SPORTING HIS COLOURS The late Seán McLoughlin is pictured at a Westport United game in the Demesne in 2016. Pic: Frank Dolan
‘After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football’
THE philosopher Albert Camus wrote those words in 1957. He had played in goal for the University of Algiers in the late twenties but he had to retire after contracting tuberculosis when he was just seventeen. Yet, despite having to stop playing at such a young age the values and the life lessons learned on the football pitch formed the man that would become one of the great philosophers.
Since Seán passed away last week I have thought a lot about his influence and how he helped form so many of us in a footballing sense. To generously paraphrase the words of Camus, I have realised in the past week that most of what I have learned about football I learned from Seán McLoughlin.
He didn’t know it, and he definitely didn’t mean for it to be, but his shadow used to hang over me. Over the years I often found myself thinking, ‘what would Seán do?’ if we were in a sticky situation in a match. He had his values on how the game should be played.
Values based on effort, honesty and sportsmanship.
Dunphy used to write and talk about ‘doing the right thing’. Seán always did the right thing.
On June 19, 2005 our club won the FAI Junior Cup and I had a small part to play along with plenty of other great people. After the match was over, there was a wonderful sense of achievement and celebration as generations of Westport people gathered on the pitch in Kilkenny. I can still see the faces full of joy but one moment stood over all others.
I could see Seán approach and he was beaming. He shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, ‘we won it the right way’. I could have retired there and then. Vindication in five words. As crazy as it may seem if Seán had expressed any disappointment about the way we played that day (even if we had still won) it would have taken some of the gloss away.
That was his influence.
Our families were neighbours in McNeela Terrace. The Smiths were next door to us and the McLoughlins and Halpins lived in Nos 7 and 9 respectively. It was football morning, noon and night. My memories of Seán as a footballer are mostly in the latter years of his career. Even then he stood out but his best years were witnessed by those a few years older.
He must have been special though. Imagine how hard it had to be for a teenager from Mayo to get selected on an Irish Youths team back in the mid-fifties? To be offered trials with Man United and Everton? He had to be, as Jimmy Magee might have said, ‘different class’.
I got to know Seán properly when Westport United Youths was in its infancy.
The adult section of the club was going through a testing time so, with an eye on the future, the Youths section of the club was established. Today our club has well over 700 members, the best part of 40 teams, wonderful facilities and plans to expand even moreso. However, there’s a solid argument to be made that without WUYFC that may well not be the case.
So, that is part of his legacy. But the bricks and the mortar and the numbers are only part of the story. It’s the stuff that can’t be measured that made the lasting impression. The way to play the game. He never complicated his message.
As Alan, his son, said in his wonderful eulogy, the message revolved around ‘do what you’re good at and work hard at what you need to work on’.
I mentioned earlier about his values. Those of effort, honesty and sportsmanship. Glibly, we often trot out those words when we talk and write about those who have passed away but the Seán I knew lived those values. They made up the man and, as Fr King said in his homily, they formed his character. I managed teams with him, travelled to matches and meetings of the then Mayo Youths FA in the red van over the course of many, many years and he never once criticised anyone. Never once used bad language.
Not even in the midst of a hotly-contested derby with Celtic. He wasn’t perfect though and if he felt someone wasn’t pulling their weight they’d be told. Never scolded or humiliated though; just reminded of the responsibility that being on a team brings with it.
He’s gone now. Sadly, his illness has robbed us of his presence for the last few years. He lost his beloved Gerri a couple of years back. It’s been a very hard and emotional time for his family but it would be nice to think that the outpouring of love and affection that we saw last week for their father, grandfather, brother and uncle will help them deal with such sadness. He was a wonderful man and a wonderful mentor and an example on how to do the right thing for us all.
May his beautiful and gentle soul rest in peace.