Monday 19 August 2019

Michael Verney: 'He gave a speech and I never heard the like of it in my life - Faithful hero Darby'

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Seamus Darby pictured in 1982. Photo: Sportsfile
Seamus Darby pictured in 1982. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

A tingle still goes down Seamus Darby's spine when he thinks about the powerful words which the late Eugene McGee uttered on the eve of Offaly's historic 1982 All-Ireland SFC final defeat of Kerry.

Mick O'Dwyer's Kingdom were staring five-in-a-row in the face and few gave McGee's Faithful side any chance of spoiling the party but anyone leaving Tullamore that night could only see one result the next day.

"McGee gave a speech and I never heard the like of it in my life before. If anyone had any doubts in their mind whether we would win or not, they were gone there and then," Darby recalls.

"Lads walked out that night and they were fairly high and fairly confident that we were there for the long haul and it was going to take a damn good team to beat us."

Darby would etch his place in GAA folklore with an iconic goal breaking Kerry hearts but McGee had instilled self-belief into his squad that the unthinkable could be achieved.

"He had followed the Kerry team religiously and analysed them. He had them down to a tee. He then analysed us and where we were, our strengths and our weaknesses and then he finished up with passion," Darby says.

"He was very serious, he was wound up himself and he got through to lads. Lads knew he was serious. We also knew that the training we had done, Kerry couldn't have done any more or been any fitter than us.

"We knew that before we went out. He had that put into lads' heads long before the All-Ireland final that if we got there, we weren't going to be afraid of them.

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"That started way back on the hill in Rhode when we were sprinting to exhaustion. That's where that came from. But the night before the All-Ireland final was just unbelievable, I never heard a speech like it."

Longford native McGee was a left-field selection for the Offaly post in 1976 and with Kevin Heffernan's Dublin dominating the second half of that decade (Leinster champions from 1974-'79), there were moves to have him ousted.

Crucially, the players and Fr Seán Heaney, chairman at the time, stood by him despite outside pressure and Darby insists he "took things to another level" in his chase of Dublin and Kerry.

"For a man that never played football himself, he was a very deep thinker. He was a great man manager, a very deep man. He wouldn't be a man that you'd get to know that well at that time or go for a pint with but he was a very deep thinker about the game," he says.

"He was a very serious guy then, anything he took up, he took it very seriously and that included business. He had a lot of strings to his bow and anything he turned his hand to was a success."

Darby was dropped and recalled on a number of occasions by McGee but talks of Faithful squad which had unwavering belief in their messiah and feels they couldn't have reached the pinnacle without him.

"I don't know if anyone else that could have done it, that's my honest opinion. Heffernan and Micko were very successful as well but McGee had a much smaller panel to work with," he outlines. "He got the best out of every single one of the lads and we all believed in him. He had this thing about him. I know he was a Longford man but he really and truly had Offaly at heart.

Benefited "He became a friend of us all. We'll miss him that way as well because he was a very good man if you'd a problem. You could pick up the phone and ring Eugene McGee and run it by him.

"We've all benefited from his opinions. You'd get an honest opinion, that's for sure. He'd be straight to the point and there wouldn't be any messing around, whatever he had to say, he said it."

McGee "changed all of our lives" and Darby will miss his friend.

"It was only a matter of meeting up and ten minutes later you were back to where you were. That's the way it is with that squad and he was a central part of it as well," he says.

"I used to be on the road as a rep and I used to call and see him in Longford, we'd meet up and we'd have a couple of jars and a chat and then head off. We're all going to miss him greatly in Offaly."

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