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10 Aug 2022

Death of a renowned Offaly sports man

Late Tom D'Arcy made big impact in GAA and rugby

Death of a renowned Offaly sports man

Tom D'Arcy, third from left on front row, and the Rhode team that won the Offaly SFC in 1975.

THE death has taken place of a man synonymous with Offaly's big football breakthrough wins in the 1970s, Tom D'Arcy.

A native of Creggan in Ferbane and living at Gloster House, Hill Road, Cloghan, Tom D'Arcy played an important role in Offaly's All-Ireland Senior Football Championship wins in 1971 and 1972.

He was drafted in as physical trainer late in the season in 1971 and his importance to Offaly's big successes has been regularly acknowledged by players over the year. He was a professional, capable, knowledgeable physical trainer, regarded as being “ahead of his time”.

In 1972, he trained the team for the whole year. He was a hard trainer himself, a great athlete with a powerful engine and he expected the players to put in the hard yards in preparation for football. He had brought the squad to the Curragh for a few weeks in the build up to the 1972 season, where they did weights work etc in the Army gym – weights work was certainly not the norm for GAA teams at that time and Offaly's presence in the Curragh was commented on by Kildare people.

He was still a young man at that time, playing competitive football and rugby but he possessed great leadership qualities and an ability to get people to do what he wanted. He was also a keen advocate of the psychology side of the game and he was a very successful trainer of teams in a variety of sports – mainly football and rugby but he also coached in athletics and swimming during a long and very varied life.

He had a different approach and could be somewhat eccentric but a new voice, explaining things in a different way was not a bad thing at that stage.

He led by example himself and people in Rhode remember him training each evening in O'Gara's Field, on Fahy Hill.

He managed and trained the Laois senior football team in the 1970s and 1980s while he was also the Carlow trainer in 1987. He had a great passion for physical training and fitness, got high qualifications in the area and put all this to good use. It also gave him his livelihood. He qualified as a physical education teacher in Strawberry Hill in London – that was before a course was provided in Ireland in Thomond College in Limerick.

He enhanced his experitise regularly, undertaking further studies and getting a masters degree in physical education at Leeds University.

He taught for three years at the Patrician College in Ballyfin before taking up an appointment at the then Carlow Regional Technological College in the mid 1970s. He stamped his imprint on college life for several years, influencing generations of students in a variety of ways. While football and rugby were his big sporting loves, he championed all sports. He was instrumental in basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, ladies football, handball and gymnastics being introduced to Carlow RTC along with many others.

He coached several All-Ireland winning teams in Carlow RTC, ran courses and was an essential part of college life for decades. While he wanted young people playing sport, he spoke about the necessity of concentrating on one or two sports as they approached their late teens.

He played a variety of sports himself but was also true to what he preached and specialised in football and rugby. In Rhode, he and his wife Bernie were very good tennis players, playing at Ballybryan National School – Rhode may be a hotbed of football and it may surprise people to learn that there was a quite active tennis club based at Ballybryan back in the 1970s. He also played racquet ball among other sports.

He is remembered with fondness by the Offaly footballers of the 1970s and he made a positive impact on their lives. From 1975, he trained the Laois senior football team on and off before stepping down in 1981 after they were beaten by Offaly in the Leinster senior football final – there had been occasional rumbles during his time in Laois but he was a very steady influence in the county during a period when they had some really good footballers but couldn't make the breakthrough, mainly because of the excellence of Dublin and then Offaly in those years. He also trained Laois U-21 footballers for periods in those years – he was selectors on some of those senior and U-21 teams and there were times when his only responsibility was training and coaching.

He opted out at the end of 1981 to concentrate on family, work and his own sporting interests. He trained and coached several club teams in Offaly, Carlow, Laois, Wicklow and Wexford, enjoying plenty of success.

He is remembered with great fondness in Rhode. He was an outstanding player as they won the Offaly Senior Football Championship title in 1975. He was the team captain, a tough, driven midfielder while he was also a coach/selector alongside the manager, the legendary Paddy Kerrigan – who later guided Walsh Island to their famous six in a row from 1978 to 1983. 1975 was the start of a long 23 year famine for Rhode and they didn't win the Dowling Cup again until 1998.

He joined Rhode after moving to Fahy Hill with his wife Bernie and became immersed in Rhode GAA Club, playing with them from the early to the mid 1970s - His late wife Bernie, who died prematurely young, was a teacher in Ballybryan NS at the time, hence their decision to live in Rhode. He initially played with St Brigid's in Croghan and then transferred to Rhode, where he was a great addition to their senior football team. He had moved from Rhode to Clonminch Road in Tullamore by 1972 but continued to play with Rhode. His role on and off the field in 1975 is part of Rhode GAA folklore, though his time with the club was a short one.

Interestingly, he never played senior football with Ferbane – college in Strawberry Hills took him out of the area at a young age and he did not feature in any of their big wins in the 1970s. He took up a job in Carlow IT as head of physical education in the mid 1970s and moved down there after that.

He also played senior football with Offaly, without establishing himself at the highest level. He played in the O'Byrne Cup in 1973 and was on the senior panel for a while. Playing mainly at full forward, he won a Leinster Junior Football Championship medal with Offaly in 1972, when he was on the fringes of the senior panel as well as training them – he was playing his club football with Rhode at this stage.

He immersed himself in life in Carlow for years before later moving back to Offaly, in Cloghan. He won two Senior Football Championship medals with Tinryland in Carlow and also coached/trained them. His son Morgan played football for Carlow.

Tom D'arcy was also a brilliant rugby player. He played in the second row for Tullamore, mainly at number 8 for years, combining this and football in the post GAA ban days after 1971. He was a key member of the Tullamore side that won the Provincial Towns Cup in 1976. He switched his allegiance to Carlow after that and won a second Towns Cup medal with them in 1977. He later played with Tullow after a difference of opinion with Carlow. He was the Tullamore coach in 1976 and also coached teams in Carlow.

In football, he was a keen advocate of speed, winning the ball and then keeping possession and using the ball well. This went against the grain in the early 1970s when the traditional catch and kick game was still very much in vogue but he stuck to his principles and was able to bring people with him. During his time training in Strawberry Hill, he spent time studying methods at Arsenal soccer club and he regularly spoke about their systems when coaching football and rugby teams – he talked about getting the ball quickly into the “effective area” between the 14 and 50 yard lines where scores are most likely to emerge from. He told teams about the importance of them transferring the ball from full to half backs, onto wing forwards and into the full forward line.

Some of the language he used is part of the GAA vernacular now but back in the 1970s, he was very much ahead of his time in what he was trying to get teams to do and in what he was saying. There was no disputing his knowledge of physical training and what teams needed to do to get fit.

By all accounts, he was an interesting, unique and driven character. He had a huge force of personality, an endearing way about him. In latter years, as he enjoyed retirement and entered old age, he made a huge positive impact on many young people by providing career guidance advice – he could strike a chord with young people who would listen to what he had to say, and generally do what he recommended. His advice was on the money and his inspirational words were a help to many of them in choosing their career path and college destinations during a period of great uncertainty. He was a source of great encouragement to many and always wanted people to fulfuil their potential, whether in education, sport or life in general.

He was also a published author, writing a well received book called, “The Sport Spectator - A Post Modern Perspective : Sport as a Cultural and Societal Practice”, in 2012. This book was about the origin and development of sport and spectators an its place in modern society.

He had a great interest in psychology and this was evident in the teams he trained, the way he played and in his work life. His academic interests included psychology, sociology, anthropology and sport science. He lectured in Phys. Ed., Psychology, Sport and Health Science, incorporating Curriculum Development and Research Methodology at I.T. Carlow. He pursued his doctoral and postdoctoral research at Manchester Metropolitan University.

He has made a lasting contribution to life in so many areas and will be missed by many, especially his family.

Predeceased by his wife Bernie and sister Josephine (Jo), Tom will be sadly missed and fondly remembered by his loving children, Denise, Morgan, Alan, Suzanne and Louise, grandchildren, Morgan (IRE), Morgan and Taylor (NZ), Jessica, Abby and Olivia, sisters and brothers Mary, Bridie, Jane, Kieran and Patty, extended family and friends.

Tom will repose at his home on Thursday (July 21st) from 5pm to 8pm. Removal on Friday morning, (July 22nd) to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ferbane for Requiem Mass at 11am, which may be viewed on www.ferbaneparish.ie . Interment afterwards in Clonmacnois.

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