McDermott bids farewell to the cut and thrust of life with Roscommon
Reliable corner back ready to focus on new priorities after 14 years of consistent service
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.”
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.”
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.”