Memories of ‘Vincie’ Savage
By Peter Makem
As long as I have been following football, Vincie Savage was a presence in Armagh football. Away back in the early sixties when Derrynoose were playing Clady he and his brother James were the most famous names on the Clady team. In those days, fame was fifty per cent being a naturally good footballer and the other fifty per cent was being able to look after yourself. I know he was a club delegate for many years and also an Ulster Council delegate as well as being a prominent referee, but I only really got to know him at county level when I became involved with Armagh in the mid seventies.
I met him for the first time upstairs in Mc Avinchey’s in English St, Armagh after the crisis meeting following Armagh’s collapse against Leitrim in October 1973. He was an agitated man and was talking to whoever would listen to him.
“The whole lot will have to go! If it wasn’t for Kilkenny we’d be the worst team in the country”.
I remember asking him what he thought should be done. He looked at me a while and said-
“All I know is, that if you tried to make things worse, you couldn’t.”
But he was one of those supporters- and there were six or seven others whom I knew at the time- who were genuinely distraught. For the first time I realised that Armagh football could dominate the day to day thinking of a person, that it almost possessed them, and he was the one most vociferous about the low state of things. When I look back, that chance meeting with him, and the thought of what Armagh success would mean to serious supporters like him got me involved with others to try and re organise things, for, as he said himself, they couldn’t get much worse, and we could only go up.
While club and county football naturally exercises a reasonable percentage of an average supporter’s general interests in life, there are those distinct few for whom it is the absolute dominant factor, and actually shapes the approach to everything else in life. Vincie Savage was at the very top of those few. It seemed to me that his very thinking about life in general was based on the GAA, an ongoing preoccupation at every level both of administration and on the field of play regarding both club and county.
Later when I was in charge of Armagh he always had an opinion and he always gave his opinion. Everybody knows he had some colourful ways, and could harbour definite opinions about different players and systems of play from which he would not be budged. But I got to realise that he was never very far off the mark in his overall analysis of a game and of the weaknesses and strengths regarding the progress of the Armagh team. He noticed everything. He seemed to have some kind of photographic memory regarding the flow of a game and where scores started and what caused things to break down. Something would have been annoying him on the field of play over several games and he couldn’t hold back and would wait for his chance to come face to face. He always introduced his thoughts with the phrase “Would you not think…..
It seemed to me that the GAA as an Irish rural sporting phenomenon and his natural personality were a perfect match, that they naturally enriched each other and lived off each other. I always enjoyed his company, always listened to what he had to say, for as well as the ultra Armagh enthusiast, I got the impression that there was a story teller within him as well. That often struck me. Once or twice I also thought that his personality and ability to get his ideas clearly across reminded me of things I had heard about Patrick Kavanagh.
One thing certain is that he was a genuine, original, rural personality who embodied the dynamic of the GAA in his county in a most intense manner, and that when the Sam Maguire eventually came to Armagh there was no more wholesome, emotional welcomer in the four corners of the county than Vincie Savage.