Creating greatness all in a day’s work for gentleman Murray

1996 was some year for me. My first full summer with a powered wheelchair, Meath winning the All Ireland and da getting our first van which meant the power chair could be brought everywhere. That hadn’t always been the case.

Of greater significance than any of the above, however, was the construction of the flat which is now home, office and the centre of my world. It will hardly come as a surprise to many that most of those involved in the building of the extension were steeped in GAA.

Beginning with main contractor Cyril Maguire – Meath Hurler of the Year 1978. Then, our electrician was Mick Costello, Leinster SFC winner 1970. On plumbing duty was Dominic Reilly, who would go on to be Meath Hurling Committee Chairman.

Christy Ryan (Summerhill) and Damien Dixon (Moynalvey) put parochial rivalry aside to install the kitchen while working with Cyril at the time was his cousin Trevor Maguire. A Kilmessan hurler himself and brother of the brilliant but luckless jockey, Adrian.

However, tonight it’s our tiler to whom we pay homage. The company may have been called Murray Tile Creations, but, none other than Eamonn Murray was creator-in-chief. Yes, that Eamonn Murray!

Even then he was manufacturing magnificence. Naturally, perhaps, all of the lads were kept in touch with after the job was done. Either in person or just following the progress of those who were still involved in sport.

Eamonn Murray brought Meath from the doldrums to the pinnacle of Ladies Football

What is possibly eight years ago, Eamonn re-appeared on my radar. At that stage, the Boardsmill clubman was, I think, in conjunction with my friend and colleague Fergal Lynch, looking after county underage teams. And, relatively speaking, the success they engineered made the Cavan native the obvious choice when last a vacancy appeared for a Meath Ladies senior manager.

Throughout the 30-plus years yours truly has been properly attuned to all things GAA, the fortunes of the Meath lady footballers have oscilated wildly. From the breakthrough years, driven by players such as Anne-Marie Dennehy, Dearbhla O’Caroll, Christine Fagan and Dorothy McGoldrick, to a period of consolidation.

That being achieved during the tenure of stars such as Irene Munnelly, Grainne Nulty, Elaine Duffy, Ger Doherty and Mena and Mary Sheridan. Then, when the passage of time led to them relinquishing the baton, the county’s fortunes hit the skids to the nth degree.

Mary Sheridan pictured with her children on the occasion of her retirement in 2020

With the result that when Eamonn Murray assumed the reins, things were at the lowest ebb which couid be recalled during my lifetime. Not that efforts weren’t made by some great coaches along the way to improve their plight.

Individuals like Lar Wall, Paula Cunningham, Diane O’Hora and Martin Connolly, all of whom had been successful in managerial roles elsewhere. In some ways, mind you, Eamonn’s appointment was a long time coming.

Moreover, given the success he had brought to the county at underage level, an upturn in fortunes was always likely for the senior team. That said, it was desperately needed at the time too. It’s not that long ago since a Meath amalgam only managed three points in a match against Tipperary.

However, even allowing for the fact that things could only get better when Eamonn took on the job, Hans Christian Andersen would have got hard to script what ensued thereafter.

In so many ways, for me at least, it mirrored the transformation men’s football in the county was enveloped in once Sean Boylan was appointed in October 1982. Except in many ways it was even greater than that.

With the best will in the world, Ladies Football hasn’t always been afforded the respect it was entitled to and deserving of. Not just in Meath either. Yes, the addition the addition of sponsors like Lidl, TG4 and, locally, Kepak, have made an enormous difference, but, the thing is, there have to be the structures to instigate and rudiments of success in place to attract the backing of big businesses like those mentioned above.

One feeds into the other. But, while the levels of success which have materialised has been unprecedented, it was by no means an instant hit. Not only were they in the lower realms of the National League, those in green and gold had slipped to Intermediate level for the Championship.

Restitution in the early season competition was attained with considerable aplomb as successive promotions were achieved. When it came to summer fare, though, there was no such smooth sailing. Successive All Ireland Final reversals were incurred at the hands of Tyrone and Tipperary respectively.

If ever there was an embodiment of the old adage ‘What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger’ it has to be the journey Eamonn and his players have brought the entire county on over the past half dozen seasons. In particular, cast your mind back to 2020.

The entire world, rightly or wrongly, was shut down due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Thus, the return of GAA activity towards the back end of the year literally was a case of Christmas coming early. That would’ve been good enough in itself but, from a personal perspective, the victory of our ladies over Westmeath meant so much more than the mere result of what transpired on the field.

Now, for most sides who have just gained promotion, consolidation at the higher level would be achievement enough for the first few seasons, never mind their first season up. Then again, this Meath group aren’t most teams. Or they weren’t, until the grass seemed greener on the other side.

So, in the early part of 2021, their progression to Div. 1 of the NFL would have been considered a good enough season’s work for many sides. But no, thanks to goals from Emma Duggan in the All Ireland semi final and final, magnificent Meath dismantled the empire which Cork and Dublin had built between them and claimed the Brendan Martin Cup for the first time.

Under normal circumstances, any team could be forgiven for having a hangover – in whatever manner you wish to take that – after winning an All Ireland. Never mind a team winning their first. Consider, however, that Meath won the Intermediate All Ireland Intermediate in December of 2020 and, more or less, played straight through until September 5th 2021 when first they got their mits on Brendan Martin’s trophy for the first time.

Emma Duggan has delivered in big games for both club and county in recent years

While the Meath ladies may have had experience of winning an All Ireland and dealing with all which that entails, capturing the biggest gong of all is a completely saucepan of gravy.

No matter, this remarkable group of sports people carried on where they left off once the 2022 campaign got going. Which, quite remarkably, culminated in them defeating Donegal and claiming the silverware in their first year at the top table in the NFL.

***

It’s hardly a major shock that anything revolving around sport and farming will forever be tinged with a certain sadness since da’s death last year. Perhaps most especially the success enjoyed by Eamonn’s erstwhile charges.

Firstly because of the personal connection to the manager, but, equally if not even more so, the presence of Emma Duggan on the Meath team. You see, for quite a few years, the Dunboyne Ladies teams played their matches on the local secondary school pitch which across the road from our house.

Sadly, like far too much land around the place – including some very close to home – it has been or will be soon shamefully swallowed up by development.

Back in the day, da would ramble across the road if there was a match on and my niece Niamh was playing. Liam Duggan was a player he greatly admired from the time he joined our club in 1995, and it happened that, one evening, he met Liam at a match Niamh was playing.

At which point he informed da that his daughter, Emma, was playing. I think it was U-12 and she was only nine, but, suffice to say, the boss came home and declared she was “The best juvenile footballer, male or female, I’ve ever seen”.

For someone who was then 80 and had been going to matches since 1943, that was a fair mouthful. I can only wonder what he would have made of the progress Emma – and the Meath Ladies collectively – have made in the last few seasons.

From the perspective of the occupant of this seat, I actually do wonder are their sufficient words to articulate the lift to often belaguered spirits Eamonn and the ladies have provided. Never more so than in December 2020.

Though maybe most especially, they not only got me back into going to matches in Croke Park but also reminded a soul of what it was like to see a Meath team win in the big field again.

Catchy, amusing flags, banners and signs have always been part of the razzmatazz of GAA. From glorious days past I recall such gems as ‘Mick Lyons Ate My Hamster’ and ‘Meathmen Do It For 70 Minutes’.

It will be admitted there was a temptation to make my own sign reading “Eamonn Murray Tiled My Bathroom! ” but never got around to it. His work for us was only one of many beautiful creations woven in Murray Magic and for that An mBainisteoir is assured of his place in the annals of GAA history. Thank you Eamonn.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: