A LASTING LEGACY PJ McGrath, a former Mayo GAA Board chairman, passed away last week at the age of 79. Pic: Tommy Eibrand
MCGRATH is a name synonymous with Mayo football.
Turn the clock back a few decades and, like Pavlov’s dog, there is a McGrath tugging at your memory, holding the reins of GAA goings-on in the county.
Whether it’s Joe’s brace of goals against Roscommon in the Connacht final of 1979, or Des leading Kilmaine to a county junior title in 1984, or the stewardship of P.J. in the All-Ireland final between Kerry and Offaly in 1982, you are struck by the virtues with which each brother executed his stock of talents.
P.J. was the eldest of the three and his death last week triggered a torrent of reminiscences when Mayo football struggled for some kind of recognition at national level and when each of the three tossed all they had into that valiant effort.
P.J. was full-back on the Kilmaine team that lost to Achill in the county junior final of 1965. Strong and practical, he guided his club through some heart-break years while final honours eluded them, until they finally prospered in 1968 with victory in the county intermediate final.
And if it was his bad luck to lose another junior final five years later there was some measure of compensation for P.J. in being joined on the team by his brothers Joe and Des.
The joy he found in participating in games was replicated in refereeing which he took up after retiring from football. It was a natural transition for a man dedicated to the ideals of the GAA. It broadened his vision and ethos and soon he was in demand as a good and dispassionate official.
Graduating from county ground-work, P.J. refereed four All-Ireland senior semi-finals, four All-Ireland Vocational School finals, an All-Ireland club final, two All-Ireland minor finals, a host of National League games and a Galway county senior final. He also officiated at the International Rules games in Australia in 1986.
But the pinnacle of that glowing stewardship was the 1982 All-Ireland final in which Offaly against the odds memorably dashed Kerry’s bid for a fifth All-Ireland in a row.
The decisive goal by Seamus Darby two minutes from the end crashed like an avalanche over the dreams of the kingdom. P.J. McGrath could not have spotted, nor was he ever blamed for missing the gentlest of nudges in Tommy Doyle’s back that led to Darby gaining possession and grabbing the unforgettable winning score.
That phase of a lifetime of work rendered, P.J’s ambition for further service to the GAA was whetted. Administration lured him, and for five years from 1997 he was chairman of Mayo GAA Board. In that office he conducted the business of the board with the intrinsic equanimity which he brought to refereeing.
No prouder man ever held the vital post. Yet no ostentation attended his dealings with officials or players or ordinary club members. Although strict in his rulings, he was not given to affectation or posturing. Orations were not his forte. His placid voice and unambiguous language was an encouragement to delegates to speak their minds and won him many plaudits.
Having been immersed in the intricacy of club affairs, P.J. was no stranger to the work of the county board. And for five years he gave all of his spare time to the county leading with forethought and deep-rooted determination.
Opinion was generally welcomed and given a fair hearing.
All those attributes he brought to the presidency of the Connacht Council with which he was honoured following his term with Mayo GAA Board. It was a wider canvas for an aspiring GAA president.
He had all the prerequisites for the top position, too, when nominated by the Mayo Board, but he was pipped by Kerryman, Seán Kelly, who used the post as a successful launch-pad into politics.
Through politics, too, P.J. also served the Claremorris community. He was deeply involved in the Fianna Fail organisation through which he operated with customarily quiet efficacy.
His was a lifetime of loyal work in so many capacities for the GAA and community in general. His loss is widely mourned, but felt most deeply by his wife Phil and family, his brother Des and Joe and extended family.
May the sod rest gently on his grave.