Barry O'Neill with Jimmy Magee on the occasion of Jimmy’s 80th birthday.
'Jimmy was an inspiration, mentor and a true gent'
Tribute by Barry O’Neill – Series Producer – RTE Radio One “Sunday Sport”
It is with great sadness that I heard the news of my friend and colleague Jimmy Magee’s sad passing.
I had the pleasure of working with Jimmy for the best part of 15 years, and indeed on my first day working in RTÉ Sport back in October 2000, Jimmy brought me for a cup of tea in the canteen at the Radio Centre at RTÉ. From that day onwards I had the honour of working alongside Jimmy, going to many events, social occasions and sporting fixtures with him and I have so many fond memories of a true friend and mentor.
One of my first recollections of Jimmy was some 18 years before this and listening to Jimmy on “Sunday Sport”, while sitting in the back of my Dad’s red Cortina. We were on route back from Carrick-on-Shannon, and Jimmy at 5.30pm coming on with the headlines declaring, “Donegal are All-Ireland U-21 Champions”. We were returning home from Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, where Donegal had defeated Roscommon to win the All-Ireland U-21 football title. That headline announcement from a legendary broadcaster for me signalled the arrival of Donegal football on the national stage. For me it was ironic that I would many years later be scripting similar headlines for Jimmy to read on “Sunday Sport” on RTÉ Radio One.
I worked on “Sunday Sport” firstly as a script editor when Jimmy was presenter from 2001 onwards, and whatever Jimmy needed by way of scripts, latest results, then I would do it. Looking back now on that time, the scripts were for information purposes only because Jimmy would always have way more information to add on a sports person, club or county, as that was Jimmy’s massive knowledge and ability.
On occasion GAA commentator Brian Carthy would organise lunch at the Montrose Hotel near RTÉ and I would be invited along with Jimmy, and as soon as Jimmy would arrive in the dining room everybody would be over to the table to chat to Jimmy and usually be asking some obscure sporting question to test the “memory man”. Once again Jimmy would deliver in his own way the perfect response, and would extend the answer back through the generations. On a Sunday several hours before the 2pm start for the “Sunday Sport” programme, you would always know that Jimmy had arrived in the building even before you would see him, as at the top of the long corridor you would hear this singing ... that would be Jimmy belting out “Rhinestone Cowboy” or “My Lovely Rose of Clare” ...
Jimmy was a great person to seek advice from, and any young broadcaster that would arrive in RTÉ Jimmy would be over to introduce himself, not that he ever needed to do so, and welcome them to the organisation. Jimmy was a teacher in many respects for young broadcasters and I recall one particular Sunday when I had to read the results of the day, but I arrived in studio out of breath having ran at speed along the length of the corridor, got into the chair opposite Jimmy and I knew that I was not going to be able to read the results. As Jimmy announced me he said, “We are going to have the results from Barry O’Neill once he draws his breath, as he just broke the RTÉ record for the 400 metres.” He knew better than I did that it wasn’t possible, and within a few minutes I read the results.
Jimmy loved all sports but the sport that he undoubtedly loved most was boxing, and would be present at the National Stadium on any given night for youth or intermediate championships when there would be very few other journalists present. He would see the emerging boxers first-hand, so that when these boxers entered the elite ranks, national championships or Olympic Games, Jimmy would have the work done, he knew them from years previously. Before the 2012 Olympics in London, Jimmy brought myself and Eric Donovan to meet Katie Taylor for an afternoon and we did interviews and chatted at length with Katie. Jimmy was the person most responsible for making Katie’s Olympic dream most possible, as he was the person that went to the International Olympic Committee several years earlier to make a case for women’s boxing to be included in the Olympic Games. I believe that Katie’s gold medal victory in London was Jimmy’s proudest moment, not alone behind the microphone but for the fact that he had followed Katie’s career from a very early stage.
This Sunday for myself and my colleagues on “Sunday Sport” will be tinged with sadness, but there is no doubt that Jimmy’s legacy will live on for the knowledge that he has extended to many of us and for the listeners those great commentaries, great sporting moments will be remembered for ever.
Rest in Peace Jimmy. “Be careful on the road”.
-- Barry O’Neill, series producer, RTÉ Radio One “Sunday Sport”