Tuesday, May 21, 2013

 

Leaving it all behind: Dermot Earley brings a 16-year Kildare career to an end

Leaving it all behind: Dermot Earley brings a 16-year Kildare career to an end

IT was the day before his 19th birthday when a gangly teenager named Dermot Earley made his debut for Kildare.

A substitute for Johnny McDonald in the first of a memorable trilogy of games against Meath in the 1997 Leinster Championship, it was the beginning of a glorious football career for the Sarsfields man.

I came on in that first game against Meath and I remember I had a chance to win the game. Anthony Rainbow went down the left and put a ball in that I caught. I tried to fist it over the bar but John McDermott deflected it out for a 45. Outside me was Willie McCreery and Martin Lynch who were free and I should have popped it off to them. We had the winning of that game but the Leinster final the following year was unbelievable,” said Earley, reflecting on his career on Monday.

Earley’s first full season with Kildare coincided with the Lilies’ biggest success in a generation although the opening round championship win against Dublin in Leinster wasn’t his finest moment in a white jersey.

We started off against Dublin and I remember just being a bystander in the first game (it went to a replay). I probably could have been taken off after 20 minutes but the experience stood to me and the next day I made a better contribution. I think the fact that we finally beat Dublin was a big thing. I remember at the final whistle Glenn (Ryan) just sunk to his knees and we all just jumped on him. That was the start of something, the confidence grew. We beat Laois in the next round. We were just training hard and playing some great football and then we found ourselves in a Leinster final.”

Playing in a Leinster final aged just 20 didn’t faze Earley.

Playing the three games the previous year against Meath stood to us, we knew we had them on the rack. I remember the famous winning goal. Christy Byrne was in goal for us and he aimed his kick out to me on the wing. That was something we worked on a lot. I knew the ball was coming and I was able to win it. I didn’t exactly know what to do with it then but I looked up and saw Martin Lynch running from the Hill 16 goals and I just said I’d kick it into the corner. Two defenders had followed Martin and he sent a lovely ball in to Bryan Murphy and he put it in the back of the net.”

Earley went on to score a goal in the All-Ireland final defeat to Galway and found the net again when Kildare beat Dublin in the Leinster final replay in 2000. Unfortunately, that proved to be the last significant medal of Earley’s time with Kildare but as time went on, he proved to be the team’s talisman.

He was 23 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2002 but dealt with it with dignity and a determination to get back playing football. On the field Kildare went through a barren spell until the arrival of Kieran McGeeney as manager in 2008.

The summer of 2009 was perhaps Earley’s best in a Kildare jersey. A deserved All-Star followed but he still didn’t pick up the silverware that he wanted so badly.

By the summer of 2010, knee injuries had already begun to wear the old warrior down but there were far more serious issues for the Earley family to deal with. His legendary father died the week before a qualifier game against Antrim and the funeral took place on the day of the game. Nobody who was inside St Conleth’s Park that evening will ever forget the emotion of that occasion.

People mightn’t understand why I played (against Antrim) but the GAA is such an important part of our family. We felt that the best way to honour my Dad was to go out and play. He would have liked that. It was a decision that was discussed with my family and Kieran (McGeeney) and it’s a decision I don’t regret at all,” he said.

Unfortunately the beginning of the end of Earley’s inter-county career was already in motion. A knee injury that summer got progressively worse until he injured his cruciate just four minutes into the All-Ireland quarter final against Meath.

Despite missing the entire 2011 campaign came back to play a role in 2012. His final appearance in Kildare jersey came as a substitute against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat.

Current Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney seemed to know the writing was on the wall for the Sarsfields man when he spoke to the media last Friday evening.

I was just chatting to him last week. He’s back walking now which is good and we’ll meet up this week to see what he is thinking. I was in his house when things were going bad for him and he was in a rough way but regardless of what is thrown at Dermot, he is a fighter.”

PROFILE: DERMOT EARLEY

Club: Sarsfields

Date of Birth: 07/07/1978

Age: 34

League Debut: – v Cork 1/2/98, H. L(0-8 to 0-9)

Championship Debut: v Meath 6/7/97, Croke Park. D (1-09 to 0-12)

Total Championship appearances: 45(9)

Total Championship Scores: 4-32

Total League Appearances: 49(7)

Total League Scores: 1-23

Contact Newsdesk: 045 432147

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