Former Down Manager Pete McGrath Interviewed for Zero To Hero.
I have known Pete McGrath almost ten years and I have always admired him for his achievements but also for the way he presents himself to others. I always find Pete a very quiet man with passion and a real gentleman, and the residents of Rostrevor are proud of him… he makes the beautiful village of Rostrevor more unique than it is.
DG: Pete, thank you for agreeing to take a part in my project ‘From Zero to Hero”. Could you tell me more about your background and childhood please? I would like to know also when did your interest in teaching sport, especially gealic football, begin ?
PM: I have lived all my life in Rostrevor, born in this very house in 1953, with my three other brothers Hilary , Pat, and Matthew who is the youngest. I’m in between my brothers and my sister Irene passed away 10 years ago… that was my family. My father was originally from Glasgow. He came over here in 1940,and met my mother and got married in 1942. My mother was a Cole from Rostrevor, and my dad settled in Rostrevor. St.Colman`s Gardens is where they came to live in 1951 and I was born in 1953.
I am Rostrevor born and bred and proud. Every place makes a person and defines that person in many ways, and I am still here today. Gaelic football came to me at a very young agw, from around 12-13 years oldd. I went to St.Colman’s College as a student, and football was big there in mid 60’s and when I was 13, I was playing for the Rostrevor under-15 team, and indeed in 1969 15 played my first game for Rostrevor senior team in the all-county league. So Gaelic football from a very early age was a very important part of me and growing up, a very important part of the environment , a very important part of the culture and Rostrevor area and the fact that in the 1960 era Down had a very successful senior team winning three all-Irelands. I think that instilled in all the young people especially males that they all got a sense of ambition and all wanted to play it and wanted to be good at it, and to play for your club team and playing for your county, so at a very early age you could say I had a love of Gaelic football and that ambition made me devote time and energy to it.
Gaelic sports became a part of me very early on and when I then went to St.Colman’s College for seven years. I then went on to Queen’s University, Belfast, and came back to the college in 1978 as a teacher, and part of that I was teaching PE, and got involved with the coaching of the school teams a long with Mr Morgan who was my PE Teacher when I was at the school, so all my years at the college added up to a total of 28 years. I managed the Down Minor team in 1982 and then graduated to the Down senior team in 1989. Looking back on it you could say it was a huge part of my life. If you remove that chunk there would be bits and pieces but the main kind of structure of my life would be gone.
DG: And there are the honors I am only aware of:
1 Down Senior Football Championship 1976
1 All-Ireland Freshers 1973
1 Compromise Rules Series 2004
1 Interprovincial 2016
4 Dr McKenna Cup 1989 1992 1996 1998
2 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship 1991 1994
2 Ulster Senior Football Championship 1991 1994
2 Ulster Under-21 Football Championship 2009 2008
2 Ulster Minor Football Championship 1986 1987
1 Down Senior League Football Division 1 2007
1 Louth League Division 1 2004
1 Down Under-21 Football Championship 2012
1 Ulster U21 Championship 2013 (with Bryansford)
4 Hogan Cup 1986, 1988, 1993, 1998 (with Ray Morgan)
6 McCrory Cup 1978, 1979, 1981,1988 1993 1998 (with Ray Morgan)
DG:Could you tell me this which one of those is the most important for you?And why?
PM: That’s an exceptionally difficult question nearly impossible to answer because every team that I managed each of them was special, even the ones who maybe didn’t win. Every team is unique, every player is unique and with every one of those teams that I was involved with, the players would bring themselves into that equation, give their all, and the players in their turn give themselves to their teams, and there is a very unique bond then between the coaching and the players, and for the duration of that particular team’s life it can be one season, two seasons, or it could go on for 5-6 seasons, but there is a very special bond created and its a unique experience.
There is a great human interaction there in a team, a great dynamic and quite often the teams that win and the teams that don’t win there is very little separating them. Because I look back and I know a lot of the teams that I managed, I know we we were very unlucky not to win, and I also know the teams that did win sometimes along the way, lady luck shone on them, because you win nothing without a bit of luck.
So people have asked me that question before, which of your winning teams or competitions which was the most important and gave you most success. Every team I worked with, gave me fulfillment, and there were disappointments along the way. There were heartaches and there were great moments along the way too. And great joy. There was great sadness at times, but always you tried to keep it in context, because football is very important part of peoples lives, but there are things that are more important. So which was more important, I leave that with other people to judge.
All have special places in my memory. My recollections of football generally, all I can say, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to manage so many teams and blessed and very fortunate, but it wasn’t me achieving as I was contributing as a manager and there was so many people, players, assistant coaches everyone unique gifts to the final success, the final equation. And that’s how I view it when I look back on all those teams .
DG: I was always curious what your words in a championship GAA match would have been in the locker room to your team before they entered the field again after the first half? What encouragement words or instructions were you giving to your team mostly?
PM: There is no one answer you can give to that, because every game is different. You could be coming off at half-time and you could be 8-9 points ahead you need to say very little at that stage because you want to keep the team playing well. They already are playing so you don’t want to upset anything you just want to ensure they will play just as well as they already have been.
You could be coming off at half-time and you could be 5-6 behind and you know then that is a different scenario and how you approach that experience needs to kick in here and you try to choose your words carefully. There may be individual players that you want to speak to briefly, they might need encouragement, other players may need a verbal kick up the backside, and when I look back believe me there were half-time things said that weren’t the right thing to say, so times it works sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes you can say things that unlock people to play better. There can be things you could say and it wouldn’t make a difference. There is no one script you can follow. Its how you communicate and your expressions and tone of voice and whether or not you believe in what you are saying.
DG: Did you have any key mento’s during your previous sport teaching career as the manager? Who is or was your Hero in general?
PM: I taught in the college for 27 years, and I worked with Ray Morgan and I said before he was my coach when I attended the college as a student, and he was a man I had great respect for and learned a lot from. He was a very successful club manager as well. You still have to be yourself… you can’t be anything else, but you can learn from people.
DG: Not too many know me at the moment, but we met in Rostrevor chapel in the local choir. Could you tell me what made you to join the choir? Was it because you consider it as your hobby or you do love singing? Or maybe is it something more behind it?
PM: Like all things in life it can be accidental rather than by design. I don’t think I am a wonderful singer, but if you get a good group of singers and a good organist then you could have a very good choir. It was a family thing as well, my mother and my sister sang in the choir, and they were short of members and with all my connections I decided to join. It’s something totally different for me and of course you meet great people.
DG: I am sure you have met while your were managing career many of foreign nationals. Would you encourage people coming to this country and trying in a positive way to contribute to our communities and to have a voice? And why?
PM: Yes, there are so many people in our society, Irish or people from other parts of the world, living and working here. There are loads of people in all walks of life who don’t contribute but that can be for many reasons, such as confidence, opportunity and they could feel their contribution wouldn’t be valued, or they could feel other people are doing it so whats the point in me doing it. Society could be an awful lot fulfilled and productive both Irish and foreign nationals. There are lots of organisations available for people to join.
DG: The last question I would like to ask you is.Do you have any regrets in your life, and if you were born again would you do exactly the same what you have done in this life?
PM: Favourite song of mine is “My Way”, and one of the lines in it is “regrets, I’ve had a few, but too few too mention”. Regrets is the wrong word to use maybe. If you sat down and thought about your life, and the mistakes that you made, thought about things that could have been done better, it makes you think, but then you realise the one thing people should’t do, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for being human because were all going to make mistakes. But I don’t have regrets. If I was to live my life again, I would like to try something new, because football has been great and I have made the best of friends and great experiences, and I’ve travelled to many different countries but only thing I would have liked to have tried not for the money, but I always thought what would it be like to be a professional soccer player and to go into professional soccer management because I could then be be a full-time athlete or manager. I’ve often thought could that have worked out , but I’ve no regrets about that.
DG: Thank you very much for this interview and for me you are an Hero without doubt.Your contribution and passion to your work will always be with us and inspire young people in the future. Good health Dan.