IN these extravagant years where 'rotation' is viewed as key it can be pleasant to ponder simpler times when the game brought characters and glory. Aston Villa claimed the old First Division title in the 1980/81 season; amazingly only 14 footballers were used during the campaign. The pitches were poor, the tackles were tough, but the spirit which Ron Saunders engendered in that team lives on.
Last Sunday week the third anniversary mass of one those heroic Villians, Eamonn Deacy, took place in Galway. It was a poignant affair; the sense of loss in the Tribal town hasn't diminished, but the fondness for a great sports figure endures.
Like many others Deacy, an ultimate homebird, had to leave the west of Ireland to fulfil his potential. One appearance as a professional in the Football League was his target. “I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Deacy once remarked with a dictaphone placed on boxes at Ernies Fruit and Vegetable shop on Sea Road in Galway. “ If I got one game I knew I'd be happy. That is what I wanted to do - to get one game in England.” It wasn't limited ambition - his burning desire was to cross the white chalk lines in a match of importance.
The journey wasn't exactly smooth, there was plenty of turbulence. Before Galway had a League of Ireland club Deacy scripted chapters in his fascinating personal story with Sligo Rovers and Limerick. Deacy penned letters furiously searching for a trial in England, and when Ron Saunders gave him an opportunity at the Villa, he had been given all that he ever craved: a chance. “I remember after training when on trial I was outside Ron Saunders' office. All the coaches were positive saying he likes you, he definitely likes you, don't worry, it will all work out. I wasn't sure, though. He eventually asked me to come in. I remember being there and he said, are you from near Tipperary? If you are my wife says I have to sign you,” Deacy joked about the meeting as a deal was promptly agreed.
There was something about Deacy's heart which Saunders and subsequently the Villa squad adored. "He was so proud of the team's success but he was a modest man,” captain Ken McNaught said shortly after Deacy tragically passed away. “I can't highlight enough the contribution he made.” That was the esteem in which he was held.
Deacy cried when Saunders attempted to give him his League winners medal -thinking he hadn't contributed enough to the Villa cause. That most certainly wasn't the case.
A four match loan stint at Derby County followed, the offer a contract with the Rams was available, but Deacy preferred to go home. Playing for Galway United, where he never accepted a single penny deeming it an honour, and working alongside his brother, Ernie, in their famous shop on Sea Road Deacy he inspired a generation. A quiet man who had his own unique way making others believe and dream.