EACH YEAR BRINGS the passing of many notable and much-loved GAA figures.
In 2010, a man died who left a bigger gap in our hearts than many, especially among the people of Roscommon – Lieutenant-General Dermot Earley, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.
In the second excerpt, taken from his annual book ‘The Championship 2010’ RTÉ’s Gaelic Games correspondent Brian Carthy recalls his personal memories of Dermot Earley.
Dermot Earley was a sportsman supreme, a superb midfielder and a leader on the field of play. He won five Connacht senior championship medals with Roscommon as well as a National Football League medal in 1979 and two All-Stars, in 1974 and 1979.
He was a key member of the team that won the All-Ireland U-21 football title in 1966 and also gained two Railway Cup medals with Connacht, in 1967 and 1969.
Remarkably as a 17-year-old in 1965, the year he joined the Army as a Cadet, Dermot represented Roscommon at minor, U-21, junior and senior levels.
Even at that early stage, his name was on the lips of all avid Roscommon supporters as someone who was destined for greatness. We all recall his outstanding performances, the high-fielding, the free-taking, the wonderful skills and the leadership qualities. He was ‘Roscommon’ through and through. He could rally a team like few others when he set off on that trademark solo run.
He reserved many of his most memorable displays for the games against Mayo and had huge respect for that county and their great players, none more so than the late John Morley. Dermot also had enormous admiration for Galway, the most successful county in Connacht. Galway have won nine All-Ireland senior football titles, including the three-in-row of the 60s, as against Roscommon’s total of two.
Yet, in 2009, when Galway were honouring their All-Ireland senior medal winners from 1925 to 2001, Football Board chairman John Joe Holleran asked Dermot to be the guest of honour and deliver the keynote address. It was testimony to the esteem in which Dermot was held among the football fraternity in Galway and throughout the province.
Dermot wore the primrose and blue of Roscommon from his days as a minor in the early 1960s to the mid 80s. He was a proud Gorthaganny man and played for several years with Michael Glaveys – a club founded by his late father Peadar. Dermot lined out for Roscommon in the 1980 All-Ireland final loss to Kerry. It was a heartbreaking defeat for Roscommon, who certainly had ample opportunities to win that game.
Despite his disappointment at losing out on that elusive medal, Dermot always treasured the opportunity to have played in an All-Ireland final and to have tested his skills against some of the best players of that era on the biggest day of all in the Gaelic football calendar.
Of course, it would have been wonderful had Dermot won that senior All-Ireland in 1980 but the measure of a sportsman is not determined by victories alone. The bonds of friendships forged between players remain long after the exploits on the field of play are forgotten about.
Dermot is regarded by many as one of the greatest players never to have won an All-Ireland senior medal. That is also a compliment attributed to another Roscommon legend, the great Gerry O’Malley, who played for the county from the late 1940s to the mid 60s. Gerry captained Roscommon in the 1962 All-Ireland final but sustained an injury early on and had to leave the field. Kerry won that day despite a brave effort from Roscommon, who missed the influence of their inspirational captain.
Gerry was a good friend of Dermot’s for a long time and clearly recalls kicking football with him in Gorthaganny in the early 1960s. Gerry was visiting Dermot’s father Peadar that day and he willingly had a kick-around with the up-and-coming young star. Little did Gerry realise that many years later their names would be indelibly linked as two of the greatest Roscommon people of all time.
Gerry often recounted to me stories of Dermot’s kindness, including the day of Jimmy Murray’s funeral. Jimmy was a wonderful gentleman and an iconic figure in Roscommon for his exploits in captaining the county to All-Ireland successes in 1943 and 1944. Dermot delivered the oration at Jimmy’s graveside and afterwards he gave Gerry a lift back to his old home place in Brideswell.
Gerry travelled with me to Newbridge to visit Dermot one last time and it was a special privilege to be in their company on what was a sad but uplifting occasion. Gerry held Dermot’s hand and talked to him about Roscommon football.
Gerry also told him about that winter’s day with snow on the ground when he kicked football with young Dermot while visiting his father in Gorthaganny. It was a privilege to be there on that poignant afternoon in the Earley household when two Roscommon legends, who had lifted our spirits, whether in victory or defeat, in places like Coman’s Park, McHale Park and Croke Park, said their last goodbyes. Gerry told me later that Dermot gripped his hand more tightly when he spoke to him about his father and Gorthaganny.
I joined in the conversation from time to time, but I could not stop my mind from wandering back to when these two great men provided such inspiration and enjoyment to our county.
Both men shared something deeper than any of us could even dare comprehend. Dermot Earley and Gerry O’Malley knew what it was like to wear the Roscommon jersey and carry the expectations of a whole county on their shoulders.
Dermot played his last championship match for Roscommon in Hyde Park in 1985. Mayo won convincingly that day. But the occasion will forever be remembered for the sportsmanship of the Mayo players who carried Dermot Earley shoulder high in recognition of his greatness as a footballer.
Brian Carthy’s book is in all Eason’s shops from next week. This excerpt first appeared at An Fear Rua; check back there for the third part.
The first piece can be read here.