Saturday 21 September 2019

Tommy and me

Seamus Darby and Tommy Doyle have become great friends, joined together by one moment in time

'It was the instinct that came from learning your trade being a small man in Offaly club football'
'It was the instinct that came from learning your trade being a small man in Offaly club football'

Seamus Darby

If you play back the game on video, you'll see that I didn't put my hands near my marker Tommy Doyle's back for the seven minutes or so I was on as a sub in the 1982 All-Ireland final.

I know exactly what I did - I pressed my upper left arm into the side of his shoulder to gently 'negotiate' Tommy away from the flight of the ball that was rapidly descending between us. Definitely, mine was a 'leaning in' motion. I don't deny that.

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Seamus Darby was delighted when Tommy Doyle
captained Kerry to All-Ireland glory in 1986. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Seamus Darby was delighted when Tommy Doyle captained Kerry to All-Ireland glory in 1986. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Whether you'd define it as 'a nudge,' as Micko called it, 'a push' as others have stated or 'a poke' or 'a prod,' the reality is the referee PJ McGrath didn't blow for a foul.

In my opinion, having watched it back countless times, it would have been hard had he given a free out. That said, there was contact, albeit of a low-level intensity and I'm sure there are people (particularly in Kerry) who feel the whistle could have been blown - and I can accept that view too.

Personally, I think the legendary Kerry full-back, Joe Keohane, who was a selector with Micko, got it spot on when he said: "What Darby did was within the legitimate range of pushing without transcending into being a foul."

My mindset in that moment was that I had to get the ball because I felt pretty sure there wouldn't be another chance. The way Liam kicked the ball from the right side of the pitch across to the left side of goal favoured Tommy slightly as he was out in front of me. My concern was that he was going to catch the ball, burst out and clear it upfield. If that had happened, I would have been in trouble with the Offaly crowd and there would not have been much talk afterwards about Seamus Darby.

I had to use my body to ease him over a little to improve my chances. That's what I did and it sent him slightly forward.

It was the instinct that came from learning your trade being a small man in Offaly club football. You discover ways to ensure that the ball falls into your hands instead of your opponent's. I was only putting my long apprenticeship into practice.

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Tommy and I got to know each other well down the years after the two of us became the centre of attention for different reasons after that match. For as sure as I was given the starring role of hero, he was cast, particularly by Kerry fans, as the villain of the piece.

His critics said he was naïve to allow me catch the ball and that somehow it was all his fault that Kerry didn't win the five-in-a-row.

I often thought of Tommy in the weeks and months after the game and hoped he was coping with the abuse that I sensed would be hurled in his direction.

There may also have been guilt on my part because there was contact between us and he could easily have come out and said in his own defence that it was a push and therefore a foul. He would have been entitled to do that. To his credit he never did; instead he took the haymaker on the chin and I admired him greatly for showing such character in adversity.

The wheel of fortune goes around as we all know and I don't suppose there were too many outside Kerry happier than myself in 1986 when Tommy not only won another - his seventh - All-Ireland medal, but captained the Kingdom to glory as well.

As I watched him lift the Sam Maguire over his head in Croke Park that day, I felt a huge surge of pride and satisfaction inside. I suppose it is like the sort of feeling you experience if a member of your family achieves something.

Around the time of the 1986 All-Ireland, I was working as a rep driving all over Ireland. I knew I would be in his neck of the woods over the following fortnight and I wanted to meet up with him. Tommy was also a rep - he was with a beer company while I was selling wallpaper across the 26 counties.

We hadn't arranged a rendezvous before I set out and in a time when there was no internet or mobile phones, making contact was much harder. I was in Kerry getting orders and supplying wallpaper and I wanted to get my work done before I went looking for him.

I was walking down the street when I just happened to bump into him in the middle of Killarney. If I had planned it, it couldn't have worked out any better. Naturally, we went for one. That turned into another and in the end we spent most of the night out together.

What did we talk about? Well, I know I told him how happy I was that he was captain and had led Kerry to an incredible achievement on top of what they had achieved before the '82 final. And he was a hero now in Kerry eyes and feck any begrudgers who were left.

Tommy and I would talk about everything except the goal. Neither of us ever brought it up directly. We probably knew what each other thought - and simply left it at that.

I think it was the time together in Killarney that cemented our friendship. We had a long chat that evening and it created a bond. It was one of the good things for both of us that came out of that goal.

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