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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Helping people 'at their most vulnerable' as a guard and Joe Brolly's loss to the Sunday Game

Cork legend Tony Davis talks to The42 after his retirement last week.

THE EARLY DAYS of retirement from the guards haven’t unfolded as Tony Davis would have liked.

tony-davis-1990 Tony Davis won All-Ireland titles with Cork in 1989 and 1990. Source: Alan Betson/INPHO

He first stepped into the profession on 10 March 1984, driven by a simple ambition to help and protect the people of Cork.

A corny thought, he says now, but that was the fibre of his mindset at the time. Last Friday was his last day in the force, and he marked his exit the modern way – with a lovely message on Twitter.

“My last day working as a member of An Garda Síochána, some leave to take, 36 years ago this week I came to Cork,” he began.

“Thanks to all my colleagues current and past and most particularly the people of Cork. Another big challenge facing us, listen to health professionals stay safe, Slan.”

A popular GAA man who was part of that All-Ireland-winning Cork brigade of 1989 and 1990, the positive vibes poured in after he posted his message. Even the Fianna Faíl leader Micheál Martin replied with a tribute to Davis.

Davis doesn’t have any major plans for his golden years yet, although a trip to New York was supposed to be the first stop-off as a retired man. The family were heading over to visit his eldest son Jamie and take in the Big Apple’s version of the St Patrick’s Day parade.

But as Davis alluded to in his tweet, a big challenge is facing us all. That challenge is Covid-19.

“The bigger picture,” Davis tells The42, echoing the views of everyone that our health and safety is paramount at the moment.

“We decided not to go. My wife’s Dad is older and my parents are older. I just couldn’t go and take a chance. We’ll have to suck that up as well.”

Davis is a selector with his O’Donovan Rossa club in Skibbereen, but that aspect of his life is also on ice for the moment. 

All GAA activity has been suspended until 29 March, following an announcement from the association. That includes matches and training sessions for all age grades.

Similar to his attitude about cancelling his holiday, Davis can only commend the GAA for imposing this blanket ban. However, stalling the fixtures calendar poses some interesting questions for the GAA about how the rest of the season will look.

“It’s the welfare of everybody,” says Davis. “The big problem I feel now is you have the month of March off. April is supposed to club month and you’re starting championship in May. So this kind of throws the whole thing out of kilter really.

“If people go by it, and they should, it means teams will be starting in May with no training really.

Otherwise they’ll have to rearrange the club fixtures which would discommode about 95% of the players of the country. It’s a tough one but they had no choice, they had to do the right thing.”

Davis is grateful of the experience he had during his time as a guard. He was a crime prevention officer during the last portion of his career, but he occupied various roles and policed in various places over the years.

He was in Dundalk for a spell and taught for two years in the Templemore Garda College.

The job blended well with his football commitments too. “That was the beauty of it,” he recalls. In fact, Davis remembers the 80′s as a time when An Garda Síochána was recruiting in huge numbers.

The influx brought in some high-profile inter-county players, including the deceased John Kerins who was the goalkeeper on that 1990 Cork team. Along with being his team-mate, Kerins was a colleague of Davis.’

Kerry legend John Egan was also a guard, and the strength of their team was comparable to that of an inter-county outfit. All-Ireland inter-firm titles followed for the law enforcers, according to Davis.

joe-mcnally-and-vinny-murphy-with-tony-davis Davis in action against Dublin in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: ©INPHO

Davis looks back on his days as a guard fondly, but of course, the work brought up some troubling experiences too.

Working in the guards, you meet people at their most vulnerable,” he begins. “You meet people who might only need assistance once in their life, and if you can make any bit of a difference at that stage, that’s what it’s all about.

“That’s why I joined the guards all those years ago. It might sound corny, but that’s why I stuck at it. You’re in a privileged position to be able to help people out when they need you, and that’s important.

“Where I was, which was beside the crime unit, they saw and came across awful stuff. They go to all the scenes of the serious crimes and they just brush it off. I suppose you learn to cope with that. 

“It is quite challenging, but generally, I had a fantastic time in the guards. I made the most of it, and met great colleagues and people.”

This writer’s earliest memories of Davis are not of his rampaging runs up the field from the Cork backs, but of him in a suit in the Sunday Game studio.

For almost 20 years, he was a regular face on their football panels, and a mainstay of their coverage. It started out in 1994 when he was asked to be on duty for the All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Leitrim.

It was, as Davis recollects, “a chastening experience” but it was also the day he first saw future star Jason Sherlock illuminate the stage in the minor game.

I was up in the crow’s nest with Michael Lyster. Michael was talking and I was trying to lip read him because it was just a box up in the scaffolding. You couldn’t hear him, there were no ear pieces and I was looking at him thinking, ‘Jesus, what’s he asking me?’

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“It was Jason Sherlock’s first day in Croke Park, he was playing that day. He stood out a mile, he was top class.”

Davis enjoyed the camaraderie with his Sunday Game colleagues up until he decided to step away from punditry in 2015. Being at the coalface of some pivotal moments in GAA history was exciting for him.

He gave his due diligence to the hard work when it was required, but all in all, lending his expertise to the programme was just great fun.

darragh-maloney-and-tony-davies Davis in the commentary box alongside RTÉ's Darragh Maloney. Source: James Crombie

Davis misses the buzz of the match-day occasion of course, but it was time to move on. He wanted to give more time to his children and start attending the games they were involved in. And the feeling of no longer being a recently retired player fed into his reasoning to step down as well.

“I think you have to call it as you see it, but you can’t make it too personal,” he replies when asked for his thoughts on the perception of modern-day punditry being less honest.

I do not like when it’s personal. These are amateur players, both girls and guys, and what you say can have an affect on their private lives for going for a job or something like that.

“A lot of these kids are only in their formative years in going for interviews. You can comment on style of play and stuff like that but I don’t think it should be that personal.

“I’ve an issue with that. I don’t like that.”

The mention of these personal verbal attacks inevitably leads to a conversation about Joe Brolly.

The 1993 All-Ireland winner has often been accused of being the chief offender here.

Davis, however, is a big fan of his former colleague in punditry, and feels he is a huge loss to the Sunday Game following his departure last year.

“Joe was a once off, he’s a very bright guy. He sees a different world to a lot of people. He’s very bright, a very interesting character. He brings a lot of entertainment to something.

“He thinks very deeply about the game and has a lot of good points to make. But again, I don’t like personal stuff. I don’t agree with that.

Of course he’s a loss. Even if you met Joe, he’s entertaining, without even trying. Joe has a brilliant mind. He goes places where he doesn’t even know he’s gonna go himself and that’s very interesting.

“It makes you think about the game. Joe brings up a point and he goes on and on. You think where the hell he’s going or does he know himself? He does bring up a lot of very pertinent points.

dessie-dolan-and-joe-brolly-on-the-sunday-game-championship-draw Joe Brolly will no longer be involved in the Sunday Game's coverage. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“And I like his attitude to community. I like his attitude to the GAA, to amateurism. I agree with an awful lot of what Joe says. Now I disagree with some of what he says as well but I do agree with an awful lot of his points.”

Davis’ boots are long in the hot press by now and his Cork jersey has been passed on.

He would love to still be playing the game as “everything after playing is an anti-climax,” he laments. The evolution of sports science is something he would loved to have experienced as a player as well as the natural changes that have developed in the game of Gaelic football.

Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton is the most influential player in this respect, according to Davis.

The only thing he worries about is whether today’s player is truly enjoying the game the way his generation did. The idea of wrapping a person’s life in the all-consuming nature of modern sport isn’t healthy, he feels.

As for that infamous sending off incident in the 1993 All-Ireland final against Brolly’s Derry, well he’s happy for the Derry fans who knock lots of fun out of it.

“They love it but sure that’s life. I got sent off that day. Maybe I shouldn’t have been sent off. Maybe there’s other times I should have been sent off.

But the worst part of that was my brother Don was playing that day at wing forward and he never won an All-Ireland after that. That hurts me hugely, probably more than me not winning an All-Ireland in ’93. But that’s the way it goes. I kind of feel responsible for us not winning that game.

“You could say I legitimsed Brolly and gave him an All-Ireland medal,” he laughs. “They wouldn’t accept that in Derry.

“But they had a great team back then and we would have known them from playing them at minor U21. I’ve some great friends up in Derry.”

Like everyone else, Davis is in something of a limbo at the moment. But he reiterates that the bigger picture must prevail. He’ll take the next step in retirement when it’s safe to do so.

“It hasn’t been very relaxing over the last couple of days,” he says. But hopefully I’ll enjoy the summer. We’ll eventually get back to playing football and all the rest of it.

“And hopefully start a new chapter in September.”

Originally published at 08.00

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