Saturday 29 April 2017

A Roscommon hero who was revered by all

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IT was spring 1979 and I had just begun a job as a sports reporter with the Irish Press Group when I was despatched to do my first major interview.

Roscommon had qualified for the National League semi-final which seemed like a fitting time to interview their main man. Dermot was based in the Curragh at the time and after tracking him down on the phone, it turned out to be an extremely busy period for him.

Never mind, he would find time. He went through a range of possible times to meet, only to find that some commitment or other made it awkward. In the middle of the search for a slot, he declared: "Hang on, what about you? What suits you? It's not all about me here."

Actually it was, but he had the class to make it a two-way process, even when he was dealing with a rookie reporter for the first time. Having conducted the interview in Newbridge, I headed to Dermot's home place in Gorthaganny, Roscommon to talk to his parents, Peadar and Kitty.

The reception was equally warm there. They told me of how when Dermot acquired his first football, he insisted on taking it to bed with him every night. If it was his way of forming a bond with something that would go on to dominate his life in so many ways, he certainly achieved it.

Dermot's outstanding performances over many years are well documented, but his influence on Gaelic football extended far beyond that. While he was rightly revered in Roscommon, he was unusual in that he was almost as well liked everywhere else.

His final year with Roscommon in 1985 underlined that in a very vivid way during a Connacht semi-final replay against Galway in Tuam. He sustained a jaw injury when diving in to block a Galway attempt for a point and had to go off injured. As he walked to the dressing-room, Galway supporters joined their Roscommon counterparts in giving him a standing ovation. It was a touching moment as everybody thought it might be his last game, but, typical of his determination, he was back for the final. Unfortunately for him, Roscommon lost to Mayo and he announced his retirement immediately afterwards.

Meeting Dermot at a game, whether it was an O'Byrne Cup clash in cold January, a championship game in high summer or a club tie in autumn was guaranteed to lift your day. His sheer enthusiasm for the game he loved and adorned for so long shone always came through, irrespective of who was playing.

I spent one particularly enjoyable night with himself and Dermot Jnr in the Sarsfields clubhouse in 2004 where I interviewed them together for a project on the All Stars.

I asked Dermot senior to compare himself to his son. Which of them would come out on top in a head-to-head?

He didn't answer that, but said that Dermot Jnr had a better engine, was a higher jumper and possessed more creativity.

Surely there must be one area where senior had an edge on his son.

"There is actually -- I was better on my left side than he is," he said with a hearty laugh. It must have come from the practising he did with his left foot to please his father back in Gorthaganny all those years ago.

MB

Irish Independent

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