Pat McDonagh earned the nickname Supermac as an Irish teenager after a barnstorming performance in a Gaelic football match in the late 1960s.
The centre half-back guided his school, Carmelite college of Moate, County Westmeath, to victory over St Gerald’s, a more fancied team.
On Tuesday, half a century later, McDonagh prevailed in a different arena when his fast-food chain, Supermac’s, won a landmark legal battle against McDonald’s over the use of trademarks.
The Galway-based firm persuaded the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to cancel McDonald’s use of the “Big Mac” trademark, opening the way for Supermac to expand across Britain and continental Europe.
McDonald’s can appeal against the ruling.
“We’re delighted. It’s a unique victory when you take on the golden arches and win,” McDonagh, Supermac’s managing director, said.
“This is a victory for all small businesses. It prevents bigger companies from hoarding trademarks with no intention of using them.”
The EUIPO, which is based in Alicante, Spain, ruled that McDonald’s had not proven genuine use of Big Mac, which it trademarked in 1996, as a burger or restaurant name.
The trademark had stymied Supermac’s ambition of expanding beyond Ireland because McDonald’s had argued that similarity between Big Mac and Supermac would confuse customers.
“We said there’d be no confusion. Big Mac and Supermac are two different things,” said McDonagh, now aged 65.
He opened the first Supermac’s in Ballinasloe, a town in county Galway, in 1978. The company now has 106 outlets across Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In a statement, Supermac’s said it had won a David versus Goliath battle against trademark bullying by a powerful multinational.
“They trademarked the SnackBox, which is one of Supermac’s most popular products, even though the product is not actually offered by them,” said McDonagh. “The EU is basically saying either use it or lose it.”
On the day of the Brexit vote in Westminster the case showed the value of European Union membership, he said. “You can go to the EU and get a fair hearing.”
McDonald’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.