A proper Ir­ish wake for Big Jack, the­man­whogavethe­n­ation­no­tions

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Mary Han­ni­gan

There are prob­a­bly close enough to a thou­sand im­ages that would fill your head when you think back to Jack’s Ir­ish reign, and so many of them popped up on our screens on Satur­day dur­ing the trib­utes paid to him af­ter we learned of his death.

Among them was the bare-chested young fella in the crowd in Genoa bless­ing him­self as David O’Leary stepped up to take that penalty. His prayers, of course, were an­swered. As we sus­pected, not only did we have Jack on our side, we had God too.

But the clip that never fails to floor is that one of John Healy dis­solv­ing in to tears af­ter O’Leary did his thing, RTÉ News show­ing it to us again as part of their salute to the big fella. The very great Ir­ish Times jour­nal­ist was on duty at the time in Dublin Cas­tle for an EU sum­mit, every­one around him danc­ing and hug­ging and cheer­ing and roar­ing, while he just stayed in his seat and wept.

For some of us it might have been the first time we’d ever seen a grown man cry, and even if we strug­gled to make sense of it all, you’d an idea it was far big­ger than just foot­ball.

Fiona Looney was prob­a­bly right when, on the ra­dio on Satur­day morn­ing, she said “it was the first time ever we were al­lowed to have no­tions – the one thing we were never al­lowed have in this coun­try”.

Emo­tion

Jack’s only no­tion when he took the job was to win foot­ball matches. He surely hadn’t set out to shift us a bit as a na­tion. But that he did.

Grown men cried on Satur­day too. Foot­ball Fo­cus host Dan Walker was struck by the emo­tion in the trib­utes paid to Jack by, es­pe­cially, his Ir­ish play­ers.

“Sleep well Jack, Love ya,” said Paul McGrath. “Can’t speak . . . heart’s just broke. Love you Jack,” said Ja­son McA­teer. And Mick Mc­Carthy talked of his last chat with him back in May. “I told him I loved the bones of him that day – and I al­ways will.”

The ten­der­ness and af­fec­tion and over­whelm­ing sense of loss would cut through you. If we didn’t know al­ready, we knew now, to these men he was much, much more than just a gaffer.

The day, then, be­gan to feel like the very best of Ir­ish wakes, as much laugh­ter as there were tears, a beau­ti­ful cel­e­bra­tion of a life lived well.

Over on Sky Sports, Graeme Souness talked of the im­pact Jack had on his life when he was his man­ager at Mid­dles­brough. “I’ve got an enor­mous debt of grat­i­tude to him,” he said. “He sorted me out as a young man when I was maybe too full of my­self.”

The ‘was’ prompted his stu­dio col­leagues to im­plode, Kelly Cates and Micah Richards drown­ing in gig­gles.

Graeme’s grin con­ceded that his lev­els of self-es­teem re­main unim­paired, but that if it wasn’t for Jack they may well have sent him off the rails. “He said there are two doors for you, one might lead to a bit of suc­cess, the other will have you just drift out of the game and achieve noth­ing. You look back on your life and you think if I hadn’t met him at that time, things might have gone pear-shaped for me. He’ll be much missed, he was a su­per, su­per man to be around.”

Thrifti­ness

Most strik­ing was how all this rem­i­nisc­ing came with a smile. Jack was no an­gel, that we know, but it was prob­a­bly the divil in him that made every­one who knew him love him like they did.

Not to men­tion his thrifti­ness. On Foot­ball Fo­cus, Mark Lawren­son re­called ar­rang­ing an in­ter­view with him for the BBC dur­ing USA ’94. It was be­ing done in Jack’s ho­tel bed­room, and when Lawren­son ar­rived he saw “six pairs of un­der­pants, proper belly warm­ers, hang­ing in the room”. He had hand-washed them him­self so that he could avoid pay­ing the ho­tel’s laun­dry fees.

“With Jack,” said Lawro, “ev­ery penny was a pris­oner.”

He had no no­tions, that fella. But he left us with loads. Sleep well, big man, and thank you for every­thing. “Love ya.”

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The day be­gan to feel like the very best of Ir­ish wakes, as much laugh­ter as there were tears, a beau­ti­ful cel­e­bra­tion of a life lived well

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