Westmeath's Dermot Brady during the 1998 Leinster SFC quarter-final against Laois at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile.

No regrets for Westmeath's Brady despite missing glory days

Despite his remarkable achievement of winning two Railway Cup medals while playing club football in Westmeath’s junior grade, Dermot Brady can be considered very unlucky to have missed out on many glory days at club and inter-county level.

He lost Leinster minor and U21 finals just before Westmeath's successful underage era with Luke Dempsey. He was, in his own words, “merely a water-carrier” as a 19-year-old when Mattie Kerrigan’s side reached the NFL semi-final in 1994.

Injury and domestic commitments were the main contributing factors to his absence from the glorious championship runs of 2001 and 2004 under the aforementioned Dempsey and the late Páidí Ó Sé respectively. On the club front, he had retired by the time St Loman’s, Mullingar became the dominant force in the race for the Flanagan Cup.

Dermot, who will turn 47 in May, is a son of the late Tony from Crosskeys, Co. Cavan and Kathleen (née Gallagher) from Clonown, near Athlone. His father had “a huge interest in Gaelic football” which was nurtured as a student in St Patrick’s, Cavan.

His maternal grandparents acquired a Land Commission farm in the Turin area in 1974. “I was just a few weeks old when a house became available down the road, and I was thrown into the back of the car by my parents and brought down to Westmeath,” Dermot states.

Dermot attended primary school in St Tola’s in Delvin, and Killucan Vocational School beckoned for his second level education. “We won the Westmeath vocational schools football championship under the management of Joe Fox from Tang. Anthony Coyne from Coralstown/Kinnegad was a team-mate.”

Dermot soon came to the notice of the Westmeath underage selectors. At the time, Westmeath sides had begun to qualify for occasional Leinster finals, but “we were always the bridesmaids, never the bride”, as Dermot succinctly puts it. Indeed, he was part of two further ‘bridesmaid’ appearances in provincial finals. Dermot takes over: “We had a great run to the 1992 minor final in Tullamore. We had a huge team, physically strong with lots of good footballers. It was down to fine margins but Meath beat us. They were an awful monkey on our back for an awful long time. I’m glad that one is put to bed now since 2015.”

John Fagan was again the manager with much the same team, strengthened by the very significant addition of Rory O’Connell, for Westmeath’s inaugural appearance in a Leinster U21 final in 1995. Hordes of Lake County fans made the trip to O’Moore Park for a football double-header, the minors (eventual All-Ireland champions) v Wexford, and the U21s v Offaly.

“There were traffic jams going into Portlaoise and we had to get an unplanned Garda escort. It was the most unusual game I was ever involved in as I was given a different role from usual in that I was man-marking Mel Keenaghan. I did OK on him, but things just didn’t click for us on the day,” Dermot reflects.

Dermot was already on the county senior team in 1995 under Mattie Kerrigan. He had an eye-opening introduction to the set-up, as he recalls: “In senior training in Ballinagore, John Murray from Moate hit me the best clout I ever got and said, ‘Welcome to senior football’! I knew then it was a fair step-up from what I’d been used to.”

Dermot's involvement in the squad for the aforementioned NFL semi-final in 1994 on the hallowed Croke Park turf brought joy to his watching father and his Turin neighbours. “It was a massive experience for a young lad. The ref sending off Michael Broder was a turning point that day against Meath. Again it was down to those fine margins.”

Dermot made his senior championship debut in 1995. “I had eventually made the corner-back position my own, but we followed up the great win in Wexford with an awful display against Wicklow in Athlone. Nothing seemed to go right. We were just flat,” he recalls.

Dublin were reigning All-Ireland champions when Dermot first encountered them in championship action in 1996. Dermot continues: “It was first time I came across Dublin. Barney (Rock) was our manager and that led to a bit of hype. That day in Navan I was marking Charlie Redmond. He was twice the width of me and about a foot taller! I held my own with him but we got a bit of a trimming (ten points), but nothing like these days. Keith Barr’s lobbed goal was a fluke.”

Four years later, Croke Park was the venue when Dublin won by just six points. “I marked (Jason) Sherlock in 2000. Dessie Farrell thumped me and I was pumping blood like a cow after getting horned! Sherlock snuck in for a goal while I was getting patched up as there were no blood subs then,” Dermot recalls.

Dermot played under four senior managers. He assesses them as follows: “Mattie (Kerrigan) brought a level of professionalism to it. Now it has gone ten steps ahead of that, but that professionalism filtered down to minor and U21 level. When Mattie walked into a room he commanded respect without even opening his mouth. Joe Tallon was his physical trainer and I remember being in Kilbeggan in six inches of snow doing press-ups, and he shouting ‘one-two, one-two’.

“Barney (Rock) brought it to a whole new level and, when it came to fitness, he did the training himself. Brendan (Lowry) brought a whole new dynamic to it. Lorenzo Bracken was the trainer. He was an army man and we had gruelling training sessions, but when they were over you’d feel the better for them. Brendan was fierce unlucky. Again little things went against him. Brendan organised meals after training, we were getting weighed and monitored, stuff like that. Maybe he could be dogmatic, but I had the height of respect for him.

“Luke (Dempsey) was always the successor-in-waiting after his underage achievements. I played league games in his first year, but I picked up Gilmore’s groin injury and that ruled me out of football. I ended up getting married on August 4 that year, the day before Westmeath played Meath in the drawn All-Ireland quarter-final. I watched the replay on telly on my honeymoon in the States,” he adds.

The ensuing two years were less successful for Westmeath. “I was effectively retired in 2003 by Luke, but I decided to attend the trial match under Páidí Ó Sé in Athlone after he was appointed. I wasn’t attracted to aspects of Tomás Ó Flatharta’s man-management methods and I didn’t go on the Sunderland trip when Jack (Cooney) asked me. I don’t regret opting out. Fair play to the lads for going on to win the Leinster, and maybe what Páidí and Tomás brought was what Westmeath needed. They brought a bit of steel into it,” Dermot says.

Dermot replicated the feat of the legendary Mick Carley in the early 1960s by winning consecutive Railway Cup medals in 1996 (as a sub) and 1997 (as an integral member of the team), both under the stewardship of Mattie Kerrigan.

The once-prestigious inter-provincial series is now all but consigned to the history books. “In the mortuary, but not buried or cremated yet,” is Dermot’s take on the competition. He adds: “I’m sure that if Croke Park put their thinking caps on they could resurrect it. There has to be a way of marketing it correctly to get your target audience. There is a place for that competition.”

Turin was Dermot’s hurling club and he wore the red and white colours in the 1997 Westmeath intermediate final, losing out to Ringtown after a replay. On the club football front, his father Tony and Sean Dugdale were on the management team when Dermot won an U14 ‘B’ championship medal with Delvin. He reflects: “That medal has pride of place in my collection, ahead of even the Railway Cup wins.”

In order to play club football at senior level, Dermot tried to secure a transfer for a number of years and he eventually succeeded in joining St Loman’s. “A very good Garrycastle team emerged and Gary Dolan’s goals often broke our hearts," he recalls.

He went on to play a few matches for Killucan when training the team after being persuaded by the late Ber Murtagh. Dermot trained the newly-formed Killucan ladies’ side which won the Westmeath intermediate title at the first time of asking in 2009. He also had a stint in charge of the Killucan men’s team and picks out dual star Paul Greville for a special mention.

On the inter-county front, a two-year spell as manager of the Westmeath minor footballers brought no tangible success. Recalling those years generates mixed emotions for him: “I made some great friends and was delighted that I coached some excellent footballers who moved up to the senior ranks – John Connellan and Kieran Martin, to name just two. Sadly, I also experienced the tragedy of the untimely death of Darren Price RIP.”

A secondary school teacher who returned to his roots, Dermot became principal of his alma mater (now called Columba College, Killucan) in 2017, He is married to Ruth (née Ennis) from the well-known and respected Ballinagore family, and they have four daughters – Caoimhe (17), Aoibhinn (11), Niamh (10) and Róisín (8) (“all football mad”).

Dermot was recently appointed as Westmeath GAA’s Children’s Officer. “I wasn’t afraid of taking it on, but now that I’m in it I see there is an awful lot more to it than I had imagined,” he says.

In conclusion, has he any regrets about the ‘bridesmaid’ tag as detailed above? “Not a bit. I wouldn’t change a thing. Would I do anything different? No, I enjoyed every ball I kicked and every ball I caught,” Dermot responds.

- Gerry Buckley