One summer’s evening over a quarter century ago, whilst out for an evening stroll – my wonderful mother doing the walking, me observing from the cockpit – Brendan Reilly was encountered close to his family home. The Reilly homestead being close to St Peter’s GAA Club, enquiries were made as to why there was a big crowd up around the field.
The Jimmy Magee All Stars were in town. Now, I’d no idea who they were, or what the whole idea was about, but once I heard the great man was in the vicinity the wheelchair wasn’t being pointed anywhere else. To this day, the only two participants I can recall from the hilarious fundraiser – proceeds from which went to the wonderful Sr Stan to aid her efforts with the homeless – were ‘Brush’ Shiels and the late Noel Keating, founder of Kepak and friend to Meath football and so much and many more.
Blessedly, ‘Brush’ and I crossed paths several times over the years, but that was the only occasion on which the wonderful Clare man with the unforgettable sideburns was encountered in person. At the time, greatest angst centered on not being allowed venture to The County Club for the cabaret thereafter.
The blow thereof, however, was softened considerably once another rendezvous with gentleman Jimmy was secured before being homeward bound. Yes, another. You see, through the kindness of my fourth class teacher, John Moriarty, yours truly was the recipient of a McDonald’s Child Of Achievement Award – actually earlier that year (1992).
On arrival at Jury’s, Ballsbridge, Magee was the first celebrity spotted – and frankly the only one I’d any interest in. The way things were ran off ensured that each celebrity presented, say, a half dozen awards and then departed. My only wish was that these wheels would be pressed into action during the Louth man’s rota.
It didn’t happen – Michael Sheridan, then of RTE, it had to be – but – and my big educator from Kerry wasn’t a man to be trifled with – there was no way I was leaving Dublin 4 without meeting the Memory Man.
At this point, temptation was to express surprise that one of the most famous Irish Americans there’s been remembered our interaction when we were reunited in Dunboyne later that year. But then, think of the title with which he affectionately and rightly became synonymous. He could probably remember what Ronnie Delany had for his breakfast before triumphing in Melbourne!
In terms of writing, many will of course know that the late, lamented Con Houlihan was and forever will be my idle. However, equally, there’s no way attempts at scribing on such an array of topics could’ve been undertaken over the years without Jimmy as a reference point. Not in person, obviously, though we did meet several times over the years. No, mostly due to the amount of his videos, DVDs and written material accumulated over the years.
It is not being fanciful to suggest that, without him, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today – which hopefully isn’t too bad! Soon after the Ballsbridge occasion, the man from Cooley released a quiz book – all sports of course – the proceeds from which went to the Irish Kidney Association. That acted as a ‘go to’ source for a long time. Indeed, it’s probably still somewhere in the vaults. Undoubtedly, though, and this will surely apply to many, it will be recollections of his television work that will resonate greatest.
On hearing of Jimmy’s passing – and with Liam Cahill’s blessing – a piece I keyboarded entitled George and Jimmy used to make my Mondays was resurrected from the fondly remembered and terribly missed www.anfearrua.com The column in question bemoaned the loss of that great quiz show Know Your Sport which Jimmy co-anchored so memorably with George Hamilton.
What a crying shame it was that RTE dispensed with that show – and other good quizzes too. As far as is known, A Question Of Sport is the only such item still on the go. A terrible pity. Anyway, if there was one regret about the quiz on home soil, it was that contestants of under 18 weren’t allowed. At the time, quite a degree of confidence would’ve been retained that one could’ve held one’s own.
In fact, rueful pondering was often engaged in as to who would’ve been my ‘chosen one’ for the Specialist Subject round. Back then, it would most likely have been the career of Colm O’Rourke. It’d still rank fairly high on the list, though the exploits of Graham Geraghty and Nina Carberry would merit consideration were it now also.
When compiling a piece following Con’s passing in 2012, the observation was made that one of the biggest things gleaned from his unforgettable offerings was an increased breadth of knowledge garnered on an astounding variety of subjects. And that is not to say, by any means, that anything like Con’s vast swathes of information could be matched.
Many of Magee’s memorable moments stand up to similar comparison. Whether that was ‘calling’ the exploits of Sonia O’Sullivan and – in an iconic instance – John Treacy in Athletics or the endeavours in pugilism of the likes of Michael Carruth, Wayne McCullough and Bernard Dunne.
Personally speaking, I always felt it was entirely appropriate that it was Jimmy behind the mic for arguably the most famous sporting moment of them all – Katie Taylor’s golden moment in London in 2012. When Houlihan passed away, that same week ironically, it was opined that, if the gentle giant from Castle Island had a favourite sport, it was most likely rugby. In Jimmy’s case, you suspected boxing topped that bill.
Thus, with him having conveyed so many historic moments to the sporting public, who better do narrate the most historic of them all? Aside from that, another thought takes hold. They say, in another sphere, that all politics is local. Maybe, in one way, similar applies to sport.
Therefore, my most memorable Magee moment – in terms of commentary anyway – was his work on the 1996 All Ireland SFC semi final between Meath and Tyrone. Brendan Reilly had the season of his life that year – obviously culminating in the winning point against Mayo – but this corner would argue that the day against the Red Hands was his greatest ever performance in a Meath jersey.
That it was Jimmy depicting what transpired that day was fabulously appropriate. As far as this corner would be concerned, he had quite an association with the area. Particularly the schools and matters involving the youth. Going back to when the quiz book was promoted in the school many moons ago and, more recently, it’s known that he also let his support to the local Gaeilscoill. However, the occasion that will be most treasured close to home will be the night on which the accompanying photograph was taken – namely the first dinner dance of the Inspiration Cycling Club in Dunboyne. The ‘Memory Man’ left innumerable gems by which his legacy will be preserved, but that night really was…Different Class!
FOGRA: At the beginning of this piece it was admitted that not much was known about the Jimmy Magee All Stars. Well, by the time I was finished it was discovered that my grandfather, Patsy Geoghegan, played in one of the games. A personal connection has made memories of Jimmy even more precious.