April 03, 1992
Philip Danaher - a great all rounder
Athlete supreme and a man apart
These are busy days in the life and times of Philip Danaher. Business meetings, interviews, games, training sessions fill the hours in a whirl of frantic activity that makes the 26 year old Limerickman occasionally long for even a few days respite, far from the maddening crowd.
But life has been good to him recently. In February, he led Limerick Rugby Club, Garryowen, to victory in the All-Ireland League. Just over a week later he was made captain of the Irish team that played France in Paris. A rare catalogue of distinctions for a man who also knows the feeling of stepping out to play for Limerick - in a FOOTBALL final. Truly a unique occurrence. At least in recent times, Danaher is quick to admit that football in the county is very much the poor relation when it comes to grabbing media attention and so on. Hurling was always THE game. And until last summer, when they reached their first Munster Final since 1965, the Limerick footballers were looked upon as little better than a joke.
Yet, Danaher believes that this was not always the fault of Limerick footballers themselves or their lack of ability. Rather the Shannonsiders, like many others were strait-jacketed in a stale, over used "traditional" system that was swept aside by the advert of the open draw. The liberation of the oppressed began.
The open draw, Danaher believes, made a "big difference" in helping the lesser powers like his native county achieve something that would previously be regarded as a pipedream. "Before this we would meet Kerry and Cork in the first round of the championship and they would be after getting to the final stages of the National League. They would be well motivated, very fit and well-looked after, but we would only have a few weeks training behind us and we were never able to compete. We were just a first round offering basically."
The difference, the crucial difference now, he thinks, is that Limerick and the other counties such as Clare and Tipperary are being given the chance to get in two to three months hard training before meeting either of the two big guns. As happened to Limerick last summer. And even though they were eventually defeated by Kerry in the final, they led for long stretches of the game and were only, eventually, overcome in the last stages. In the end, it took a mighty effort from the Kingdom to extinguish the dream. "I genuinely felt last year that we could have won. Anyone who looks at the Munster Final will see that we could have come out on top. And if we did win, we had nothing to lose against Down and who knows what might have happened."
Danaher explores such possibilities while quickly consuming a light lunch in Limerick city's George Hotel. Memories and ideas race from his mind. Visions are created. He sees last year's Munster Final appearance as the first step towards greater things for Limerick. "The standard of football in the county is very high, particularly out in West Limerick. There are fine, skilful footballers around. People like Danny Fitzgerald, Tom Browne, the Leonards, Paddy Barrett. All very good individual players, but if they are organised properly and blended with the young players coming up, there is no reason why Limerick cannot make further progress."
Danaher only started playing senior football for his native county last year, when the new manager and former Kerry full back, John O'Keeffe, called him into the squad. The phone call was the direct result of a series of impressive displays that helped his club Abbeyfeale, win the intermediate county championship.
Long before that, Danaher was a well-known name to sports fans throughout the country. In 1988 he reached the pages of the national newspapers when he was chosen on the Irish international rugby team to face Scotland. It was the first of ten caps. Since his early teens, both rugby and gaelic football have been vying for the player's attentions. His strength and pace, vital attributes in both codes, eagerly sought after.
Brought up in the "sporting mad" town of Abbeyfeale, Danaher was initially drawn to gaelic football, playing with the local underage teams, and winning county under 14 and 16 championships with Fr. Casey's, Abbeyfeale. He was always regarded as the backbone of these sides. The fact that the town lay almost exactly on the Kerry/Limerick border certainly helped to ensure that football and not hurling would be the game that local youngsters would be attracted to. He also played badminton at national level.
But young Danaher's attentions were further diverted when he started attending St. Munchins College in Limerick city - an institution where the students are encouraged to play rugby, particularly those that showed ability and the right temperament. The Abbeyfeale lad prospered in the game and found himself on the Irish Schoolboy's team. But in the spring, when the rugby season ended, football took over.
After his family moved to live in Duagh (they still run their family business in Abbeyfeale), just over the Kerry border, Danaher started playing for the local club in 1983. He also lined out for the local club divisional side, Feale Rangers, helping them to win a minor county championship under the coaching guidance of former Kerry star, Jimmy Deenihan.
Danaher was chosen on the Kerry minor team - Cork beat them in the Munster Championship. The previous year he had been picked for the Limerick minors. He later won a Kerry county under 21 medal with Feale Rangers and played in the Kerry Senior Championship also with Feale Rangers, which is one of the Divisional teams in north Kerry. Work in the insurance business brought him to Dublin for a time, where he played for Landsdowne before renewing his connections with Garryowen and Abbeyfeale. Each summer for the past few years, Danaher has returned to play for the town he was brought up in - "I have to, otherwise they would kill me!" Transferring back to Fr. Caseys in '89, he helped the club win the West Limerick Senior title in 1990 and the county intermediate title in '91, after a lapse of 24 years. But increasingly, he has been finding it difficult to fulfil his commitments with his clubs in both rugby and football, as well as the international rugby team and the Limerick inter county side.
It is not simply a matter of time - rather one of wear and tear of the body. It is the classical dilemma of the dual player and increasingly the demands of international rugby are becoming more intense. This year, he feels certain that he will have to make a choice. Danaher, as captain, is already chosen for the Irish squad that makes the trip to New Zealand in May, leaving him little time to prepare himself for a championship run with Limerick. "I can't see myself being able to meet the demands of playing for Limerick at inter county level this year, although I will be playing for the club. I just would not be able to give the commitment needed for inter-county football."
The constraints of time aside, Danaher derives huge enjoyment playing both games, finding that in many ways they compliment each other with the switching between the codes in winter and summer helping to keep him at a high level of physical fitness. But the nature of the two games demand that the requirements are different. "Rugby is more physical from the point of view that you get guys running at you and running into you, while other guys might engage in stomping or something like that. It is interesting that during the World Cup Noel Mannion and myself did an interview and since he played inter county football for Galway and I played in a Munster Final, we got round to talking about the physical demands of both gaelic and rugby. He was saying that he did not find the difference all that great because as a forward he would be moving all the time anyway. But as a back, I would find the constant movement in gaelic football much more difficult."
One skill that Danaher found impossible to master was high fielding - a graceful skill that he regards as "a fine art". "Last summer playing with Limerick, all I ever did was break balls because I could never get the coordination to get up and get the ball and catch it cleanly."
The conductor of that World Cup interview was Colm O'Rourke, who Danaher regards as "a smashing fellow and superb footballer." "I was a great admirer of that Kerry team in the seventies and early eighties. I thought that Johnny Egan was a very skilful player, while Dublin's Tony Hanahoe was not a spectacular player, but I felt that he was a good leader and organiser around the park, but O'Rourke is the best of the whole lot of them - a class player. His brain power gets him through a great deal of work."
The Limerickman believes that the training and fitness standards required for an international rugby match are "just as severe" as those required before a major inter county game such as the Munster final; although he points out that there would be few club games leading up to a Munster Final, which is not always the case with an international. But while Danaher is aware, and grateful, of the opportunities that both rugby and gaelic football have given him to travel and meet people, he is also acutely aware of the pressures that he and other top class amateur sportsmen face. The sense of achievement can be great but there is a price to pay. "It is a great thrill and honour to play for your county or country but at the same time, you are putting yourself under intense pressure, as I am sure the Meath and Dublin players, for example, felt last summer. After all, it is only supposed to be a hobby, and an amateur sport, but if you don't produce the goods you will read on Monday morning that you are the greatest eejit out. Nobody likes to read these things. You shouldn't pay too much attention, because if you do, you will only hurt yourself."
Danaher speaks with a note of bitterness, mindful perhaps of the harsh criticism thrown at the Irish team recently. But it is not only attached to rugby. "You find it in every sport. They will cut you apart. That's the way of the media - that's how they make their money. You are a hero today, gone tomorrow. It's fickle, fickle."
But despite the pressures, Philip Danaher continues to seek even greater glory in his sporting life. He is glad to have been part of the revival of Limerick football, earnestly hoping that it won't be another twenty five years before the county appears in another Munster Final. He feels sure it won't.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
3rd April 1992
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