Mick Meagan: First Manager of the Republic of Ireland

Mick Meagan Resized
Mick Meagan was born in Dublin on the 29th May 1934. His schoolboy club was Johnville and having played as a defender against a Liverpool district side in his native city, he was signed by Everton in 1952. It would be nearly five years before he made his debut for the Merseyside team. In his 12 years with the club, Meagan made 165 appearances, scoring a solitary goal but in 1963, he was a part of the Toffees side that won the First Division title.

Meagan then moved to Huddersfield Town, where over a four-year spell, he played 119 games again scoring on one occasion. A brief stint with Halifax Town saw his return to Ireland first with Drogheda in 1969, and Bray Wanderers in 1973 before finishing his career with Shamrock Rovers as player/manager. A noteworthy occurrence in his final season with the Hoops was that Meagan played in the FAI Cup alongside his own son Mark.

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Meagan’s international career lasted from 1961 to 1969, playing mostly at wing-half. He went on to earn 17 caps for his country. His playing debut came against Scotland (a 3-0 defeat). In total Meagan was a part of just four sides that won games for the national team, the most memorable of which was a 2-1 away victory to Czechoslovakia with Turlough O’Connor scoring the winning goal in Prague.

In 1969, Meagan was made the first manager of the Republic of Ireland national team by the FAI. Previously, a five-man selection committee decided the team. The move was precipitated by the dwindling crowds attending international fixtures with the minutes of the FAI recording ‘the public showed their disenchantment with only a few more than 17,000 witnessing the game against a highly-rated and attractive Hungarian team.’ The FAI acknowledged the seriousness of the situation by taking a revolutionary step by appointing Mick Meagan as manager with full executive powers for team matters. In addition, players such as Eamon Dunphy pressurised the FAI to make a significant change to the running of the national team. A new ‘hybrid system’ was developed where Meagan was in the position of recommending players for selection while a ‘selection committee’ retained the authority of picking the starting eleven.

Noel Dunne of the Irish Independent outlined that Meagan would not discuss tactics with the players prior to his first match in charge against Scotland at Dalymount Park but believed he could ‘get the best out of them and expect to win’ having played with most of the team. A 27,000-strong crowd witnessed a 1-1 draw; Don Givens was the Boys in Green’s goal-scorer that day. Meagan also lined out for the side in what was his final international appearance. Dunne described the first half as ‘one of the greatest displays of football…from an Irish side’ and that with ‘proper preparation…has never been driven home more forcibly.’

The Republic of Ireland were already at the midway point of the qualification tournament for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, having lost the three games they had played previously to Meagan’s appointment as manager. His first competitive game came against Czechoslovakia, but a Jozef Adamec hat-trick saw the Republic lose 3-0. A one-all draw with Denmark was the only high point of the campaign. Even the history of the FAI notes ‘Meagan had been given little opportunity to impose any personal shape or design on Ireland’s team upon his appointment before being exposed to the harsh realities of full-blown competitive matches.’

Sadly, this momentum would dissipate with Meagan only in charge for one full qualifying campaign for the 1972 European Championships. It had started decently with a one-all draw with Sweden, but four defeats in-a-row saw the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the finals of a major tournament for the first time in tatters. His last game as manager was a 4-1 defeat to Austria in front of 16,000 spectators. The FAI were in the same position as they had been before Meagan’s appointment, clearly the Irish soccer public were becoming disillusioned again.

Eamonn Sweeney wrote ‘Manager Mick Meagan was sacked but it was hard to blame him. For a start, he was Ireland’s first ever manager, the FAI have reluctantly decided such an individual might be needed to look after a football team.’ A major problem during Meagan’s managerial reign as outlined by Soccer-Ireland.com was ‘international football matches continued to be played on Sundays, just one day after league matches.’

In his near two-year spell as manager, Meagan managed the Republic of Ireland on 12 occasions without winning a single game. During the period he used 30 players, giving 10 of them their debuts, most notably Liverpool’s Steve Heighway. The national team played at Lansdowne Road for the first time during Meagan’s reign, playing Italy in front of 25,000 spectators in 1971.  Liam Tuohy was appointed as Meagan’ successor for the following qualifying campaign for the 1974 European Championships.

After football, Meagan worked at the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, retiring in 1999. The longevity of his playing days combined with his pioneering as the first manager of the Republic of Ireland marks Meagan as a remarkable figure in Irish sport. Even if success was not always abundant, his endeavours deserve to be acknowledged. He had to deal with issues that greatly hampered the preparation of the national side but was unable to put his own mark on his team.

Perhaps different conditions might have allowed Meagan’s managerial reign to flourish and guide the Republic to its first World Cup or European Championships, but it again raises the most intriguing question in sport, for only what if?

Main image: @Everton

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