Galway pays tribute to former Villan


Three former Irish international soccer players, one junior minister and a spectator cast of thousands paid tribute to a former Aston Villan and "humble" Galwegian in his home city over the weekend.

When the crowds arrived for the special testimonial match in memory of the late Eamonn "Chick" Deacy on Saturday, it was to Terryland Park.

But by the time they left, the renowned Galway soccer grounds bore Deacy's name, with the blessing of players, fans, several churches and State - as represented by Minister of State for Sport, Michael Ring.

Irish internationals Packie Bonner, Paul McGrath, along with Gareth Farrelly and fellow members of the Aston Villa Old Stars had signed up for the testimonial against Galway United and West United.

Deacy, who died suddenly last February, was one of the Aston Villa squad which won the old English first division in 1980/81 with just 14 players.

His stellar career included 41 appearances with the Villans over five seasons, when the club added the European Cup (now the Champions League) to the First Division title.

Deacy missed out on a medal back then. Instead of travelling with the squad for the final against Bayern Munich in Rotterdam, he joined up with the Republic of Ireland squad under Eoin Hand.

Speaking before the kick-off, Mr Ring described Deacy as a "humble man", who was not interested in money, and confirmed that he had once played against him. He recalled how the Deacy family had once owned the Terryland grounds.

"Mary, I know that he was in Villa but his heart was in Galway with you,"Mr Ring said, turning to Deacy's wife, and the couple's children, Dawn and Jake.

"Dad loved it here,"Dawn responded, on behalf of the family. "We'd sneak in for a game of football on a Saturday afternoon and have tea and sandwiches in the dugout. He'd be mortified [at what's happening today], but we're really honoured," she said.

The Patrician Band played the national anthem, there was a minute's applause for recent bereavements, and young Jake Deacy then turned out with Aston Villa - waiving their "over 35" rule for the night.

So busy was Paul McGrath signing autographs that he didn't take to the field, while Bonner played for the last 15 minutes.

McGrath, who recalled he had played against Deacy, said he was enjoying retirement and "playing a bit of golf, going to the gym, doing a bit of work for the papers". However, he said he "jumped at the chance" to sing in These are the Days, a song composed for the Irish Paralympics team.

Bonner spoke of the "affection people have here for Eamonn Deacy" because he had returned home at the peak of his career, and refused to be paid for playing with Galway United - something the Donegal former goalkeeper for Celtic described as "incredible".

Bonner's brother Denis, who had played with Deacy, participated in the testimonial, while five of the Aston Villa squad that claimed the old English First Division title with the Galwegian in 1980/81 also togged out.

The five - Tony Morley, Ken McNaught, Colin Gibson, Allan Evans and Des Bremner - were among just 14 players who won that title, while their manager Ron Saunders was also present.

The visitors represented their late team-mate well, beating Galway United 2-1 in the first half and drawing 1-1 with West United in the second. A recording of a Saw Doctors tribute song to "Chick", first performed publicly at the Volvo Ocean race, was played to the packed stadium during the interval.