Former GAA President, Sean McCague.
Former GAA President, Sean McCague. 

Natural leader Sean McCague remembered fondly

By John Harrington

The late Sean McCague’s natural leadership qualities marked him out as something special according to those who knew him best.

The former GAA President, who served the Association in the role between 2000 and 2003, passed away on Thursday.

Before he was elected to the highest office of the Association he became a hero in his native Monaghan for managing their senior inter-county footballers to Ulster titles in 1979, 1985, and 1988 as well as the National League in 1985.

Eamonn McEneaney played under McCague in all of those successes, and knew him off the field very well too as both of them were primary school teachers in the county.

Away from the game it was McCague’s natural wit that always stood out for McEneaney, and when it came to football it was his good friend’s drive and ambition that left a lasting memory.

“It's a sad day when you lose a former mentor and someone who guided you and worked with you for a long time,” says McEneaney.

“I had lots of dealings with Sean in various capacities. I would have worked with him on Cumann na mBunscol when I first became a teacher in Monaghan way back in 1981.

“Obviously I was involved with him on the inter-county team and he was a great organiser. He commanded respect. There was very few if any players who ever played for him who didn't give him total respect. There was a certain amount of fear as well, in the best sense possible.

“You knew you had to toe the line and you had to do your bit or you'd face the consequences because Sean was very driven by what he wanted for Monaghan. He brought great glory to the county in 1979 when he was a very young man. He was only 34 when we won that Ulster Championship.

“I was an 18-year-old at the time and I can remember coming in and seeing all these guys that were very experienced players. We were hoping to make a breakthrough and it was massive at the time because we had been waiting 41 years to win that Ulster title and Sean certainly was the driving force and guiding force behind that in terms of bringing that bit of belief to guys.

“His mantra was that we were every bit as good as anyone else in Ulster. He believed that we had footballers as good in Monaghan as they were anywhere else. He got the guys to believe that and get themselves over the line. He commanded respect. He got all the players to play for him and when he got them over the line in '79 that changed the whole mindset of Monaghan.

“We won an Ulster U-21 title in '81, we won three McKenna Cups then and beat a Down team that were after winning a Division 1 National League Monaghan really came on the rise. We won Ulster again in ’85 and ‘88, the National League of '85, took Kerry to an All-Ireland semi-final replay. All of those things, he was the man behind it.”

The Monaghan team Sean McCague managed to the 1988 Ulster SFC title. 
The Monaghan team Sean McCague managed to the 1988 Ulster SFC title. 

Such is the esteem that McCague is held in by his former Monaghan players, that McEneaney expects them to all tog out for him one last time on Saturday.

“We'll all be there on Saturday, as many as we can from the '79, '85, and '88 teams,” he says.

“We're organising a guard of honour because it's the least we could do under the circumstances. He was greatly admired and unless someone simply can't be there, they will be there.

“Because that's the kind of stature he holds for all of the players. I'm sure we'll get together afterwards to talk about the good days.”

McCague served as Monaghan GAA secretary as well as the county’s Ulster council delegate and was also chairperson of the Games Administration Committee under GAA President Peter Quinn, before being elected to the Association’s highest office himself.

Sean McCague served as GAA President from 2000 to 2003.
Sean McCague served as GAA President from 2000 to 2003.

Another former GAA President, Aogán Ó Fearghail, worked extensively with McCague over the years and remembers him as a hugely effective GAA administrator.

“He was a very calm administrator,” says Ó Fearghail. “He was very strong and quite definite in his views. But very clam and measured, and was very good at reading a room. When he realised what the direction a room was going in, he was very strong to acknowledge that, regardless of his own particular view.

“He was very determined. He saw the need for the GAA be progressive and yet bring with it the very important historical and cultural Association that we had. I thought he was very strong in that in combining the two. But very calm in the face of any issues that were thrown up against him.”

His leadership qualities as GAA President were particularly the fore when, in 2001, he oversaw the removal of Rule21, which prevented members of the British Armed Forced and security forces in Northern Ireland from being members of the GAA.

“I remember that well,” says Ó Fearghail. “I was a young member of the Ulster Council at the time and that was not easy. That was a difficult time, particularly if you lived in the six counties area.

“I remember Sean dealing with that in a very calm way. He understood more than anyone the sensitivities around that, but he did see the absolute need for the Association to move on the issue in the direction that it did move in.

“He was very determined in terms of where he wanted to bring it, but very good also at bringing all sides with him. He was just very calm and measured, and maybe it was the teacher in him, but he did a lot of homework always. Sean McCague always struck me as a man who was well-briefed and did his background research before he ever moved on anything.”

Sean McCague loved nothing more than sitting in a stand, watching a match. 
Sean McCague loved nothing more than sitting in a stand, watching a match. 

McCague could be serious when required in a dressing room or committee room, but what made him so popular among so many was that he also had an easy charm and an ability to see the lighter side of life.

“He had a great sense of humour,” says Ó Fearghail. “He enjoyed the laugh, he enjoyed the craic. Sean was very much a games man. He coached wonderful Monaghan teams and brought Scotstown almost from nowhere.

“He always very much remained a games man and was most comfortable when he was sitting in a seat in Croke Park, Clones, Breffni Park, Scotstown, wherever you would meet him.

“That's where Sean was at his most at ease. He was definitely a man who saw that it was the sport that united us.”