There's a quote from the 1989 film Dead Poets' Society where Robin Williams' character John Keating - an English teacher aiming to inspire his students through poetry - proclaims the now unforgettable line "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." And while an immediate link between that character and former Republic of Ireland underage manager Seán McCaffrey might not be obvious, the Monaghan man had a lasting impact on all the young players that came under his wing.
McCaffrey has always been revered in football circles in the Farney county. From his founding origins of the local Oriel Celtic club, to his legendary training sessions and overall stature in the local community in Monaghan Town, he is a man remembered fondly. Seán passed away on December 30th aged just 58 - and the extent of the tributes that flooded in will tell you all you need to know about the man.
Although his own playing career was cut short, Seán would go on to become the youngest manager ever in the League of Ireland when he took the reins of Monaghan United in 1983. It was 1999 when McCaffrey joined the FAI as a Regional Development Officer, and just two years later, Brian Kerr and Noel O’Reilly brought him in to coach with the Republic of Ireland underage teams.
A remarkable number of players in McCaffrey's underage ranks would go on to appear as full senior internationals for the Republic of Ireland - names like Darren Randolph, Jeff Hendrick, Stephen Ward, Stephen Elliott, Shane Long, Aiden McGeady and Robbie Brady. In fact, Brady is set to appear as a special guest, along with FAI CEO John Delaney, at an event to mark the official launch of the Seán McCaffrey Foundation at the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan Town on Bank Holiday Sunday June 3rd.
I'm honoured to have been asked to take part in the event as MC, and the ticket sales to date would suggest plenty of people want to mark Seán's life on a night of catching up, nostalgia and stories in his name. Some of the tales that surround him are legendary, and many of those will come to the fore on the night - former Dundalk and Monaghan United player Paul Smyth is one of those involved in the setting up of the foundation, and Seán's good friend, the current Irish Under-19 international manager Tom Mohan, will also be recalling his memories of McCaffrey at the event launch.
The one thing that strikes you about the man is the fact that so many of his former players attest that he didn't just mould them in a footballing sense. He also prepared them for the big, bad world and wanted to see them do well in whatever career path they chose to go down. As Irish Times sports journalist Malachy Clerkin put it after his death, "I used to think that everyone had a Seán McCaffrey in their life at some stage. It’s nearly a cliché: the Mr Miyagi who gets under your skin at a crucial time and changes you in a way the other adults in your life can’t. But the older I got the more I realised I was just plumb lucky to come across him."
He kept young lads off the streets and out of trouble, quite literally in fact. Remember the 1980s and most of the 90s were a tough time in the border counties, as the sectarian divides only seemed to get wider and the Troubles became ever more troubling. To have someone so focused on helping young people make the most of themselves at a time like that was crucial.
This was a man who brought underage teams from clubs like Ajax, Celtic and Manchester United to Monaghan. He was networking and making contacts before it was cool, or seen as necessary. In fact, he was before his time in many ways. Tom Mohan talks about his use of video footage and unique training ground methods.
Current Waterford United man Gavan Holohan remembered his former manager recently and recalled a crucial game for an Irish Under-17 side years ago when Seán and his team needed a result against the Portuguese in Galway's Terryland Park (and rely on another result elsewhere to go their way) to qualify for the European Championships. Seán got one of his fellow coaches to have the inspirational 'inches' speech from the film Any Given Sunday played on a screen for the lads beforehand. He knew how to get the best out of his players, and was always coming up with new and revolutionary ways of doing it (they qualified for the Euros by the way, in case you were wondering.)
It is fitting that, even in death, Seán will be helping people. Money raised through the foundation will be assisting patients in the Renal Dialysis Unit in Cavan Hospital, as well as animal welfare organisations - both close to his heart.
There's a line from that famous Al Pacino 'Inches' speech that goes "You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes. Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you." Seán McCaffrey's players went that inch for him. And, most importantly, Seán went that inch not only for them, but for his family and friends throughout his fifty-eight years.