In 1969, after decades of underachievement and disappointing results, Mick Meagan convinced the FAI administrators that he was the person to become the Republic of Ireland’s first full time manager. In doing so, he set in motion a two decade long period of evolution that culminated in the nation’s phenomenal footballing successes through the late-1980s and 1990s. In many ways, it was a fitting culmination of a footballing career in which the Dubliner was an impeccable servant for club and country.
Meagan was part of the large-scale 1950s Irish migration to Goodison, signing as an 18 year-old inside forward in 1952. An honest, dedicated professional and the possessor of a fine first touch, he brought a forward’s élan to the wing half position when converted there as Peter Farrell’s replacement in the 1957/58 season. It said much for Meagan’s loyalty that he had stuck around playing junior and Central League football for five years before finally being called upon to make his full debut. A cool, undemonstrative character, he faced a difficult task not only filling Farrell’s illustrious boots but coming into a team for which struggling had become a perennial habit.
Following a disastrous start to the 1958/59 season, in which Everton lost their opening six games, Meagan was dropped and Brian Harris took his place. For the next three seasons this was the pattern of their careers, with Johnny Carey, then Harry Catterick alternating between the two men.
Towards the end of the 1961/62 season, however, injury sidelined Alex Parker and Meagan was called upon to deputise at right back. He did a fine job, and when Parker returned to full fitness the following October, Catterick switched Meagan to left back in place of the occasionally wayward George Thomsen. His efforts earned him a League Championship medal, and Meagan held his place through much of the 1963/64 season.
But having passed his thirtieth birthday at the season’s end, Catterick deemed Meagan expendable. Always a wily wheeler dealer, Catterick used Meagan as a £15,000 down payment in the deal that brought Ray Wilson from Huddersfield Town that summer.
Meagan added to his haul of Ireland caps while at Leeds Road, later playing for Halifax. He returned to Ireland, combining a playing career for Drogheda with management of his country. As Ireland manager until 1971 he did not inspire the results that his inherent decency deserved – indeed they failed to win a single game under his watch – but he had at least established the notion that this was a full time job and that professionalism was necessary to turn around his country’s fortunes.
In 1974, aged 40, he became player manager of Shamrock Rovers, making history when he played in the same team as his son Mark. Rovers struggled, however, and in 1976, Meagan was sacked as manager, slipping out of the game.
‘He was,’ recalled Alex Young, ‘A very tidy player with a terrific touch. I believe he is someone who would’ve excelled in the modern game.’