McDer­mott bids farewell to the cut and thrust of life with Roscom­mon

Re­li­able cor­ner back ready to turn a new page after 14 years ster­ling ser­vice with the se­nior county team

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Keith Dug­gan

A Tues­day tea-time in Bal­laghader­reen and the blinds are drawn on the win­dows of Seánie Mac’s, the bar­bers on Pound Street.

In­side, Seán McDer­mott is put­ting the fin­ish­ing touches to the last cus­tomer of the day. He’s telling this story of a guy who landed in one day after a long ab­sence.

“What would you like me to do?” McDer­mott asked. The cus­tomer shrugged, looked at his mane through the mir­ror, grinned broadly and gave the im­mor­tal in­struc­tion: “En­joy your­self”.

McDer­mott laughs and glances at the clock out of habit. In pre­vi­ous Jan­uarys, six o’clock meant a quick sweep of the floor, lock­ing down the store and head­ing straight for two hours of train­ing wher­ever Roscom­mon were sched­uled that night.

And after 17 years of un­bro­ken in­ter-county ser­vice since his mi­nor years, of course a part of McDer­mott is cu­ri­ous about what the scene will be like un­der An­thony Cun­ning­ham, who is en­ter­ing his first sea­son as Roscom­mon man­ager.

“It is about get­ting the right mix­ture,” he says. “Ev­ery­thing has to come to­gether be­tween play­ers, the man­age­ment team. I think get­ting An­thony Cun­ning­ham is a fantastic coup and he has got some great peo­ple in with him now.

“Mark Dowd won a county ti­tle with Bal­laghader­reen and Ian Daly was de­fen­sive coach with Fergal [O’Don­nell]. They are two men and who knows, maybe when An­thony steps away, they can make sure it is a seam­less tran­si­tion. It’s about keep­ing the flow go­ing.”

If it sounds as if part of him is still in the dress­ing room, think again. Cun­ning­ham called him a few months ago and told McDer­mott he’d like to in­clude him in his squad if he was avail­able.

McDer­mott was an em­blem of re­li­a­bil­ity and as­sur­ance through­out 14 tur­bu­lent sea­sons for the Rossies, a bril­liantly ef­fi­cient cor­ner back who also had a stint op­er­at­ing as a cre­ative wing for­ward. He played 178 games for the Roscom­mon se­niors and never suf­fered from any sig­nif­i­cant in­jury; he might have per­suaded him­self to con­tinue. But then he found him­self say­ing some­thing to his fa­ther that clar­i­fied his de­ci­sion.

“If I go back this year I will train like a de­mon, I will still be go­ing to a game next year say­ing: ‘I should be play­ing’. I was al­ways go­ing to have that feel­ing. And it was to­tally right for me to do it. So when I got off the phone with An­thony I felt a huge re­lief. I had my mind made up. My­self and Stacey [McGarry, from Castlerea] are get­ting mar­ried in Novem­ber. This place is my project, this is my life here. I knew that would be the case when I set up the busi­ness.”

Moved home

And so he has stopped. Be­cause of Roscom­mon’s fluc­tu­at­ing for­tunes, there were sum­mers when the gen­eral pub­lic didn’t get to see much of McDer­mott but his personal per­for­mances rarely dipped.

He was bit of a con­tra­dic­tion: a sunny, op­ti­mistic de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist who didn’t have a ran­corous bone in his body and who vis­i­bly en­joyed play­ing Gaelic foot­ball in an era when it be­came un­fash­ion­able to claim en­joy­ment.

The game came to him late; the McDer­mott fam­ily moved from Bal­lagh’ to Brook­lyn in the mid-1980s so the first 10 years of his life were spent play­ing bas­ket­ball in a huge, mul­ti­cul­tural pub­lic school. Jon Starks, the fiery New Knicks shoot­ing guard in the mid 1990s, be­came a last­ing hero of his.

When the fam­ily moved home again, he was a 10-year-old with a broad bor­oughs ac­cent of which there re­mains ab­so­lutely no trace.

“I wasn’t long los­ing it. We were known as ‘the Yanks’ for the first while when we came back. But it died away.”

He pur­sued bas­ket­ball in St Nathy’s and be­came aware of the sim­mer­ing Mayo-Roscom­mon bor­der ri­valry that runs through Bal­laghader­reen like a livewire. But he was never that en­gaged by it him­self. Andy Mo­ran was one of his good friends in Nathy’s and, later, in Sligo IT.

When his pace and ball-play­ing abil­ity dis­tin­guished him as county ma­te­rial, he came up against Mo­ran in win­ter and in sum­mer.

“Mayo was just an­other game to me. I never took it any other way. I was friendly with Andy from Nathy’s and Sligo IT. That Mayo-Roscom­mon hate each other thing . . . ob­vi­ously there is a hand­ful of peo­ple in any bor­der town that have that but when you are in­volved and play­ing it, I think it is dif­fer­ent.”

Where Mayo and Roscom­mon di­verged starkly, though, was in sum­mer per­for­mances. McDer­mott leaves the game with two se­nior Connacht medals; more than many Roscom­mon play­ers be­fore him. But he pauses for a mo­ment when asked if, in any of his sea­sons play­ing , he felt that he was play­ing for an All-Ire­land medal.

“I dunno. I think was play­ing for a Connacht ti­tle first and fore­most. But I must say, in 2011 and in 2016, I re­ally felt in ’16 that if things stayed as they are, we could chal­lenge within two years. We got beaten by Gal­way in a re­play. But it was a good man­age­ment team and a bril­liant panel. So I didn’t see why we couldn’t chal­lenge over the next few sea­sons.”

Fine lines

That was one of the frus­tra­tions. In 2011, he played against a Mayo team that beat Roscom­mon by two cham­pi­onship points in the rain. Cagey, claus­tro­pho­bic and hard: the usual stuff.

It was James Ho­ran’s first sig­nif­i­cant scalp. But in the fol­low­ing years, he watched as the neigh­bours went on a hell-bent, un­apolo­getic quest for an All-Ire­land, cap­ti­vat­ing the coun­try in the process.

“It is these fine lines. I think the key to kick­ing on is when you see what is work­ing, keep it. I don’t know the ins and outs of Fergal O’Don­nell leav­ing but it was dis­ap­point­ing. John Evans came in and did Tro­jan work in the league and that is largely un­sung. What he did was very im­por­tant.

“Then Fergal and Kevin came in for 2016 and I felt we had a pow­er­fully strong panel. Thought we would win a Connacht ti­tle that year but we won it the next. And it was a pity to see them split their own ways. These things hap­pen. But yeah, it is fine lines.”

Bright as Roscom­mon have looked over the past few years, McDer­mott bows out believ­ing that they could have gone fur­ther.

“I’m not tak­ing away from what we achieved, get­ting to the Su­per 8s. Even if a lot of peo­ple think we have achieved all we could, I wouldn’t feel that at all. I feel there is so much more in Roscom­mon. Maybe we were naïve in the su­per eights. We played a flair game. Ty­rone. I feel there is an el­e­ment in these games – I am not for a de­fen­sive game but your sole fo­cus should be ‘by half-time, we are in this game’. There is a bal­ance. There have to be so many in­gre­di­ents right.”

These are the con­cerns of other play­ers now; other de­fend­ers. Four­teen years of put­ting man­ners on tricky cor­ner for­wards is enough. From now on, McDer­mott is con­tent to put man­ners on the hair­styles around the Mayo-Roscom­mon fault line.

“I saw an open­ing here. I am a home town kind of a lad. But I was never go­ing to set up a busi­ness un­til I was happy with my skill set. If you are good at what you do and you are com­fort­able, it doesn’t mat­ter where you set up.

“I did my re­search on the male pop­u­la­tion of Bal­laghader­reen and sur­round­ing ar­eas and all that. I’m on my own and I’m happy with that for the time be­ing. And if it doesn’t work, I won’t die won­der­ing.”

That May­oRoscom­mon hate each other thing . . . ob­vi­ously there is a hand­ful of peo­ple in any bor­der town that have that but when you are in­volved and play­ing it, I think it is dif­fer­ent

Seán McDer­mott out­side his bar­ber shop on Pound Street in Bal­laghader­reen.

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