Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bleeding Tricolour: One memory of Hal McCarney

There's a million and one stories about Hal "Moose" McCarney to be shared now that the ultimate Golden Gael has left us.

Here's one more Moose tale. It was 2002, right before World Youth Days in Toronto. Moose, a faithful Catholic, had gathered up some pilgrims who were being billeted in the Kingston area and taken them to release some minnows into the Gananoque River, which anyone who's visited Gan knows, is the town's lifeline. There was some religious symbolism involved, but on a more practical level, Moose, as someone put it, figured with all the fish he'd taken out of the river, it was high time he put a few back into the river.

(Update: The Whig-Standard has profiles in news and in sports --that's how much it takes to cover off Hal McCarney's life.)

A photographer, who had shown up to get some shots for a local weekly, was feeling a little out of his comfort zone -- although as a journalist, you're supposed to go outside your comfort zone, so in a way that was good, to be challenged. Trying to ingratiate himself, the photographer mentioned to Moose that they sort of shared a common touchstone -- the young journalist had gone to Queen's, and covered the football games for the student paper and the radio station for a couple years.

A glint flashed in Moose's eye. It was like popping a disc into the CD player, except the last person to use had left the volume turned up to 11. Mr. McCarney was in his mid-70s, by then, and he wasn't a yeller, but his voice picked up just so. Releasing the minnows was suddenly secondary to sharing, his frustration over the teachers' college at Queen's not accepting a star football player who had very good marks, and also stood to be a important cog in that year's Queen's football team. (The player did play that season, brilliantly.)

Moose's daughter, who no doubt had seen her dad in action over the years, acted swiftly to get him on-message. "You guys can probably talk about this later," she said, very matter-of-factly.

She knew given the chance, the two Queen's football nuts, the older gentleman who had been around as a coach, player and booster for 50 years-plus and the other who'd only been following it through a fan's eyes for about 15 to that point, might have gone on all day about all things Gaels. It would have been to the befuddlement from the visitors from places such as Brazil and Portugal who were gathered at the river.

Some people would say, well, that's too bad you didn't get to ask him, say how did Ronnie Stewart compare to Heino Lilles, or what was his biggest memory of the '68 Vanier Cup. Far from it. It was a portal into the world Moose lived in, and if you could be in it for a moment, you felt like a champ. It was like being let in something first-hand, the life of a man who breathed Queen's football for more than a half-century as a player, coach, booster and maybe even moral compass -- since before my parents were even born. There was a sense that football wasn't just a game that takes place on a Saturday afternoon. It wasn't something on his list of interests.

The game was part and parcel of how McCarney made sense of the world. Judging from the results, that served him almost as well as he served all of us, if that's even possible. He was the mover in establishing the alumni association, the Queen's Football Club. As someone from Gan, where for generations people grew up spending practically almost as much time on water as on land, he built Gananoque Boat Line. Actually, he pretty much built Gananoque.

Hal McCarney was from what often gets called the old school, where a gruff exterior often was a cover for great affection, where you showed love by challenging people in your life to become better at what they did. For 21 seasons, as Merv Daub put it in his history of Queen's football, Gael Force, he was coach Frank Tindall's "right arm and fixer, and the necessary heavy," the one who helped ensure everyone knew where he fit into the grand scheme. At the end of the day, that's all that a lot of us want, to know where we stand.

Obviously, the people who knew Moose beyond a few brief conversations should be the ones to speak to who he was and how he lived. This is no attempt to trump what anyone else will have to say over the next few days.

All I can say that as I never played football for the Gaels. I'm neither church-going nor water-faring. However, for one moment, simply by the fortunate circumstances of being a Kingstonian/Napaneean who had gone to Queen's and covered Gaels football games as a student journalist, I was pulled into Hal McCarney's world. Thank you, thank you so much, Moose. It was a pleasure.

Former Gaels coach McCarney dies at 81 (Kingston Whig-Standard)
Jeff Chan online tribute


Anonymous said...


Did you have a chance to listen to any of Hal's poetry or music during your stay at the Reporter?

Hal was quite the man; I had only a few dealings with him. He was definitely passionate about the things he cared about: football, the River, and the community. We (The Reporter) caught quite a bit of flack from Hal for not properly covering the statue of St. Lawrance that he worked to erect on the river.

He gave one of the best speeches I have heard at a GSS football event several years back. He went on forever, as Hal was known to do, but every moment was worth it, that's for sure. His tales of GOLDEN Gaels football back in the day were great.

He was a forceful figure in Gananoque, which probably made him some enemies. But he also did a lot for the town to make it better. He supported high school athletics and worked to get football back at the school. I think you will agree that it's great to see football return to smaller, rural schools.

Just thought I would share.


P.S. Love the website, guys. Keep up the great work.

sager said...


Thanks for the response, it made my day.

I didn't get a chance to listen, but you definitely jogged my memory, I do remember now that people had Hal was a pretty passionate hobbyist.

It was said that Branch Rickey was a "man of many facets, all turned on." Hal seemed to project that quality.

sager said...


I think you will agree that it's great to see football return to smaller, rural schools.

You don't know that half of it... read this!

Football at Ernestown Secondary School ... I never thought I'd see the day.

Duane Rollins said...

If I could move west a bit...

CHSS Football
Always second in Quinte, but first in my heart.

(Sad news from Queen's...)

sager said...

Centre Hastings?

RIP, Hal.

Anonymous said...

Love to hear everyone's opinion on high school football. I think it's great to have strong programs and see the sport return to rural schools.

However, talk to some people in small towns and there is a feeling football sucks away resources. People often begrudge football because it gets the media attention. The sport attracts a lot of community support because it is more glamorous and high profile than, say, junior girls' volleyball.

It's the same with hockey in a small town, as I am sure Neate understands. It's quite easy to piss off the bowlers who never get their picture in the paper, but there is always wall-to-wall coverage of hockey every week.


sager said...

It's a tough balancing act ... there are very sound, very rational arguments for why a broad-based approach to school sports is better than putting a lot of eggs in the football basket.

Thing is, that often has the air of missing something very obvious: Teenage boys love to smack into each other at high speeds, in the guise of sport, and like it or not, people tend to rally around football more than other sports. It's just a reflection of our larger society -- the NFL is a more impressive spectacle than baseball or the NBA; Mixed Martial Arts pulls in more people than Olympic freestyle wrestling.

It's not clear what would cause that to change ... I believe in my career, such as it is, I can stand on my record of balancing the sports the community was interested in (I should point out at my first daily, there was no high school football, and the high school basketball and volleyball games typically had a packed gym, which compared pretty well with the 200 people who'd show up for the Triple-A midget hockey team, so that made it harder to have a pretty good balance of sports).

One irony of that -- I might have developed that notion of trying to recognize everyone since I attended a high school without a big football tradition. I'm sure excited that they're trying to get one going, though!

Duane Rollins said...

Yep, Centre Hastings. Dad worked as a cop in Madoc when I was a teenager.

CHSS is actual exhibit 1A for how far the sport has slipped in the rural areas. It was a power (although it usually lost to Moira SS in the final) throughout the 80s, winning COSSA once--Barry Pyear coached there for a time. Now, it's no longer. It's hard to understand how it died as there was always 500ish people watching back in the day.

Of course Volleyball is the thing at CHSS. It consistently produces OFSSA caliber teams and the gym is it makes some sense to put the resources there.