We all like someone good batting for us. Someone who can go out, without resort to a note or a rehearsed rote-learned speech. Who sounds lyrical but not flowery. Who speaks sense. Who preaches what is right. We all love it when our leaders are people who orate easily, who can melt hearts with their smiles and their personality, who can defuse the most tense of situations with an ability to bring sides together. Because when our leaders look and sound well, we think that we look and sound well. If these are the people who represent us, by extension, then we are all the better for having them lead us.
We like our pilots to sound confident and sure; we like our legal briefs to be foppyhaired and articulate; we even like our disgruntled footballers to sound like Keano; we want our presidents to sound like Mary Robinson, we want our words to be those of Michael D. And we want those who represent the past, the present and the future to sound like the late Joe McDonagh.
In Joe McDonagh, we had all that. When Joe went out to bat for the west, he returned always with handsome innings. He looked the part, he sounded the part, he was the part. He was mischievous, serious, emotional, determined and dignified.
I was so saddened when I heard on Friday night that he had passed away after a short illness borne with all the drive and positivity of the man that I had known for the past few decades since I entered this trade. He was a colleague of my wife, Bernadette, as they both set out 26 years ago to respectively build a news service and a sports service on the then fledgeling Radio West (now Galway Bay fm ). I loved the way he said “Abbey-Duniry,” I had never heard of Abbey-Duniry, but after hearing Joe say it, I wanted to go there and to see it. It sounded exotic.
When we think of Joe, our minds go to 1980 and the Hogan Stand, but perhaps his biggest oratorial contribution that week was on the Wednesday before when the team were dining at Athenry Mart and he started a speech along the line “we’re not coming back to Eyre Square next Monday night a beaten team.” And it started an emotion that made this talented team truly believe that they could do it. It was like a scene from that movie Brubaker when all the inmates followed in turn with their contributions of commitment. And believed. And that belief turned into a victory that today makes grown people cry.
I knew him too as the consummate host of the Galway Rose competition (which included the Mayo Rose, and which I judged on and off for a decade or more with the consequence that I can now spot a potential Rose of Tralee winner at at least 500 metres. At a time when Gay Byrne was the national host, it was always accepted that Joe could easily have stepped into his shoes and carried it off with as much aplomb. Joe was a master host, topped off by the fact that he could also serenade the winning Rose with the song itself.
In essence though, Joe McDonagh was someone you were proud to know, who you were proud to know was representing the west very well at the top table. And also because you knew that he was one of the good guys. His innate commonsense, his ability to orate, and his desire for progression giving us a GAA today that is still light years away from the one he first entered.
He was a man you don’t meet every day. A man who made a major difference to how Galway, the west, Ireland, and the GAA saw itself. A man who loved the Irish language and whose ease with it contributed to the campaign to have it reenergised.
Sixty-three is a short life relatively, but Joe McDonagh fitted 126 years into those 63. The greatest tribute we can pay him now is to replicate his ideals, to become like him, to find new people who can be the next Joe McDonaghs, to go forward to make a difference. Our thanks go out to his wife Peig and family for sharing him with us. They will miss him terribly. Farewell, Joe.
Ní chuile lá a chasfaí a leithéid ort. D’imir sé tionchar ollmhór ar an gcaoi ar shamhlaigh Gaillimh, Éirinn agus CLG iad féin. Fear a léirigh cion a chroí don Ghaeilge agus chuir an sampla a thug sé go mór leis an bhfeachtas chun an Ghaeilge a athbheochan.
Is saol réasúnta gairid é 63 bliain, ach d’éirigh le Seosamh Mac Donnchadha saothar 126 bliain a bhrú isteach sna 63 bliain sin. Is é an bealach is feiliúnaí le cuimhne a choinneáil air anois ná aithris a dhéanamh ar na tuairimí láidre a bhí aige, iarracht a dhéanamh sampla a thógáil uaidh, agus daoine nua a aimsiú a bheas in ann leanúint i gcoiscéimeanna Sheosaimh Mhic Dhonnchadha agus a thiocfaidh chun tairbhe don saol mór amach anseo. Gabhaimid buíochas lena bhean Peig agus lena theaghlach as ucht é a roinnt linn. Aireoidh siad go mór uathu é. Céad slán leat, a Sheosaimh.”