Cahair O'Kane: Bravery remains a friend of the underdog

Fear can hold teams back – especially teams looking to cause an upset. Be brave, go for it and you never know what might happen

IN the biography of his life entitled ‘Dermot Earley: An Officer and a Gentleman’, the man himself revealed one of the few regrets from his playing days.

Earley Snr played for Roscommon for 20 years, winning five senior Connacht titles, two Allstars, a National League, two Railway Cups and an All-Ireland under-21.

But as the man regarded as the best never to have won an All-Ireland medal, the manner in which they lost the All-Ireland final in 1980 stands alongside getting sent off against Dublin in 1975 as his toughest days in football.

It was the county’s first September showdown in 18 years, up against a Kerry side on the hunt for a third successive title.

The underdogs scored a goal almost straight from the throw-in. Earley delivered the low ball into the forwards and it ended with John ‘Jigger’ O’Connor – father of Donegal’s Darach – fisting the ball into the net, as was allowed in those days.

Buoyed, they went into a five-point lead. And then they retreated. Kerry, without being brilliant, were able to pick them off. Roscommon scored just four points in the final hour of the game, and lost by three.

Earley’s chance was missed and the regret was that they didn’t really go for it.

"Tom (Henneghan, Roscommon trainer) had us really well prepared,” he told John Scally, who wrote the biography.

“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.

“Offaly beat Kerry in 1982 by attacking them, we had the class to do the same but we failed to use it.”

At the final whistle, he described an overwhelming sense of “purposelessness”.

“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".

That was the one and only time Dermot Earley would grace an All-Ireland final and he would sadly depart this earth much too soon in 2010 wondering what might have been.

He would be far from the only sportsman to have lived with regret beyond his playing days but as things are now, there are going to be a lot more GAA players spending their retirements wishing they could go back in time.

His own kinsmen had it hanging over them for 12 months after last year’s Connacht final defeat by Galway. It was there for the taking for Roscommon in the drawn game but they stayed in their shell until they eventually got beaten.

On Sunday, they flew out of the traps again. Wind-assisted, they tore at a naïve Galway defence that left itself with no cover. Seven up at half-time, the assumption was that they’d nail the doors shut and ride the Salthill storm.

But instead, they displayed their “learnings”, to use the new-age term. They kept driving at the Galway defence at every opportunity. They bettered their tally with the wind by hitting 1-8 against it.

There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Galway, by not covering their full-back line in any shape or form playing into a gale that you’d think they’d be familiar with, crossed it.

But Roscommon’s qualities were exactly the same as the one displayed by Down against Monaghan. All underdogs stories are one and the same really - a potent mixture of bravery and desire.

Clare, in both codes, had one but fell down on the other. They punched up at Mayo for a half in the football on Saturday but when the questions were asked, they retreated and went down handy enough.

Their hurlers allowed Cork to take short puckouts to the full-back line the entire day long. It was a strategy that worked for 15 minutes until Anthony Nash stopped hitting the ball into the crowded space.

All it served to do after that was allow Cork free possession all day. The players showed no shortage of guts in staying in a game that looked away from them several times, but it wasn’t matched on the line.

Derry went full frontal in Castlebar a week earlier. There was nothing else for it. Only the lack of a proper ball-winning midfielder and the absence of a proper kickout strategy (neither of which were Ben McKinless’ fault) prevented their bravery from being rewarded.

So often managers are so terrified of straying across that fine line that they just stay completely clear of it.

Fear, in many circumstances, is understandable. But Tipperary travelling to Cavan with it is barely that.

Alright, they’d lost key players from last year but their strength last year was in their relentless fearlessness.

This season the fear has taken over and it was only faced with a hiding in Kingspan Breffni that they threw the shackles off again.

And look what happened.

The trend of pushing up on kickouts is a sign that the fear is filtering out of football again. There’ll always be an eye on minding the house but the idea of going down without a fight is straying back into unforgivable territory.

You’re sure Dermot Earley would approve.

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