Dermot Earley, GAA All Star
Lieutenant-General in Irish Army
From: Gortaganny, Ballinlough, Co Roscommon
Lieutenant-General Dermot Earley was an Irish army officer and revered sportsman, with many GAA fans and experts being of the opinion that he is the best player never to win an All Ireland medal.
Dermot was born in 1948 Gortaganny near Ballinlough in County Roscommon. He went to the local primary school in Gortaganny and then St Nathy's College in Ballaghadreen where he completed his Leaving Cert.
From an early age Dermot played gaelic football with Ballinlough-based Michael Glavey's club in the Kiltullagh parish. He soon came to the attention of Roscommon GAA coaches and became a key part of the Roscommon minor team in 1963 while still only 15.
Earley finished school in 1965 and it was a momentous year for the Roscommon man. Not only did he join the defence forces as a cadet but he also claimed a Connacht minor medal and an All Ireland minor medal when the team progressed through the rounds and overcame Kildare at Croagh Park.
From 1966 onwards Dermot continued to rise to prominance in both sport and his career. He made the transition to under-21 level for his county and soon after he was commisioned as an officer in 1967 and became platoon commander in the Recruit Training Depot at the Currgah. His next step was being appointed Instructor at the Army School of Physical Culture in 1967. Always looking to better himself and get the most out of life, Earley went on to obtain a specialist diploma in physical education in England in 1971.
Climbing the career ladder did not mean Dermot left sport behind. After making his senior debut when only 17, he was involved in his first Connacht final in 1970 but it was not until 1972 that he tasted success as a senior player with his first Connacht medal coming at the expense of Mayo. Roscommon failed to retain their title and went through a barren spell but Earley continued to excel and his effort and talent was recognised when he was presented with an All-Star award in 1974.
A year later Earley served overseas with United Nations Truce Supervision Organization but returned to the county team to take the provincial championship in 1977 and start a four year run that included Connacht titles, another All Star for Earley and ultimately an agonising defeat for the Rossies in the 1980 All Ireland final, the closest Roscommon have come to taking the title for decades.
Earley retired from GAA at the age of 37 and his career took centre stage. He was equally if not more valued in the Army as he was on the football field, rising through the ranks and winning people over along the way. His affable personality meant he was ideal in his role as deputy advisor to the UN secretary general from 1987 to 1991 and again when he was part of UN negotiating teams when dealing with important figures of Iraq and Kuwait. Earley then had further success when he was involved in negotiating an end to the Angolan civil war.
The Roscommon man was always ready for a challenge and took a number of college courses while in the army, all of which contributed to his appointment as School Commandant of the ASPC and his subsequent promotions to Lieutenant Colonel in 1995 and Colonel in 2001. His staggering career was not at its peak yet however as he was made Brigadier General in 2003 and Major General in 2004. He became Lietenant-General in 2007 and led the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. In April 2010 Earley announced his retirement due to ill health and resigned in June. He passed away later that month after being awarded a Distinguished Service Medal with Honour, from Taoiseach Brian Cowen. His funeral was attended by the Taoiseach, government ministers, leading army and GAA figures and the country was united in mourning as well as praise for the man described by former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave as 'one of the great figures of this country.'