From a Galway hooker to a Shannon legend. No bad way to begin, as we remember a colossus of a man whose credentials as a Shannon great are equalled by few even though he never took to a playing field in a Shannon jersey. It's amazing to ponder that simple fact and think about how Dr Darragh Little's impact on our club became so enormous.
A fortuitous evening from Shannon perspective over 40 years ago in the clubs traditional heartland, saw this Galway native get become indoctrinated into the club that he would serve as doctor for 38 years. Angela's pub, now known as The Swamp was the genesis of Darragh's association with the club and little did he know fate had decreed that on that particular evening he would be courted by some of the club’s alicakados, and particular Fonsie O’Halloran. An invitation into the snug by Fonsie soon became an invitation to become the Shannon doctor for a senior game the following Saturday and that one game became thousands over the years.
From Darragh's own recollections, his rugby career as a hooker for UCG was less than auspicious , but yet, he went on to be presented with a world cup winners medal in 1998 when Ireland won the U/19 IRB world cup. Again, this was a fortuitous occurrence for Darragh who was a late call up to the backroom staff, but his winner's medal was a source of immense pride to him.
Darragh's devilish sense of humour was coupled with an intelligence that surpassed most of us whose company he shared on many an occasion. He had a depth of knowledge about practically everything that simply put you in awe of that intelligence. Not that he went out of his way to demonstrate his knowledge, it was just that he had an enormous grasp of everything. His measured words were carefully chosen to ensure maximum impact at just the right time. Later on when he joined the executive committee, this trait was demonstrated on plenty of occasions. Amidst the cycle of debate , argument, counter argument and general waffle, Darragh would eventually break his silence and his carefully considered opinion would more often than not be words of immense wisdom that would unlock the case for, or against the topic of conversation .
But it was at pitch side, and in and around ten confines of dressing rooms that he exerted his most influence. He travelled the length and breadth of Ireland with Shannon and was party to practically every major success that we have achieved. The only notch he can't lay claim to be involved with was our 1960 first senior cup win, but from his inauguration as Club Doctor he has seen Shannon win everything to be won at senior level. All Ireland leagues, senior cups and All Ireland cups all had the medical touch of Dr Darragh Little. A coincidence? Surely not.
Sometimes his casual demeanour bellied his thoroughly professional and skill full approach to his work with the club. Darragh was more than a Doctor of medicine to those he looked after in the Club. He was a conscientious confidant for hundreds of players over the years, and his tactile skills were key to many a players' physiological well being, as well as their physical state.
He recalled to me on a few occasions one of his preferred methods of elevating pre match nerves to players who, in their own opinion needed some form of medication to relieve a pain or ache that they perceived themselves to have.
It was a story about coloured pills, a blue one and a red one. To be more specific, a big blue one and, a small red one. The choice was offered with a brief explanation that both achieved practically the same results, but unbeknown to the player, both pills contained about as much medicinal values as a concrete block. Suffice to say he had his regular pre match subscribers to the big blue one whose effects lasted throughout the game. But to be fair to the Doc that anecdote may seem to disparage his true gift as a doctor to any team, but he simply knew how player's body and mind could be synergised.
The Doc was a character of the club, and like all characters their idiosyncrasies are their most endearing features, not in impertinent or disrespectful way though, and Darragh certainly had a few that helped endear us to him.
As a roommate, on more than a few away trips, I always felt the sharp evening, nighttime and morning breeze as Darragh would throw open the hotel windows be it on a balmy spring day or the depths of winter. There was no point remonstrating it was his way or find another room.
The month of November was sacrosanct for Darragh and his favoured tipple would be set aside for those 31 days. He'd be going fine for most of it usually , but some days in November as we set off for a AIL game in a far flung corner of the county you'd get an inkling that he might be best left to his own thoughts as his demeanour would be less than welcoming of a travelling buddy.
His company for a few pints was always immensely enjoyable, and quite often thought provoking with the range of topics as diverse as the nations of the world, but always as the night wore on his stories became more animated and witty. It wasn't uncommon for Darragh to start a story with complete coherence, but as his thoughts raced ahead to the punch line or the funny parts, he would begin at first to giggle and then burst into such raucous laughter that we never actually got to hear the conclusion, which must have been hilarious given the Doc's demeanour.
His longevity in his role as club Doctor is one that is highly unlikely to be unsurpassed, but eventually, after 38 years in the role Darragh decided that his time was up. However, his commitment to Shannon continued and his loyalty to the club continued when he took on the role of President when his great friend Pat O'Connor sadly passed away just months before he could be afforded the highest honour in our club.
It was clear that Darragh was deeply honoured to be our be not only our president, but also to be elected as a trustee of the Club.
Perhaps a clear indication of Darragh' deep and unerring loyalty to Shannon came in his year of Presidency. A major stroke, which for many would signal an end to thoughts of anything other than regaining health, very nearly prevented Darragh from continuing his role as President. But perhaps being President of Shannon and fulfilling its roles was one of the incentives that saw Darragh make a remarkable recovery, if not quite to a 100 % of his capacity.
There was more than a touch of bravery on Darragh's behalf as he took about representing the club, and all the responsibilities his role encompassed throughout the country in his term of office. His humour, dignity and decorum shone throughout All Ireland league clubs as he regaled people with his wit and shear strength of personality.
His year as President of his beloved Shannon RFC was a triumph of character and personal strength that most of us couldn't even come close to.
Shannon RFC he loved, but he was besotted with those closest to him and who shared his most intimate times; his family.
His wife Eileen and daughter Alanna were the source of his unending pride, and any conversation steered toward his beloved family was one where the twinkle in his eye would light the nation. He simply loved these two people whose strength in difficult times enabled and expedited Darragh's recovery from his stroke. As a club, we also owe Eileen and Alanna a great debt of gratitude for their fortitude and bravery and also for allowing us to share in their husband's and father's life.
There's no doubt as to the pride that Darragh and Eileen had when Alanna married another Shannon great a few years ago , David Quinlan. Reluctant as he may have been to relinquish the role as dominant male in Alanna's life, he rested easily that it was a great Shannon man that stole her heart.
There were more than a few good-natured jibs and quips when it was Davey that was first recipient of a beautiful commissioned handcrafted sculpture that Darragh, Eileen and Alanna presented to the club for the annual Club person of the year. Despite the banter , no one begrudged Davey's as the choice that year. That beautiful sculpture will now stand forever as a fitting representation of Dr Darragh's legacy to Shannon RFC.
I started this piece about 3 hours ago, and in truth I could keep going for another 3 hours such is the sheer volume of stories and anecdotes about a great man. If Darragh could have produced a volume of memoirs of his time with Shannon , I've no doubt it would have been a best seller and not only locally. Darragh was man who told stories but more often than not , was the story.
These stories about Dr Darragh Little are as numerous as they are hilarious and over the course of the next few days and beyond people who knew Darragh for far longer than I, will recount them, and laugh at them ,but interspersed with the laughter will be tears for a man that we will all miss sorely.
He was truly a man whose respect people craved because within our club the respect Darragh garnered from everybody was unsurpassed. He was simply loved by the players he tended to, and revered by everyone else that knew him.
To Eileen , Alanna, David and Darragh's family we extend our deepest sympathies and offer any comfort we can in these days of grief and sorrow.
To our Doctor, our friend and leader , we will miss you dearly. Darragh, you were a friend to many and an inspiration to all. Your likes will never be seen again , may you rest in eternal peace; you will never be forgotten.
Reposing in Thompson’s Funeral Home, Thomas Street this Sunday evening from 6.30pm to 8.00pm. Body donated to Medical Research UCC. Family flowers only. Donations if desired to Milford Care.