It brought a tear to my eye when I read he died. To be honest, more than a tear. I think it will be one of those JFK or 9/11 moments. I was at work, perusing the StolenSheep site (for all things Rossie GAA related) when I read his name in the Book of Condolences section. At first I thought it was a mistake. I had not heard he was unwell. But the shock really sank in after a Google news search and link after link to the reports on his funeral came up. He was gone.
I knew he had risen to a high post in the Irish Army (Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces) but my memories of Dermot will always be from the football field, where he was hands down the best player I have ever seen wear the Primrose & Blue. What Sheepstealer alive back then can forget the Ros team that won the Connacht title four times in row in the late 70's and 1980? Dermot was the driving force. Late 70's it seemed every house had the Ros flag flying outside; the support was tremendous. Some went so far as to rig makeshift flags out of blue and yellow fertilizer bags and nail them to the electricity poles (Cousin Eddie). I remember going with father to games in the Hyde and having to park out near Mullymucks (an exaggeration but not much) the crowds were so great.
THE GOLDEN ERA
Dermot on the right watching John "Jigger" O'Connor with ball. Jigger was a gifted player and on his day, unstoppable. He had this great evasive move: in full flight soloing up the field, he would suddenly cut inside his marker and give him a slight push in the back as he went by, thus creating space for a pass or shot.
The Rossie jerseys of this era were cool. Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and wore something similar as an away strip. And Jigger could be Kempes-esque.
My first trip to Croke Park was in 1979 to see the Rossies take on a favored Cork team in the League Final. Corcaigh had Jimmy Barry Murphy, a dual star of football and hurling. I do not recall how Dermot played that day but Ros prevailed by 0-15 to 1-3 and I am sure he drove the team forward. His fielding, solo's, ball handling, distribution and free taking were beyond doubt.
(UPDATE: I found that "Dermot gave a Man Of The Match display from midfield scoring 7 points of Ros' total... it was one of his finest hours." )
The names of the Roscommon team that faced powerful Kerry in the All Ireland Final in 1980 still roll off my tongue. Sheerin, Lindsay, Keegan, Connellan etc. But it was always Dermot's team.
My favorite thing about Dermot as a player was when he scored, he just turned, put his head down and ran back to midfield, ready to contest the kickout. No high fiving or arrogance. A footballers footballer.
On summer evenings, as a Primary School boy and bringing in the cows for milking, I would kick a plastic football (O'Neills was too expensive) as high as I could in the air. If I caught it cleanly (which was seldom), I would take off on a solo run between the thistles adding my own Michael O'Hehir commentary "And it's Dermot Earley with the ball, racing up the field... And what a score for Roscommon!". It was easy to score when there were no goal posts and the opposing backs were maudlin Friesans...
One last memory is that of going to see Roscommon in the late 70's and the Primrose & Blue banners proudly declaring "Earley to Rise". Simple but special.
There is so little video footage of Dermot on the web, it is a shame. Here, however, is a gem scored against the Herring Chokers. Note how he dashes back after the goal.
(1981 League Final; the Rossies lost...)
Often described as the greatest Gaelic Footballer never to win an All Ireland. That he never got an All Ireland Medal does not diminish Dermot one jot in my eyes. A hero to so many, not only in Roscommon but around Ireland and indeed the world.
Finally, we could all do worse than live by the Five Principles that Dermot laid out for himself:
A.Enjoy the time with my family
B.Give the best to my work
C.Give back to my community
D.Spend my leisure time well
E.Make time for God in my life
May he rest in peace.
Slán agus beannacht leat.