OFFALY was plunged into mourning last Sunday when news emerged of the sudden death of Eugene McGee, the Longford man who guided the county to one of the GAA's most iconic successes, the 1982 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
McGee's death was a sudden one after he took ill at the wedding of his son Conor on Saturday. He was one of the GAA's most prominent figures for several decades.
His exploits with Offaly football in the late 1970s/1980s brought him national fame while he retained a very high profile after stepping down as the county's senior football manager after a 1984 championship defeat by Dublin.
He subsequently managed Cavan senior footballers and was twice the manager of the Irish international rules team, 1987 and 1990. However, his contribution transcended all of that.
He was a pivotal figure on some of football's most important committees. He was one of the group that proposed the introduction of the qualifiers back in 2001 while he was chairman of the Football Review Committee that saw the introduction of the black card for various offences a short few years ago – a radical proposal from that committee to reshape the “provincial championships” into competitions for eight teams each was not passed.
A native of Aughnacliffe in north Longford, his own playing career was not a distinguished one and it was as a manager that he made his name. While a student at UCD, he took over their Sigerson Cup football team, leading them to seven titles in that competition between 1968 and 1979 while he managed them to Dublin senior football titles and two All-Ireland senior football club titles in 1974 and 1975.
Kevin Kilmurray, an Offaly football hero from 1971/1972 was a key member of that star studded mid '70s UCD squad and he brought Eugene McGee to the attention of then Offaly GAA chairman Fr Sean Heaney and secretary John Dowling as they searched for a manager after the end of Paddy McCormack's brief reign in 1976.
McGee came into the job during a period when many of the great 1971/1972 All-Ireland champions were either retired or past their best but there was still a hardcore of players with a lot to offer while there was an outstanding crop of young talent emerging, including Matt Connor, Johnny Mooney, Gerry Carroll, Brendan Lowry, Liam Currums, Tom O'Connor and many more.
Dublin and Kerry, about to embark on their four in a row run, were rampant in that period and it took Offaly three attempts before they beat Dublin in the 1980 Leinster final. They lost to Kerry in the 1980 All-Ireland semi-final and 1981 final before stunning them in the 1982 final.
McGee was also very well known as a media operator and commentator.
He lived in Longford Town and leaves behind his wife, Marian – a sister of two Offaly heroes from 1982, Tomas and the late Liam O'Connor, from Walsh Island, a son Conor and a daughter, Linda.
His remains will repose at Glennon's Funeral Home, Ballinalee Road, Longford (N39 EC81) on Wednesday (8th May) from 4.00pm, concluding with prayers at 9.00pm. Removal on Thursday to arrive at St. Mel's Cathedral for Mass of the Resurrection at 11.00am, interment afterwards in Colmcille Cemetery.
Ironically, his death came just hours before members of the 1982 gathered in Faithful Fields in Kilcormac for the launch of a replica of the jersey they wore in that final – both Offaly and Kerry had to change colours because of a clash of colours and that jersey has been much sought after since then.
The Offaly GAA County Board decided to go ahead with the event as a number of people had already travelled distances to be in attendance and the large crowd included current senior football and hurling managers, John Maughan and Kevin Martin and players from both codes.
Both senior squads are focussing on big championship action this weekend. The senior footballers travel to Navan on Sunday for the first round of the Leinster Senior Football Championship against Meath. Meath looked to have turned a corner this year, winning promotion to Division 1 of the National Football League, and are warm favourites but there is a very positive mood in the Offaly camp and they are setting their sights on a shock win.
Offaly have a clean bill of health for the big game and there won't be any big surprises when the team is announced later this week.
Offaly hurlers face one of their most important games in years on Saturday when they welcome Laois to Tullamore for the first round of the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Relegated to the second tier last year, Offaly are desperate to bounce back at the first time of asking but enter the competition with a lot to prove. They had a shocking league campaign as they were relegated to Division 2 and they endured a defeat at the hands of Laois.
However, things seemed to have picked up since then as they freshened up the back room team with former Olympian David Matthews taking over the physical training and Ann Marie Kennedy doing psychology work with them.
Offaly have plenty of doubts with Kevin Connolly, Shane Kinsella, Damien Egan, Mark Egan and Liam Langton all dealing with injury problems but should field a strong team. They need to get off to a winning start as they bid to turn things around.
Offaly minor footballers and hurlers are also out this weekend. The minor footballers travel to Navan tonight (Wednesday) for their second round robin game against Meath. They beat Wexford in the first round and with Dublin at home in their last game, they need another win to come out of the group.
The minor hurlers travel to Nowlan Park on Saturday to face Kilkenny in their third game in the Tier 1 round robin series. Having lost to Wexford and Dublin, they can't go into the semi-finals and irrespective of the result on Saturday, they will face one of the lower tier teams in a quarter-final.
See pages 66 and 67 for a detailed obituary on Eugene McGee and see elsewhere for detailed previews of this weekend's big games.