IT IS hard to believe that he has gone to his eternal reward. He was so full of life which belied his 82 years. We thought he would go on forever. I first met Jimmy Magee in the Fitzgerald Stadium in the mid-80s, where recently retired Kerry players lined out against the Jimmy Magee All Stars.
These All Stars came from the world of show business. Such household names from the showband era as Brendan Bowyer, Dermot O’Brien, Butch Moore, Dickie Rock and Father Brian D’Arcy traded the stage for the football field and lined out for Jimmy Magee in venues all over Ireland. After the match they went to the local dance hall providing entertainment on their night off from the ballroom. In this way the match and the subsequent music raised a very considerable amount of money for charity where no one was paid any fee.
I met him many times in the intervening years and was always glad to meet him to enjoy his infectious good humour and that roguery with the twinkle in his eyes.
His interest was sport in so many codes and he loved to have the freedom to capture those seminal points of so many great sporting occasions. His description of John Treacy coming down the last few hundred metres in the Los Angeles Olympics was and continues to be the icon that perpetuates that very special moment in world athletics. He was so delighted to praise the great Irish women in sport, Katie Taylor, Sonia O’Sullivan and Michelle Smith. Despite all the controversy involving Michelle Smith’s doping allegation he backed her to the hilt. He was an expert on such a wide variety of sport and his recall was legendary. Tony O’Donoghue, his colleague in RTÉ Sport, summed him up well: “In the days before Google and Wikipedia Jimmy Magee was the Internet.”
OUR LAST MEETING
Little did I think that the last time I met him in Croke Park that it would be our last meeting. He spanned six decades of sport and brought his own charm to the events he was covering and to think that the seeds were sown in Willie Lowe’s garden in County Louth. He told me that was where it all started for him. He was born in New York but moved to Ireland when he was very young. He recalled the soccer games he played with his friends in Willie Lowe’s back garden. Using the handle of a brush for a microphone he learned the rudiments of giving a live commentary. Then he pestered Radio Éireann with pleas to give him a job as a sports broadcaster. He had plenty refusals but he persisted and eventually they relented and gave him a job. He never looked back and spent 60 years broadcasting on boxing, his favourite sport, cycling and the annual Tour De France, world Cups and so many Olympic games,
The premature death of his son Paul to Motor Neurone Disease hit him hard. He was a talented soccer player with several clubs including Shamrock Rovers and was also a broadcaster; He also told me he missed his wife Marie, who died in 1989. This caused a great void in his life. His resilience kept him going.
Like his hero the great Maradona, Jimmy was a different class, a class apart. It was an honour to have known him. Duine faoi leith ab ea Jimmy. Go gcutítear a shaothar leis.