AFTER lifting the Provincial Towns Cup earlier this year as captain of Dundalk Rugby Club, Stephen McGee knew a massive weight was lifted off his shoulders.
At last he knew that he could leave Dundalk with no regrets, having continued the family tradition of collecting a Towns Cup medal.
Leaving is exactly what McGee is doing as on Tuesday, August 16, he will embark on a long journey to New Zealand, where he is travelling to watch Ireland in the Rugby World Cup.
It’s long been a dream of McGee to follow the Irish side in the World Cup and after becoming a fully qualified accountant earlier this year – along with the Towns Cup win – the timing was right.
“Four years ago, I went to see Ireland versus Argentina in France”, he said. “It was a World Cup group game where Ireland needed a big win to get through but that did not happen
“Since then I wanted to see them again and there was no better time than to visit the home of rugby for this World Cup and give the lads my support.”
For Stephen though, there was one thing he had to do before he left, a sticking point for him when it came to provincial rugby and that was the Towns Cup.
His grandfather PV McGee won five Towns Cup medals and his uncles, brothers Vincent and Gerry McGee won the cup in 1970. The thoughts of the tradition skipping a generation haunted the Dundalk captain and after coming agonisingly close in 2009 and 2010 – losing in the semi-final on both occasions to Tullamore – Dundalk finally clinched the title in April of this year.
Captain of the side, McGee proudly lifted the trophy and knew that his mind was at peace as regards leaving.
“I’ve been there for six seasons but I am leaving with a clear conscience especially after three tough seasons there when we got beat by Tullamore twice in the semi-finals before finally getting the better of them this year. There was a bit of weight on the shoulders, but I finally realised it this year.
“It would have been nice to stay on and defend the cup, but there’s a lot of good talent in that club.
“We have improved every year over the past three years and most of the team that played in the final are under 22 so I think they are capable of adding another trophy to the club’s history. The hunger is there.”
The squad are already hard at work in pre-season for the upcoming year ahead, with last year’s vice-captain Paul Meegan set to take the armband from Stephen as the club set out to retain the title, something Stephen desperately wants to see them doing.
“I hope the club do not have to wait over 20 years again for another Towns Cup. The talent is there.”
Stephen has worked with local accountancy firm KMR for five years and after becoming a fully qualified accountant earlier this year, he knew there was no better time than to build a life elsewhere, as he finished up with the company on Friday, July 29
“I got my qualifications as an accountant earlier this year so there is no better time to go. They were very good to me in KMR, but now there is a role for someone else coming out of college.”
Stephen will travel to Hong Kong and Thailand before landing in New Zealand, just a day before he turns 30. From there, he will travel around with friends, following Declan Kidney’s green army as they face Australia, Italy, Russia and the United States.
“I think they have a chance of doing well. The first game is against the United States on September 11 so there be a huge significance to that game for America and Eddie O’Sullivan is coaching them so there’s a bit of added spice to it.
“But I think Ireland can go far and we have tickets for the whole way up to the final so they will come in handy, one way or another.”
On thing McGee is not planning on is playing anytime soon as the season in New Zealand does not start until January or February.
“Ene Fa’atau (Dundalk Rugby Club Coach) has recommended some clubs to me, but I have no plans at the moment until the World Cup is over. I won’t even be bringing my boots over as it’s not something to think about until the new year.”
There’s a number of other people planning to go over from Dundalk, such as Declan McCabe, Alan McHugh, Conor Matthews and others, which will add to the feel good vibe for McGee on his travels.
“There is a large contingent already over there and a lot more heading over. When you go to a place like that, there is no point in going for one or two months and most places of work won’t allow you to.
“You have to give up your job so you may as well start a life over there and get a job and see what happens.”
At the moment, Stephen is not even sure of where he will settle down when the competition ends as for now, all eyes are on the Irish team and the road that they travel as they try to lift rugby’s biggest prize.