Mick O’Dwyer has hailed his old adversary Eugene McGee as “one of the great characters in sport” following the sudden passing of the former Offaly manager and widely-regarded journalist on Saturday.
Longford man McGee guided the Faithful County to their famous 1982 All-Ireland final win, denying Kerry the five-in-a-row, as well as three consecutive Leinster titles and two All-Ireland Club SFC crowns with UCD.
O’Dwyer mourns a man he admired as an opponent and later as a friend.
“He was without doubt one of the greats. He was a real friend of mine even though we had a lot of battles but all that was left behind when it came to the social side of life. As a matter of fact, I launched his book for him in Dublin and it was a privilege.
“He was a great competitor. He put so much into the game, a pile of work. That Offaly team of his was unbelievable. He took them over and they went from losing their first game in the Leinster championship to three Leinster titles during Kevin Heffernan’s time with Dublin and after six years the All-Ireland, stopping the five-in-a-row.”
The Waterville legend was a fan of the style played under McGee.
“They played wonderful football, first touch football and it was attacking football all the way and it was great to watch.
"They had some wonderful footballers on that team but to do what they did, they had to have a great manager. They were also exceptionally fit and that was down to how they were prepared.”
Chairing the Football Review Committee (FRC) during GAA president Liam O’Neill’s time that introduced among other measures the black card, McGee’s relevancy to Gaelic football extended beyond his insightful work in the Longford Leader, Irish Press, Sunday Press, Sunday Tribune and Irish Independent.
In boardrooms as he did on the whitewash, O’Dwyer saw first-hand McGee’s genuine love for the sport.
“I was on committees with him down through the years and he always wanted to make the game better. He wanted people to enjoy it more. I pass on my condolences to his wife Marian and his family.”
On a weekend where Offaly GAA launched a commemorative replica 1982 jersey and players from that historic victory had already planned to meet up yesterday morning, Faithful great Seán Lowry lamented his old manager’s passing.
“Eugene was his own man and there was a lot to him, more than most of us will ever know.
“We’re all still in shock and that we’re all together today it’s just very sad. He was a stern man and he wouldn’t talk to you that often but that was the package and people understood that. I heard somebody once saying he hadn’t spoken to him in two weeks and then somebody said, ‘That’s alright - he hasn’t spoken to me for six!’.
“That’s the kind of guy he was but you couldn’t fault how he managed us. I’ll always remember how thorough he was in his preparations. He lived and died for football.
As Dublin aim to do what McGee’s Offaly denied Kerry 37 years ago, Lowry feels time has well and truly honoured that feat.
“I don’t think Dublin are the best team that ever played football and I think they could be stopped this year with all the attention and the expectation that is on them. They have been lucky in a couple of All-Irelands, which you could never say about Kerry in our time playing.
“The amazing thing is people talk to me about ‘82 every week.
"So many people have won All-Irelands since then, Donegal, Armagh and Tyrone have won their first All-Irelands yet few outside those counties could tell me what year they were. Nobody forgets ‘82 or doesn’t know what happened in ‘82. That’s the incredible thing about it.”
Former president Liam O’Neill, who commissioned McGee to lead the FRC, said McGee was the only person who could convince people that football had to make changes. “I wanted somebody who was independent, who was fair and whose word would be accepted without question.
“It was important that the group be independent of the GAA and such was my and Páraic Duffy’s faith in him that he picked the committee himself. I had that much trust in him because we knew he would pick independent people like himself.
“I remember we were honouring him entering the Leinster GAA Hall of Fame once and I said at the time that when Eugene criticised you, you had to really think about it because it was coming from a strong source. He was always fair and to the point and his knowledge of football was so vast, his achievements too from UCD to Offaly.
“He was in charge of UCD when I was secretary of the hurling club there and I knew him as independent and fair-minded and truly in love with Gaelic games.” O’Neill rues that McGee’s FRC was disbanded following the adoption of the black card and other proposals.
“It was a pity because there was more to them. If the organisation had reassembled them they could have got even more out of Eugene and it but we got plenty as it happened.”
Tributes for McGee flooded in yesterday with several county boards including Offaly and Cavan, who he also managed, acknowledging his untimely death and worth to the game of Gaelic football.
Current Longford manager Padraic Davis said: “The passing of Eugene McGee will leave a huge void. An ability to weigh you up within seconds.
"Blunt, honest and didn’t suffer fools. A unique Longford man of great integrity and achievement in the worlds of sport, journalism and business. A rare character. RIP.”
Former Galway, Mayo and Leitrim manager John O’Mahony wrote: “So sad to hear of the sudden passing of All-Ireland winning manager and superb GAA analyst Eugene McGee.He was a massive inspiration to all of us who followed in his footsteps. Deepest sympathy to his wife and family and all in Offaly and Longford GAA.”
Longford GAA released a statement, reading: “Longford GAA wish to express our deepest sympathies to Marian, Conor & Linda, the extended families and his native Club Colmcille on the sudden and sad passing of Eugene McGee.
"Eugene epitomised all that is good in the GAA and was also a great voice for rural Ireland. RIP.”