Sport

Thursday 24 May 2018

Tony Ward: It was a privilege to have had sporting genius Jimmy as a friend

 

Jimmy Magee with Tony Ward. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Jimmy Magee with Tony Ward. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Those of us privileged enough to have known and built a friendship with the much-loved 'Memory Man' Jimmy Magee have our own special memories of him.

I first got to know Jimmy when I played for Shamrock Rovers in the early 1970s. The Magees lived in Kilmacud so Jimmy had a soft spot for the Milltown side.

He was nowhere near as Rovers-daft as Phil Greene but nonetheless we laid claim to the two voices of Irish football.

Being a south-side Dub, Rovers were my team. Signing for the Hoops straight out of school was a dream come true.

But it paled in comparison when early on I forced my way into the side and managed to score a few goals (never my forte as a winger).

In one of t he early games we beat Finn Harps at Glenmalure by the only goal and yours truly got it.

The feeling was good but nothing like that Sunday night when Jimmy Magee, reading out the results on TV, announced that "exciting (his word) young winger Tony Ward scored the winner".

Here was true fame. Jimmy Magee knew my name and had just announced it to the nation. I told him that little sceál recently and he loved it.

Jimmy Magee, Philip Greene, Michael O'Hehir, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Fred Cogley, Brendan O'Reilly, Noel Andrews and Jim Sherwin were the voices of sport in our youth.

John Treacy probably described him best in the last few days - Jimmy was not just the Memory Man but was in Olympic currency the champion decathlete at commentating, such was his ability to comfortably read so many different sports so well.

When I made my own decision to concentrate on just the one, and that being rugby, it added to the intrigue for Jimmy.

On a personal level, his interest never ever waned.

In the summer of '78 when I was doing my final exams in UL (then NCPE), Jimmy sent a lovely card to the college from Buenos Aires, where he was covering the World Cup, wishing me all the best in my exams.

Thoughtful gestures like that you never forget. That was Jimmy.

In 1980, when 'Superstars' was all the rage, I was chosen to represent Ireland in Tel Aviv in 'European Superstars' and spent a week there with Jimmy and Vera Sullivan.

My abiding memory was not of the competition but of Jimmy's love for his grub. We did various 'Superstars' here too with me as co-commentator to Jimmy under Justin Nelson and live from the Rose of Tralee.

He could turn his hand and voice to anything seamlessly. As I heard Dessie Cahill suggest, time away with Jimmy was never dull or put another way, God help anyone who came under the Magee radar. He could take the mickey but never in a spiteful way.

There were countless appearances on his 'Sunday Sports' programme but I particularly recall one when Ollie Campbell and I were looking back on the year at the end of 1982.

I was rabiting on about the disappointment of missing out on the Triple Crown when Jimmy called my self -ity to task, pointing out that an FAI medal with Limerick and a Munster League medal with Garryowen wasn't a bad return.

That was Jimmy, always accentuating the positive.

In latter years, I enjoyed being alongside him on the ASJI (Association of Sports Journalists in Ireland) of which he was vice-president.

The summer before last, we travelled to Killarney for a luncheon to honour sporting legend (awarded by the ASJI) Mick O'Connell.

President Peter Byrne, vice-president Jimmy, secretary Ray McMenamin and members Ray McManus, Ned Van Esbeck and myself travelled by train along with former footballing greats Frankie Byrne, Kevin Behan and Micky Whelan.

It was a return journey made in heaven. Sporting utopia with Jimmy at the heart of the craic and the banter, but more than anything the highlight was the sporting nostalgia.

The world is much poorer for the loss of Jimmy Magee but so much the richer for him having passed our way.

I was privileged to have been counted a friend by a sporting genius who truly was different class.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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