Ahead of Ireland’s Euro 2016 last 16 clash, goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh is aiming to rewrite his own history with France.
There’s an Irish sporting myth that broadcasting legend Jimmy Magee can claim some small credit for Edson Arantes do Nascimento becoming known as Pelé. Similarly the Memory Man also had a part to play in the rechristening of Ireland’s keeper of the faith.
Upon a first meeting with Pelé, Magee proffered a theory that an Irish missionary priest remarked on the young ‘Dico’ ‘ag imirt peile’ and the Irish phrase was picked up by onlookers who bestowed the nickname ‘Pelé’ on the boy. The Brazilian icon himself believed the story was plausible and a legend was born.
Magee was also responsible for Ireland’s current goalkeeper coach coming to be known by another name.
Martin O’Neill’s trusted servant Seamus McDonagh made 25 appearances for Ireland between the posts but perhaps his finest hour came in the 3-2 victory over a Michel Platini-inspired France at Lansdowne Road in 1981.
The story goes that then manager Eoin Hand called up the then ‘Jim’ McDonagh ahead of the 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign.
It was Magee who convinced the player to change his name to ‘Seamus’, as he was a fully-fledged Irishman now, and a part of the Republic squad.
“According to some accounts, McDonagh was able to recite the entire 1916 proclamation when Eoin Hand first told him he was naming him in the Irish squad.”
McDonagh started his career at hometown club Rotherham United but made a name for himself at Bolton Wanderers where he was part of the Second Division championship winning side of 1977-78. There the goalkeeper set a club record by conceding just 33 goals in a 43-match season.
Ireland with Eoin Hand in charge were drawn in a formidable World Cup 1982 qualifying group with the Netherlands, beaten finalists in 1978, Belgium who had just been beaten in the final of the UEFA Championship of 1980 and a French team which would go on to win the 1984 European Championship.
McDonagh made his début in a friendly with Wales in February 1981 and would go on to play his part in a heart-breaking campaign. A last-minute dubious free-kick in Brussels led to a winner for the Belgians after the visiting Irish had a goal ruled out for a scarcely-credible offside.
Despite this set-back, Ireland were still in the hunt for qualification for the finals in Spain. An away draw in Holland meant victory over the French at home could set Ireland on the way if France could be scuppered by either the Dutch or Cypriots in their final two games.
Over fifty-thousand fans packed into Lansdowne Road to see one of the great Irish performances.
Almost from the kick-off Ireland forced an own goal from defender Phillippe Mahut but within three minutes Bruno Bellone had equalised. In a pulsating match, Frank Stapleton and Michael Robinson then fired Ireland into a 3-1 lead.
Michel Platini struck back and the French poured forward at a raucous Landowne. Late on McDonagh pulled off a point-blank save to deny the emerging world star Platini and ensure a famous victory for the home side.
The final whistle had the Irish dreaming of a place in Spain. However, luck deserted Eoin Hand’s men. Wins for the French in their final two games, including a 7-0 thrashing of Cyprus meant Ireland lost out on a place at the World Cup on goal difference.
Platini and co. would go on to reach the semi-finals of the tournament the following summer.
By then a young Pat Bonner had begun to appear on the scene having made a somewhat unimpressive début in an away friendly with Poland. McDonagh, however, would amass 25 caps for his adopted country.
In 1988 he was appointed player-manager of Galway United saving the Tribesmen from relegation.
McDonagh replaced long-time servant Alan Kelly in the Irish set-up. With his appoinment, Ireland went back to the future and now, along with O’Neill and Roy Keane, they look to guide the Boys in Green past France for a place in the European Championship quarter-finals. For McDonagh at least, apart from all the furore over Thierry Henry’s handball, Ireland have unfinished business with the French.