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Geraghty looks back in anguish despite living the American dream

THE year is 1984, you're young and work is not easily found in Mayo, so you decide to try your luck in America for a few months. Of course, you'll be back for Christmas. Sure, isn't it only a couple of months away from home, and there's football to play in Chicago as well as doing a bit on the construction sites.

And then, day by day, week by week, time slips by. There's no big plan, but one thing gradually leads to another and you end up forging a life in the USA. That was the story of many a young Irish man and woman of that era, but in the case of Ballintubber native Gerry Geraghty, Chicago's gain was Mayo football's loss.

How big a loss? Well, former Mayo All Star Kevin McStay reckons that the county was bereft of a man he describes as "probably the best player of that generation of Mayo footballers."

McStay and Geraghty played on the Mayo minor team of 1980 and on the Mayo Vocational Schools side which lost an All-Ireland to Derry that year.

Three years later they were on the winning side when Mayo's U-21s captured the All-Ireland title, defeating Derry in a replay at Irvinestown, county Fermanagh.

By the time the U-21 campaign finished on Sunday, October 30, 1983, McStay and Geraghty had made their senior debuts for the county, playing in the defeat to Galway in the Connacht final.

That U-21 team produced plenty of players for Mayo, including John Maughan. Six of the men of '83 started in the 1989 All-Ireland senior final against Cork -- Gabriel Irwin, Peter Ford, John Finn, Sean Maher, Noel Durkin and McStay.

Geraghty was not among them, despite manager John O'Mahony making strenuous efforts to get him back for the 1989 campaign.

"Geraghty was big. He was a ciotog, he had the most beautiful left foot and he was brilliant in the air," McStay said.

"He was a midfielder who could score goals. He had good hands and was very good at fist-passing. Ger just had it all. A huge loss to Mayo football."

This weekend, Geraghty will be in Ireland for the final, hoping this is Mayo's year. He has a personal interest in his county's team, as nephew Danny Geraghty, son of Ger's brother Martin, is on the county panel.

Now aged 50, married to Karla and with two daughters and two sons -- Delaney (22), Siobhan (17), Declan (20) and Conor (15) -- Geraghty reflects on fate's fickle nature that meant his best years as a player were spent in Chicago instead of Ballintubber and Mayo.

"I left in 1984. Just came out to play the football for a team called John McBrides in Chicago and I said I'd go home at Christmas," he said.

"I got work on the construction sites, making good money, meeting a lot of friends.

"I happened to start working with a good man who played football for Mayo in the 1940s, Joe Kilroy. He's still going strong. He's in his late 80s and we talk every now and again.

"He convinced me to stay on and give it another year.

"That's what I planned on doing, but to make a long story short, I just happened to stay here. It's been a good life."

He admits that he now regrets that he didn't give it another go when O'Mahony sought him out in '89, but work, distance and the time out of top-level football caused him to hesitate long enough for it not to happen.

"My position was out-and-out midfield, I wouldn't have been the tallest midfielder, but I loved centre-field," he said.

"Mayo had a great bunch of centre-fielders at the time -- TJ Kilgallon, Willie Joe Padden, Sean Maher, Liam McHale, Greg Maher.

"I was thinking that, being away for four and a half years, am I going to be in that category again?

"But here I am at 50 years of age and I'm sorry I didn't, no doubt about it."

Irish Independent