Eamonn Deacy's light will never go out. Craving the game rather than the glory, Eamonn is above cringing at the thought of an Aston Villa selection coming to Terryland Park for a celebration of his rich contribution to all things Galway.
Playing competitively until three years ago one of the most remarkable things about Eamonn was how he still yearned to be part of Jodie Curran's West United B team. The joy of crossing the white chalk lines always stirred something in Eamonn. That it was in the Swamp instead of Villa Park didn't matter a jot.
Several years ago before a routine match Eamonn was shooting the breeze. "I get the same joy playing for this team as much as I did playing with Aston Villa. That is the truth and being honest you could travel the world and you wouldn't come across the bunch of lads in this dressing room. Everyone here is a bit mad in a way."
Looking back now it is that small statement that captures the beauty of Eamonn. Understated, sincere, with a real sense of humour Eamonn always gave words of encouragement and was a quiet source of inspiration to those around him.
On the loneliest of February nights across from Conneely's funeral home several of those team members gathered. Thousands filed in to the Deacy family to pay their respects, but 10 yards from the main entrance there was a peculiar mix of pride and pain.
Anyone who knew Eamonn remains honoured to have known such a humble man, but the crushing devastation of his departure has them scrambling for answers. They won't ever truly be found.
Eamonn Deacy was a one off, plain and simple. From an early age a chance is all he wanted and that is why he made an impact everywhere he went. Like most footballing journeys there were more tough than thrilling moments, but it was an adventure. Tony Mannion, an inspiring Galway United manager, frequently remarked 'that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive' and optimism was never far from Eamonn's heart. A lesser soul would have been tortured by the rejection letters, the constant agony of knowing that he had something to give, but clubs were reluctant to take a punt.
Ron Saunders, though, sensed the desire, the burning ambition, the willingness to put a body on the line. Saunders' wife was from Tipperary too so in a sweet twist following a trial with the Villa Eamonn was summoned to the gaffer's office. "My wife is from Tipperary and I hear that is near Galway. I have to sign you so," Saunders joked. Eamonn had been given the nod, it was all he wanted.
Obviously the next couple of years examined Eamonn as a sportsman. At West they still fondly talk about a club trip where they rubbed shoulders with Peter Withe and Gary Shaw, who still have iconic status in the British midlands. On arrival in England, though, the West contingent were given a rare, but stern warning by their hero about rules surrounding the usage of his nickname that wasn't known in England. "Whatever you do, don't call me Chick" was the message. Unsurprisingly the order was obeyed.
An inspiration in the rain
One particularly foul morning at Bodymoor Heath, Villa's training ground with rain spilling from a grim grey sky and a biting cold offering the potential of a postponed training session a legendary sight unfolded. The Villa regulars looked out from the dressing room to see Eamonn, in an old and tattered royal blue St Michael's jersey with the sleeves cut off and a skimpy pair of shorts, commencing his own drills. Maybe the weather doesn't bother those from the west of Ireland, but inside a beaming Saunders informed his other squad members that if he had 14 with the character, guts, and grit of Eamonn Deacy, trophies would be gleaned every year. The session started within a flash as Saunders' coaches ordered the players to join Eamonn, who had a big grin etched across his face.
When Villa's championship medals were being given out a couple of the players noticed that Eamonn hadn't accepted. Saunders told them not be worried, that he had Eamonn's medal himself. On a celebratory bus journey around Birmingham Saunders approached Eamonn, who refused to take the medal feeling he didn't deserve it, that he wasn't worthy.
Nothing could have been further from the truth, Saunders told him and Eamonn tearfully accepted the honour.
One game would have been enough
Ultimately 90 minutes in the Football League would have been enough for Eamonn. "One game was all I really wanted in England. I just wanted to prove to myself that I was able to play there. I could have come home when I had one game played. Once I did that I felt I achieved what I left home for. Of course it was brilliant to win a League and I enjoyed my time at the Villa and then with Derby, but I was just so glad that I had got one game."
Eamonn's time at Derby's former abode at the Baseball Ground was short, but typically not without incident. Away to a young Cambridge outfit Eamonn hadn't played for a while and Peter Taylor, Brian Clough's lieutenant for so long, was in charge of the Rams. Eamonn was put in at left full and inevitably faced with the prospect of a tricky winger, a chore he took care of for the Villa. In the university town Eamonn's brief was to thwart the wide man. "It was a funny game, I was out of breath, I hadn't played for a long time, but I just wanted to impress Peter Taylor. He was encouraging towards me and during that match I was tested. They had a classy little winger, but I kicked and after a shaky start I grew into the game. At one stage the referee called me over and said to me it is a boxing ring not a football pitch that I should be in. Afterwards Peter Taylor shouted to Roy McFarland that ‘I told you about the guts of that Irish boy.’ I laughed at that one" Eamonn later recalled.
Eventually returning to Ireland Eamonn turned down future advances from Derby because Galway was his town and the sterling figure of Joe Hanley was United's mentor. Eamonn then protected Terryland Park's honour for more than a decade with many teams fearing the journey west, aware that an afternoon spent with Jimmy Nolan, John Mannion, Dennis Bonner, and Eamonn Deacy meant the underdogs would be snappy.
And that is what they were, Eamonn quietly minded the youngsters.
Whoever messed with them certainly felt Eamonn's wrath, the physical ante was upped. There is no point shirking the truth, that is the way it was, and it only carved Eamonn's legend further.
In the last few years Eamonn preferred to watch Galway United on the road. While appreciative of the well wishers who shook his hand and told him about his deeds on the field Eamonn usually said to those who knew him 'that he had his pound of flesh'. When United's affairs were discussed and they were undoubtedly dissected in Ernie's Fruit & Veg shop on a daily basis he'd ask for Tommy Shields, his loyal buddy.
The diehards who travelled the country watching United adored Eamonn, and it was a mutual thing. It mattered to him.
To go back where it all started was Eamonn's plan. He was unable to manage a team because 'I couldn't leave out a guy who wanted to play. I wouldn't be able to do that because I know what it is like to sit on the bench. I did that in England so I know the feeling," he would modestly say.
So instead he ended his career with his favourite West B team of the lot, sprinkled with characters he admired like the O'Brien, Beatty, and Grant brothers. Eamonn gave as good as he got stick wise, but he always sought to downplay his contribution as a sweeper. "It is a doddle back there, all I do is organise things, anybody could do it."
Unfortunately that is not the case as nobody could do it in such an unfussy manner. Passing Ernie's on Sea Road will never be the same.
It is currently being avoided by some, but we walk the streets knowing how blessed we were to have encountered the greatest Galwegian of them all.