Seamus Darby: 'My one regret? I should have retired that night'

Seamus Darby has savoured the joy, dealt with the fame, and endured the adversity that followed the most famous goal in GAA history, writes Colm Buckley.

Seamus Darby: 'My one regret? I should have retired that night'

Seamus Darby has savoured the joy, dealt with the fame, and endured the adversity that followed the most famous goal in GAA history, writes Colm Buckley.

Seamus Darby’s never-to-be-forgotten goal may have sunk Kerry’s five-in-a-row ambitions back in 1982 but he reckons that it was a challenge game earlier that year against Cork that made him believe he was still good enough to play again at the top level.

The late Eugene McGee brought Darby back into the panel four weeks before the Leinster final against Dublin that summer after being in the inter-county wilderness for six years.

“By the time I got the recall, I was 31 and wondered if I still had it in me. Eugene arranged a challenge match in Fermoy against Cork, who had just drawn the Munster final against Kerry. They were flying and when you consider their full-back Kevin Kehilly ended up an All-Star that year, I knew I had to play well or forget about making the team.”

The Rhode man remembers that Kehilly and himself had a right duel on that Saturday evening and came out with honours even. However, I had done savage training with my club that year and I was fit. I think I showed the selectors that night that I could win ball if it was played in right.

“That match between Cork and ourselves had more than a bit of championship fervour about it. I enjoyed the battle against one of the finest full-backs of that time.

“On the bus as we made our way back to Offaly, I was delighted with the way I had brought other forwards such as Brendan Lowry (father of golfer Shane) and Matt Connor into play. We pulled into the Cashel Kings Hotel in Tipperary for food. We had our meal and got back into the bus for the rest of the journey back.

“We hadn’t travelled far when McGee stood up in front of us and announced that the selectors and himself had picked the team to play Dublin and had decided to tell the panel well in advance. I couldn’t believe it when my name was called out at No. 14.

“I had a great Leinster final, scored 1-3 but unfortunately picked up a hamstring which kept me out of the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway where my replacement Johnny Mooney emerged as man of the match. I knew then the best I could hope for in the final was to come on as a sub and hopefully do something. As it transpired I got one kick of the ball and that was for the goal.

Never far behind people asking him about the score is the question: ‘Did you push Tommy Doyle to get the ball?’ My answer to that is sometimes a ref will blow for the contact between Tommy and me; other times, as happened in this match with referee PJ McGrath, it is let go.

“I was lucky on the day. Over the years thousands of people have asked me if the goal changed my circumstances. I don’t know for sure what path my life would have gone down if September 19, 1982 hadn’t happened the way it did, but I’d like to think that I haven’t changed as a person because of it. And that’s the most important thing.

“I’m aware of the link that people have in their minds that I drank my business out. But as I go into in my book, it was the economy and a few bad business decisions that saw me lose everything in the early 90s.

“However, I’m blessed with a fairly optimistic nature and I think someone up there likes me because I’ve always been able to rebound from adversity,” he said.

It’s an attitude that has helped him following a recent car crash where he suffered a broken pelvis, ankle, and nose among other things. “It’s a terrible thing to happen but the way I look at it is my partner Maura and myself as well as the people in the other car all survived. That is the main thing,” he says philosophically.

What is often overlooked in the Seamus Darby story is the fact he had won All Ireland medals with Offaly in the early 70s before he undertook his famous cameo in ’82.

“I was an unused sub in 71 when Offaly won for the first time but I played in the ’72 replay against Kerry when Paddy Fenning’s goal sealed the two-in-a-row for us. I played until ’76. That year I was captain of Offaly but was taken off against Meath in the Leinster championship. I was in my mid-20’s but I was out in the cold until ’82 after that.”

The former Rhode star explained that he always felt that despite the absence from the squad that he would come back in and play a part.

“I don’t know what it was — just a feeling deep inside me that said there was an unfinished chapter to my Offaly career. In the end it was a lucky break because the manager Eugene McGee attended an Offaly club championship match Rhode played against Daingean.

HELLO OLD FRIEND: Seamus Darby greets former Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan at Croke Park in 2015. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
HELLO OLD FRIEND: Seamus Darby greets former Kerry goalkeeper Charlie Nelligan at Croke Park in 2015. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"It was a wet old day and we were three points down when I caught a ball and scored a late goal. I’m told it was on the strength of that score that I was brought back into the panel.”

As he looks back over the 37 years since that score, Darby has one major regret.

“If I was to do it all over again, I would have retired from inter-county football that night. Instead, I stayed on for two more years when Dublin beat us in the Leinster final in ’83 and the Leinster semi-final the following year.

“I was taken off in that game and the truth is I shouldn’t have been picked. Matt Connor, the greatest player I’ve played with, said that Offaly were trying to win the All-Ireland for so many years that we lost our hunger after ’82. And I think he was spot on with that analysis.”

One of the last legacies from that match was the bond forged between the two teams down the years.

“We go down to Kerry functions and they come up to ours. In ’92 — 10 years after that game — we all went down to play in a charity match and we got an amazing reception from the Kerry people. That’s the best currency the GAA gives us, friendships.”

About That Goal — The Official Autobiography Of Seamus Darby — written by PJ Cunningham is published by Ballpoint Press and was shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year. For further information, email topjcunningham1@gmail.com

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up