and McDonagh’s emotional follow-up on the steps of the Hogan Stand capturing the moment perfectly.

It was a characteristic that McDonagh continued to bring to the rest of his busy life in the GAA once he left the playing fields and moved into administration where he reached the highest office as President (1997-2000).

“Joe had an amazing way about him,” said former team-mate Conor Hayes. “He could be asked to give an impromptu speech in English or Irish and he’d rattle it out as if he had spent hours drafting and rehearsing it. He’d radiate energy in any room and get it back from the people who were listening to him.”


Hayes played on Galway and UCG teams with McDonagh, whom he recalls as “larger than life” and “great fun to be with”.

McDonagh’s rise up the GAA’s administration ladder came as no surprise to those who knew him well.

“He had a way about him. He was popular wherever he went but to us in Galway, he always remained ‘Joe Mac’ – one of our own,” said Hayes.

Apart from being on the Galway squad that won the 1980 All-Ireland, Hayes and McDonagh were also aboard a very talented UCG squad that won the 1977 Fitzgibbon Cup.

So too were Niall McInerney (RIP), Pat Fleury (Offaly), Frank Holohan (Kilkenny), Joe Connolly and Cyril Farrell, who went on

to manage Galway in three separate terms (1980-’82, 1985-’91, 1997-’98).

“From the day I met him, Joe always talked about Liam MacCarthy coming to Galway,” said Irish Independent columnist Farrell. “A lot of people in Galway around that time doubted if it would ever happen but Joe didn’t. It was always a matter of when, not if, with him.

“Joe had such a zest for life, sport and everything else that it rubbed off on anyone who met him. He took his hurling very seriously but he knew how to enjoy himself too and wanted those around him to do the same. He was a very bright guy too.”

Danny Lynch, the GAA’s PRO during McDonagh’s presidential term, described him as “loyal, courageous, full of energy and great to be around”.

“I’ve never come across anyone who had such a photographic memory for names, faces and places. Once he’d met someone, he’d never forget them,” said Lynch.

McDonagh’s determination to remove the controversial Rule 21 (which precluded RUC officers and members of the British Army from joining the GAA) was one of the defining themes of his presidency.

“He saw it as essential to get rid of it after the Good Friday Agreement and had the courage to take it on,” said Lynch.

“When Joe put his mind to something, he was very single-minded about it. He felt Rule 21 should go and was happy to lead from the front on the issue.

“Joe never shirked responsibility in that or any other area during his term as president.”

McDonagh didn’t succeed in having Rule 21 removed (a special Congress in 1998 rejected its immediate abolition) during his term but he had sowed the seeds of change.

As the Peace Process bedded down, an increasing number of GAA members backed McDonagh’s initiative in having Rule 21 removed, which happened in November 2001 under Seán McCague’s presidency.

McDonagh’s contribution to the process will always be recalled in GAA history while, on a personal level, he will be remembered as a top-class hurler, who became an equally good administrator.


As a player, McDonagh enjoyed plenty success – winning All-Ireland U-21 (1972) and

senior (1980) medals, as well

as National League (1975), Fitzgibbon Cup (1977) and

Railway Cup (1980-82-83).

He is survived by his wife Peig, son Eoin, and daughters Muireann and Eilís.

Reposing today at ‘Cillin’ within the grounds of Church of Mary Immaculate Queen, Barna (3-7pm), followed by removal. Requiem Mass tomorrow (12.0) followed by burial in Rahoon cemetery.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.


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