A night fit for a Wicklow le­gend

GAA Pres­i­dent pops in to big bash

Bray People - - SPORT - PETER KEOGH GAA Re­porter

■ WICKLOW'S most dec­o­rated hurl­ing hero Ea­mon Mur­ray cel­e­brated his 80th birth­day with a big party in the Grand Ho­tel Wicklow on Satur­day night.

Top­ping the guest list at the func­tion was GAA Pres­i­dent Liam O'Neill who spoke in glow­ing terms of Ea­mon's ca­reer on the play­ing fields of Ire­land and Lon­don.

There too to of­fer the con­grat­u­la­tions of all Wicklow Gaels was the former chair­man Mick Ha­gan. Wicklow's Cen­tral Coun­cil rep Jackie Napier, a long time col­league of Ea­mon's on hurl­ing com­mit­tees, also spoke on the night.

Ea­mon Mur­ray started his hurl­ing ca­reer in his na­tive Avoca and won his first hurl­ing cham­pi­onship at Ju­nior level in 1950 at the ten­der age of 17. He was a star player on the one and only Avoca team to lift the SHC in 1953 but then as now the em­i­grant ship was beck­on­ing.

In 1955 he packed his bags and headed off to Lon­don to work on the build­ings. Billy Lawless and Sean O'Far­rell tried to per­suade him to stay. “They asked me not to go yet, that if I stayed as I might get on the Le­in­ster Rail­way Cup team. But the pa­pers were scream­ing come to Lon­don if you want to win All-Ire­land medals,” he said with a smile.

He spent the next 40 years of his play­ing ca­reer in Lon­don where he joined the Brothers Pearse club. He holds a num­ber of records set in that city.

First of all he is the only player to have won six Se­nior hurl­ing cham­pi­onships with the club and also won six Se­nior hurl­ing leagues. His big­gest achieve­ment of all was win­ning six All-Ire­land medals in Ju­nior and In­ter­me­di­ate grades, five with Lon­don and one with Wicklow. In fact Ea­mon played in 13 All-Ire­land hurl­ing fi­nals in all, that is count­ing re­plays.

When he re­turned to Ire­land in re­tire­ment in 1995 he again joined forces with his old club in Avoca.

Now while re­tire­ment to Ea­mon meant re­tire­ment from his nine-to-five job, it cer­tainly didn't in­clude re­tire­ment from the sport he loves so dearly.

He won a Ju­nior B cham­pi­onship with Avoca in 2000 and a Ju­nior A cham­pi­onship in 2001, a play­ing ca­reer at adult level span­ning 51 years. He cap­tained the Wicklow's Ju­nior team that beat West­meath in the Le­in­ster fi­nal of 54, a first ever win for the Garden County.

Ea­mon also had a ca­reer as a ref­eree of qual­ity. Top of the matches that he likes to talk about was three hurl­ing fi­nals in Wem­b­ley.

He also con­tin­ued ref­er­ee­ing when he re­turned to Ire­land and in fact ref­er­eed his last match just two years ago; that surely should have been Ea­mon's cue to re­tire from the game.

Not a bit of it! Ea­mon still runs the line when the oc­ca­sion de­mands and reg­u­larly dons the white coat to do um­pire in Aughrim and other venues through­out the county.

Ea­mon at­tributes his long and suc­cess­ful hurl­ing ca­reer to the fact that he never smoked or drank.

Off the play­ing field Ea­mon has picked up very pres­ti­gious awards. Head of that list has to be a re­mark­able dou­ble.

He was se­lected on Wicklow's Team of the Mil­len­nium while in Lon­don he was also se­lected on Lon­don's Team of the Cen­tury where he was in the com­pany of play­ers from most of the top hurl­ing coun­ties in Ire­land.

In fact he was the only player from what you could de­scribe as a sec­ond grade county to be so hon­oured.

He re­ceived the Hall of Fame Award in Wicklow and a B & I and Ir­ish Post Awards in Lon­don.

Ea­mon was also a use­ful foot­baller and won a num­ber of county ti­tles in Lon­don. One of his fond­est sto­ries was play­ing with his grand­son in a foot­ball match be­fore he re­tired.

One of my fond mem­o­ries of the man was of a day when he was a fully togged out lines­man at a match in Aughrim.

Dur­ing a break in play he slipped over to where I was sit­ting and handed me an en­ve­lope.

It was an in­vi­ta­tion to his 70th birth­day party the fol­low­ing week.

Ten years on Ea­mon could well have re­peated that ex­tra­or­di­nary feat if the oc­ca­sion arose.

They don't make them like Ea­mon any more!

Ea­mon and Jean Mur­ray with GAA Pres­i­dent Liam O’Neill at Ea­mon’s 80th birth­day party in Wicklow Town.

Ea­mon per­form­ing one of his many roles within Wicklow GAA over the years.

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