Sunday 22 September 2019

Larry McGann: 'Eugene never mentioned '82 to me, that's the kind of man he was'

Alter ego Larry McGann of Knocknavanna Gaels looks back at some fond times with his creator

Eugene McGee in 1982. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee in 1982. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Larry McGann

I'm not one for shouting about my age but I'll put it this way, if I live to see my next birthday I'll be getting a letter from the President, please God - and a cheque along with it too. The 'Centenarian Bounty', they tell me it's called. "How much is it worth?" I asked the great-grandchild the other day She was straight on to the computer. "Two thousand, five hundred and forty euro!" she declared. "And what are you going to do with it, SuperGranda?" She calls me SuperGranda so as not to mix me up with her Granda. I can't believe my own son is a granddad himself now.

I told her it'd be going straight to Knocknavanna Gaels. She thought it was a great idea, seeing as how she's playing football with the girls underage team and all. And she's a little dinger too, I might add.

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I got a desperate land when I heard the news last week. I should be well used to it at my age but I never dreamed Eugene would be gone before me. He was the sort of fella, you didn't know what age he was; you thought he was the same age all the time. He never changed. As decent a man as ever walked in shoe leather. Every year I'd ring him for the ticket in the Knocknavanna Christmas draw and every year I'd have the cheque in the post two days after. If he promised he'd do something for you, it'd be done.

It was Eugene who put me on the map too. "Don't be quoting me in the paper!" I used to warn him. I remember once we took the players away to Galway for a challenge match one weekend before the junior championship. I was managing the team, along with being club secretary, taxi driver, chief fundraiser, delegate to the county board and correspondent for the club notes for the local paper. Mary Kate, God rest her, used to wash all the jerseys and do the sponge cakes and tea and sandwiches if we were having a function in the hall.

Anyway, we're down in Galway this weekend and I'm not five minutes talking to their secretary when he says to me, "You're the Larry McGann that McGee bes writing about!" I am, sez I, and he's an awful messer, the same bucko. He'd be ringing me up looking to get the lie of the land from a good grassroots GAA man and the first few times, I warned him not to be quoting me in the paper.

Arrah, he said, pass no remarks, sure it might sell a few tickets for the Gaels. And sure enough, I sold a book of tickets in Galway that night. I kind of got used to it after that. The phone'd ring of an evening and Mary Kate would answer and she'd shout down the hallway, "It's Eugene McGee," and I'd say "What does he want now?" and she'd say, "I dunno but he doesn't want to talk to me anyway."

And then I'd pick up the Sunday paper after Mass and there he'd have a big spread about Larry McGann from Knocknavanna Gaels! And Larry said this, and Larry said that, and sure I didn't say half of it half the time! McGee was hopping the ball a lot of the time. I remember walking into the Eagle Bar one Sunday, I was gathering up the lads for an ould league match or something, and they were all there with the paper spread out in front of them and they started slagging me as soon as I walked in the door. And in my innocence I told them that Mary Kate had read it and she was fuming cos she reckoned that McGee had made me out to be a right ould GAA 'dinosaur'. And Mickey Maguire fired back at me quick as a flash, "Sure, that's exactly what you are, Larry!" And the boys fell about the place laughing. Sure what else could you do but laugh yourself. Maguire was a great full-forward, if you could keep him half fit or half sober.

I suppose looking back, I was a bit behind the times all right. Eugene always liked to remind his readers that I wore the Pioneer pin on the lapel of me jacket. Well I did. And I had the Fáinne beside it too. I remember him knocking great crack out of me back in the '80s or '90s when the lads, Maguire included, set up a soccer team, Knocknavanna Rovers. And then they set up a basketball team; the Heineken Suckers, they called themselves, just to spite me I'd nearly swear!

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But Ireland was changing. I mean, I won my one and only county junior championship medal with the Gaels back in 1959 - and I was pushing 40 at the time. I'm still honorary president and I still go to the AGM, to see how things are holding up.

Within a decade, the soccer and basketball clubs were gone, and I take no pleasure in saying that. Emigration. No jobs. The lads were all gone to Dublin or London or America. The Eagle is long gone as well. The Gaels are just about still standing.

And now poor Eugene is gone too. To tell the truth, behind all the messing, I was proud that a man of his calibre would bother to look for my opinion on anything. I was as proud as any Offaly man that day in '82 when Darby got the goal and they won the All-Ireland. And McGee had engineered the whole damn thing. Imagine that! And a few weeks later he was back on the phone to me as if nothing had happened. Never mentioned it to me. That's the kind of man he was.

I won't be long after him now. I'm sure I'll meet him Above. And the first thing he'll say is, "McGann, what are you doing here?!" And I'll tell him I'm selling a locka tickets for the Knocknavanna Gaels annual draw.

(As told to Tommy Conlon)

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