Friday 15 December 2017

Peter McDermott

Known fondly as 'The Man In The Cap', McDermott was a true GAA man and ahead of his time, writes Colm O'Rourke

An extraordinary man was laid to rest in Navan on Friday.

Maybe to many people the name Peter McDermott means little as few under the age of 50 would have any knowledge or appreciation of him but he made an incredible contribution to the country as a businessman and to the GAA in particular at club, county and national level as a player, referee, coach and administrator.

Born in 1918 near the end of the Great War, his record of achievement on the pitch is a small part of the story, even if six Leinster medals and two All-Irelands is something any player would be very happy with. Yet the bits in-between were more astonishing. In 1953 he refereed the All-Ireland final and the following year captained Meath to win Sam Maguire, a feat unlikely to be repeated. Two years later he refereed another final, but what was even more amazing in 1954 was that he was a selector and also county board secretary.

In 1960 he helped Down make the breakthrough to bring the All-Ireland across the border for the first time. That Down team was heavily represented at his funeral on Friday. Among them were Sean O'Neill, James McCartan and Paddy Doherty while Maurice Hayes, who was county secretary in Down at the time and who first contacted McDermott, was also present.

Such a turnout half a century later was an amazing tribute for the "man in the cap" and cemented a special bond of friendship between the two counties.

What struck me at the funeral was how young the men in charge of county boards were at the time. Three of the main officials in Meath in the 1950s were in their early 30s and Hayes was of similar vintage in Down. It is a far cry from present day administrations which are dominated more by grey hair and it would be great if a new generation of young turks could seize back the future of the GAA.

Of all McDermott's achievements, the organisation of a trip to Australia in 1968 by the Meath team who had won the All-Ireland the previous year was quite the most amazing logistical feat imaginable. This at a time when few people had ever been on an aeroplane.

To make it better it was a world trip in every sense of the word, going out eastwards through Singapore and coming back through Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. In Australia there were games in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.

This venture came about after an Australian team, led by legendary Aussie rules footballer Ron Barassi, came to Ireland in the autumn of 1967 and played Meath and Mayo in Croke Park. An invitation was issued to Meath to make a return trip and McDermott, being the meticulous organiser that he was, did not need to be asked twice.

When he returned he wrote a book about the whole experience called Gaels in the Sun. Even at this remove it is a fantastic account from a different world. At the end there is a detailed ledger of all the money raised through fundraising and individual donors -- the generosity is quite something at a time when few had anything. It was this pioneering trip which started the International Rules series with Australia and the men who travel there next week can thank the visionary Peter McDermott.

Later years were not kind to Peter McDermott. After all he had contributed to his community there was no fairness for him as he lost his wife, daughter and son to illness. It was a blow no man should have to face. And then his own sight failed, a huge setback for a sharp and inquisitive mind. He took it all with a stoic acceptance.

On Friday I watched his remaining comrades from the All-Ireland winning teams of 1949 and 1954 line up in a guard of honour, their youthful grace robbed by the thief of time but they stood as proud as ever nonetheless.

And all the men of 1967 were there too, the men who McDermott coached to an All-Ireland title and who all agreed that this was a man ahead of his time who would have brought them to more big days if he was given control of the team in that decade.

The legacy of 1949 and 1954 was to create a pride in Meath football based on honesty and courage -- standards which are not open to compromise. And the thought that struck me in the church on Friday was of men who soldiered with or under Peter McDermott and who would have looked on the swagger, brashness and arrogance of the Celtic Tiger as being totally alien to their values and ideals.

They were all men of substance and Peter McDermott certainly belonged in that club.

Sunday Independent

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