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15 Feb 2023 by Gilbert Williams

In every generation and in every decade, Cloughjordan has produced some great characters who have brought colour to the village and made daily life that little bit more interesting. Dan Darcy was one such character, a colourful character. He was a familiar presence in the village and was known the length and breadth of Tipperary for his involvement with the GAA, particularly his role as a referee. Since Dan’s sudden death on Saturday,  the tributes have flowed in on the Kilruane MacDonaghs social media pages. One person stated that Dan was one in a million, maybe one in a billion would be more accurate. Another described him as a great neighbour, and to an Irish person, you can pay no greater compliment. Former Tipperary hurler Ken Hogan remarked that Dan was one of the GAA’s great characters, a comment with which few would disagree. It can be said without fear of contradiction that when God created Dan, he broke the mould.

Most would be aware of Dan’s 34 years’ service to the GAA as a referee, but less well known is his very successful playing career. In 1970, he was on the Kilruane U13 hurling team that won the club’s inaugural divisional title in that grade. Three years later, Dan captained the U14 side to win the North and County championships. The same year he was a member of the minor hurling squad that overcame Nenagh to capture the North  crown and he was an invaluable member of the U16 team that won the club’s first title in this competition.  In 1975, he won his second minor medal when MacDonaghs claimed the ‘B’ championship at the expense of Borris-Ileigh.

1978 was a historic year for the club and a memorable year for Dan as he picked up two County and three North medals. He was on the intermediate team that completed a North and County double. The North final against Templederry went to a replay, and Dan was the hero of the hour the second day when he scored the winning goal. “Kilruane Steal the Honours With Last Minute Goal “ was the banner headline in the Nenagh Guardian.  It is worth recalling how the reporter described the winning goal: “Time had almost run its full course and Templederry were leading by two points. As they did in the drawn game, Kilruane pulled themselves together for a last-ditch effort. It was like Custer’s last stand as they stormed the Templederry goal and substitute Dan Darcy stunned the Templederry followers by crashing the ball to the net after a blistering run by Michael Hutchinson.” This goal was so typical of Dan. He was always loitering with intent around the goalmouth, and as so often happened in his career he was the right person in the right place at the right time.

Dan lined out at corner-forward on the U21 hurling team that overcame Borris-Ileigh in the North final. Dan wore the number one jersey on the U21 football side that defeated Sean Treacy’s in the North final and made history with a victory over Loughmore in the County final. It was in the County semi-final that Dan was the hero once more. With time almost up, MacDonaghs were two points ahead when Young Irelands were awarded a penalty, which was to be the last kick of the game. Diving the wrong way, Dan saved the penalty with an outstretched leg. You couldn’t beat him. Incidentally, 1978 was a brilliant year for the Darcy clan because in addition to Dan’s exploits,  Paddy was on the U21 hurling team, Jack captained the U14 hurlers to North and County final victories with Ben, Tom and Ned also on the team and if all that wasn’t enough Tom and Ned were on the U12 side that won the North final. As Johnny Looby might say on Tipp FM, an assload of medals went into the Darcy household in the Windmill that year, by my count a total of seventeen.

Dan had to wait patiently for seven years to win his next medal. In 1985, he was on the junior team that won the North and County Finals. In the County final against Cappawhite, he helped himself to 1-3 from the corner-forward position. In 1986, Dan won a North intermediate league medal. Nine barren years went by without Dan having anything to show for his efforts. In 1995, he came on as a substitute in the North Junior ‘A’ final as the Magpies, captained by his brother Jack, took the spoils.  The following year be played on the Junior ‘B’ team that lost the North final, and he also managed that team. 1996 appears to be the last year he wore the black and white jersey. In a playing career that spanned three decades and lasted seventeen years, he won a total of seventeen medals, a decent haul for any player in any era.

Dan enjoyed his hurling, but it wasn’t life or death for him. Physical training did not appeal to him. On a cold January night, Dan would rather be playing Bingo than trudging up and down the gruelling bank in MacDonagh Park.  He had little appetite for repetitive drills. It was the match that he really relished.  Dan always played in the forwards, and the nearer to the goal, the better. It involved less running.  He was a prolific underage scorer and was no less lethal in the adult grades.  Dan had a great paw and was tremendous at fielding a high ball. He didn’t believe in deftly placing the sliotar in the corner of the net. Dan went for power and blasted the sliotar as hard as he could. The keeper was shown no mercy. Goals were his currency, and he enjoyed nothing more than seeing the net shake. At adult level, he plied his trade mostly in the junior and intermediate ranks, though he played a few senior league games. Dan would like to have played senior championship. However, he considered that there was too much graft and grunt involved in training for senior. Dan enjoyed the less pressurised fare in junior and intermediate, and it didn’t interfere as much with Bingo.

While still playing for Kilruane MacDonaghs, he took up the whistle in 1989. For thirty- four years Dan gave great service to the GAA in Tipperary as a referee. Even after he fell seriously ill at a junior game between Toomevara and Knockshegowna in Moneygall on Friday, 22nd July 2016, he gradually resumed refereeing after a period of recuperation. Dan officiated in all grades at venues near and far and in weather, both fair and foul. He was the man in the middle in numerous finals over the years. Dan refereed his first minor football final as early as 1990 and his first adult final in 1997 when he was in charge of the junior ‘B’ football decider. Among the top games he refereed were the 2004 junior ‘A’ hurling final and the intermediate hurling deciders in 2005 and 2006. In addition to championship and league games, he was constantly in demand for challenge games, tournaments and school competitions. Speaking recently to referees Secretary Philip Kelly, he told me that Dan’s availability was crucial  to the Juvenile Board in completing its mammoth programme of games. He was no less invaluable to Cumann na mBunscol, where he was a popular choice to referee school games.

His willingness to travel long distances to referee and his readiness to answer the call in emergency situations meant that he was in charge of a huge volume of games each year. Dan was generally the first port of call to referee at venues on the periphery of the division. In times of crisis Dan was the man. He was a regular in Tony Reddin Park, Lorrha, the most northerly venue in North Tipperary. Dan usually obliged when requested, but sometimes you can spur a free horse too much, and after refereeing in Lorrha one Monday evening he got a late request to head there again on Wednesday. The former North secretary Marian Minehan recalled Dan’s response: “ Marian, “  he said “ I had to pay for petrol to go there, get choc ices for my umpires on the way home and at the end of the evening I actually owed myself money.”  And still after complaining, he obliged and was back in Lorrha again on the Wednesday evening.

Every referee has his own individual style, and Dan definitely had a unique approach to one of the most difficult jobs in the GAA. He moved around the field at leisurely pace,  seldom bursting into a sprint or rarely breaking into a sweat. Dan had the ideal temperament to be a referee. He was cool and composed and was not easily ruffled. In the most volatile of situations, he remained calm and collected. Abuse from the sideline seemed to flow in one ear and out the other. Dan wasn’t one for brandishing cards like confetti, but when the occasion demanded, he didn’t hesitate to take action. On one occasion he was refereeing a County League match in Clonakenny when a player pulled a dangerous stroke, and Dan felt that he had little option but to reach for the red card. The culprit, in an attempt to plead for some leniency, reminded Dan that he had sent off his brother the previous year. “You are correct and right,” replied Dan, “And I am going to give you the road as well. Off you go!” No messing with Dan.  

During the last few days many stories about Dan have resurfaced. Barney Naughnane recalls a game when he was the manager of Shannon Rovers and Dan was refereeing. Barney was very vocal with his advice to Dan and overstepped the mark. Dan halted proceedings to order Barney into the stand. Barney sank the two hooves into the ground and refused to budge. Dan shrugged his shoulders in exasperation. “Bernard Naughnane, you’re an awful contrary man. I dread to see yourself and Jim Williams on the line. Ye never give me a minute’s peace.” Down the years Barney and Jim were two of Dan’s tormentors in chief, but they all remained the best of friends. On another occasion, Dan was refereeing a Knockshe match, and Tom Bomber Killackey was the manager. Despite Dan playing a generous seven minutes in additional time, Knockshe lost. After the match Dan met Bomber and got his retaliation in first. “ Now Tom, don’t start  blaming me. I couldn’t do any more for you. I had to blow it up, or I wouldn’t get out of here in one piece.” It was safety first for Dan.

He seemed to be ever-present on the street on his daily cycle that was interrupted every few yards as he stopped for a chat. Dan was not shy in expressing his opinion and was a man to be generally avoided if MacDonaghs lost a match. He would give it to you with both barrels in an attempt to provoke a response. The management seldom escaped censure. “Come here a minute,” he would say. “Where did ye get those selectors? They wouldn’t see a change in the weather.” More often than not it was difficult to decipher whether he was speaking in jest or in earnest. However, there is no denying that Dan was a happy man when Kilruane MacDonaghs were going well, and he took immense pride in the achievements of his nephew Cian.

Last Saturday, Dan cycled up the Windmill for the last time. As a young lad,  it was a place where he spent many happy hours hurling on the road. It was poignant that he passed to his eternal reward so near to his childhood home.

Dan had set his sights on starting out for the 35th year as a referee. I rang him a few weeks to see if he was ready for another season. “I’m going to go on for a few more years,” he assured me. “Didn’t Pat Cullen from Loughmore referee into his seventies? I have a while to go to match that.” Sadly, the great referee in the sky called Dan’s name last Saturday. For Dan, the final whistle is blown. He will be missed as referee, and he will be missed in the village, but most of all he will be missed by his family.

On behalf of the Kilruane MacDonaghs Club, I would like to extend sympathy to his wife Joan, his sons Christopher, Daniel and Conal, his grandson Mark, Michelle, his sister Mary, his brothers Billy, Paddy, Jack, Ben, Francis, Ned, Tom, Declan and extended families

Dan was one of a kind. The bed of Heaven to him agus suaimhneas síoraí dó.