Dermot Earley - An Officer and a Gentleman

October 14th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

When Dermot Earley Senior died in 2010 his family outlined the five pointes of their fathers plan for life.

1 Enjoy time with my family

2 Give the best to my work.

3 Give back to my community.

4 Spend my leisure time well.

5 Make time for God in my life.

On the Tuesday preceeding the All Ireland final against Donegal I had the privilege of attending the launch in Croke Park of a beautiful new book on the life and times of the former Roscommon mid field star the late Dermot Earley. The book with the most apt of titles, 'Dermot Earley an Officer and a Gentleman' was launched before a huge crowd of GAA and army personalities by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny who is a close friend of the Earley family. I had befriended Dermot during my time as an inter county referee and later in my life with Radio Kerry. John Scally the author of the book very kindly contacted me and of course refusal to travel was never an option. My good Killarney friend and stalwart Roscommon man Tommy Regan was my companion on the night and in many ways I felt I was representing Kerry football as Dermot had often spoken to me when we met about all things Kerry.

It can and has been argued that Dermot Earley was the greatest Gaelic footballer never to win a senior All Ireland medal. He was a member of the Roscommon senior team from 1965 until 1985 and during that time he played against and matched the most supreme mid-fielders the game has known. His status as one of the all time greats is self-evident and in a magnificent career over all those years he won five Connacht titles, one National League, two All Star awards but sadly the ultimate honor of winning that All Ireland medal eluded him. When his senior inter county career was over Dermot managed both the Roscommon and Kildare senior teams with little success and the book details vividly his feelings as managerial success eluded him. 

The book is a beautiful intimate and touching account of the life of a very special person, because Dermot Earley was one of those people who literally touch the lives of so many in such a positive way. I first had the honour of meeting him back in the early eighties as I called the captains together for the toss of the coin before an All Ireland seven-a-side final in Dublin, Roscommon and Offally were the contestants that day. It was his strong firm warm hand shake and warm smile which I remember most of all and his words to me, "nice to meet you Weeshie, my name is Dermot Earley". Those moments remained etched in my memory and later before National league games we would meet again. He had about him that special aura very few encompass. 

Then in 2007 when he was appointed as the Irish Defence Forces Chief of Staff, the highest honor available in our army I contacted his secretary in relation to having him as a guest on Radio Kerry, he accepted without a moments hesitation and a few week later I sat opposite him for a full hour as we discussed his life and times in the Irish army and his playing career.. Needless to say it was an amazing and uplifting experience. And of course one of the topics we discussed was Roscommon's defeat by Kerry in that dramatic 1980 All Ireland final and John Scally covers this in great detail in the book.

Dermot explained to him, "Tom (Henneghan, trainor) had us really well prepared. He arranged for us to get two weeks off work and for those two weeks we trained twice a day, at noon and in early evening. We had Kerry reeling early on but I feel we lost because we weren't attacking enough. We had great attacking half backs and on the day they did a good defensive job but we didn't use that to attack Kerry. Offally beat Kerry in 1982 by attacking them, we had the class to do the same but we failed to use it".

 Dermot's story of that 1980 defeat by Kerry is fascinating and just another aspect of a great read. He told John Scally of his terrible disappointment and feeling of total emptiness when the final whistle sounded. "My feeling of purposelessness was almost overwhelming. I can remember turning around and shaking hands with Seanie Walsh. I remember Ger Power being close by and there was a clap on the back and a smile. I turned around immediately because I was absolutely shattered and completely disappointed and I then walked to the dressing room".

Scally goes on to write of that magnificent Mick o Dwyer trained side. "The Kerry team shared a sense of immutable bond that victory brings, a feeling of kinship that goes beyond professional loyalty, a camaraderie that overcomes differences of age, sex, and even previous fallings out. Seamus Heaney was wrong. Eroticism is not the first taste of the transcendent. Winning an All Ireland is.

Dermot Earley died on 23rd June 2010from a rapid degenerative condition Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. He was aged 62. He had retired from the Defense Forces weeks before his death although he was not due to stand down until the following spring. Dermot junior told me in an interview that he had first noticed something was wrong with his dad in September 2009. "They were simple little things but unfortunately the little thinks started to get bigger and January brought the diagnosis. The one thing he kept was his smile, I knew there were times he was aware he was unwell and it was tough for him but the man he was always had the smile". How right he is, Dermot's smile and handshake were two things that I will always treasure myself.

My final meeting with Dermot occurred following Roscommon's magnificent minor win over Kerry in Ennis in that re-played final back in 2006. We met on the field, and as always the gentleman he agreed without hesitation to an interview and unashamedly  shed tears of joy as he spoke about his beloved Roscommon and what that meant to the county. His friend Fergal o Donnell a Garda was the manager of that brilliant minor side.

Enda Kenny visibly emotional as his father and Dermot's dad had been personal friends spoke to me following the launch. "Dermot Earley epitomized all that was good in his professional career as Chief of Staff of our Defense Forces and was truly an iconic figure" and The Taoiseach added. "He epitomized in his professional career and sporting career as well as his family life the finest qualities of what Irishness is all about". Dermot Earley an Office and a Gentleman is one of the finest GAA books I have ever read. It was an honor and privilege to have known him if only in a very small way.

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