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It's in the genes as Daly faces his final frontier

By Declan Bogue

Published 10/10/2015

Tiarnan Daly soloing upfield. DP84
Tiarnan Daly soloing upfield. DP84

Last Friday, Fermanagh and Derrygonnelly Harps full-back Tiernan Daly found himself putting football boots into his kitbag, thinking ahead of the county final when he would be detailed to mark Roslea's Sean Quigley, when his phone buzzed with a text.

Damian McGovern, a pillar of the club, had died in an industrial accident outside Enniskillen. Naturally, the game was off.

The father-of-four was the type of clubman that every club requires, needs, and makes no apologies for taking advantage of their generosity. No wonder that well over 3,000 people alone were wearing the Harps colours at his funeral last Monday.

"He was a man of the community, a true Gael," recalls Daly now. You go from a period of jubilation, getting ready for a Championship final and then, bang. Everything is brought back down to earth.

"The whole town turned out (for his funeral). The town was decked out in the colours, they had the bunting up for the final and it was an immense scene to see the community spirit."

Tomorrow, the final is refixed for Brewster Park, with throw-in at 3.30pm. There will be eerie similarities to the 2012 final, with Lisnaskea Emmets mourning the loss of their inspirational captain Brian Óg Maguire a couple of weeks beforehand.

In his studies, Daly deals with the certainties of science, as a final year student doing a human genetics undergrad in Trinity.

This revelation opens up an avenue of conversation not common between journalists and inter-county players.

He plays it down with: "A lot of it goes over my head", before parking the unnecessary modesty: "It's like the idea of personalised medicine, which will be coming in within the next five, ten years.

"It's the idea that every drug you are taking will be tuned to what your genetics are. You might be predisposed to not being able to break down a certain protein, so a certain drug will not work on you."

You get the picture.

He is no feckless student. it takes discipline, dedication and a love of place to make the thrice-weekly commute to play for your club.

Derrygonnelly are one of those clubs that refuse to wait around for a hand out. Several years ago, and with help from their own fundraising committee, 'Harps For Tomorrow', they built their own state-of-the-art clubrooms, to go along with their second pitch.

But of all the clubs in Fermanagh, Derrygonnelly have suffered most from emigration, with no fewer than 18 players having transferred out over the last five years.

"We haven't been unscathed," Daly agrees.

"The likes of Daniel Ward and Aidan Gallagher who were on the last winning team in the Championship, have left now. We are slowly building back from that, but we are in a good place now."

Modern technology provides such exiles with a means of keeping in touch with tomorrow's game, and how Daly keeps tabs on Quigley in a repeat of the 2009 county final, the last one the Harps featured in. If one club have a certain something on Roslea - winners of four of the last five New York Cups - it's Derrygonnelly with their head-to-head wins in '09, and in 2012.

When he embarks upon the two-and-a-half hour journey from Dublin to Derrygonnelly for training, he has several TED talks downloaded to brush up on the cutting-edge thinking on technology, science, art and culture.

Unprompted, he begins rattling out praise for David Epstein's 'The Sports Gene', a book examining genetic variations and mutations that have allowed athletes to perform at the highest level.

"There was a study within on one of the Winter Olympics athletes who did cross-country skiing. They found that he had a particular gene that allowed him to deal with higher levels of lactate in his blood. That was a natural thing that he had," he describes, before asking rhetorically: "Can you then genetically modify through gene therapy to allow for a patient to have this for four months, so that they can perform at this high level?"

An inquiring mind like this will always have work, but he reckons he will be at least another year in education, believing that an undergrad course merely "scratches the surface" of what he wants to know.

More than likely, he will end up in England or America. It's the type of degree that travels well. But for now, he will deal with the science and the risk-assessment of the full-back's life. Representing Derrygonnelly. Representing Damian McGovern.

The Ulster Hurling Championship has reached the last four stage with two intriguing semi-finals up for decision tomorrow. Slaughtneil take on Ballycran in Dungannon, while Antrim champions Ruairi Óg Cushendall take on the unfancied Middletown of Armagh at Owenbeg. Both games get under way at 3.30pm.

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