Murray touched by impact of Meath Ladies football team
By Paul Keane
Eamonn Murray's work as a tiling contractor takes him into houses, building sites and businesses all around Meath on a daily basis. Since guiding the county to a maiden All-Ireland success last September, at the expense of raging favourites Dublin, it's taking a lot longer to get through his normal activities.
Old and young, floating fans and long suffering supporters, they've all been taken by the county team's remarkable rags to riches story and Murray has been equally moved by the response.
One touching story which he feels compelled to tell sticks in his mind.
It's about a Meath man, Des O'Reilly, who lived in Limerick for many years and passed away shortly after the Royal County's quite incredible All-Ireland win.
"I'm going to tell you a quick little story about a man from Limerick that sent me a letter before the Cork match, thanking me so much for what we've done for sport," said Murray, whose side defeated Cork after extra-time to reach the All-Ireland final.
"He was born in Kells but living in Limerick for 60 years, he was 90 years of age. The letter was that length (gestures with his arms). So I sent him back a letter and a signed Meath jersey.
"So he'd ring me then, he'd actually ring me at a quarter past 10 at night, when we'd be on our way out of training and he'd chat to me. So I chatted to him after the final and this and that, a lovely old man.
"I'd have gone to see him only for the Covid. I got a Christmas card from his niece. He had died a few weeks after the All-Ireland final and got buried with the Meath ladies jersey on the coffin, down in Limerick. Isn't that a lovely story? Isn't that an amazing story?
"He was living in Limerick but he had nieces alive as well, and one of them had the manners to send me a big letter. It says, 'Eamonn Murray, Meath ladies', it was lovely. And I'm only telling you this to show you what hits home.
"Down there in Limerick, it's amazing, he went to the hospital with his legs, he had bad legs he said. He said that the nurse said, 'Oh, you haven't a Limerick accent'. 'No', he said, 'I'm from Meath'. 'Oh my God,' said the nurse, 'The Meath ladies!' Like, a nurse below in Limerick, we affected the whole of the country."
Murray, a Cavan native himself but renowned for his work with the Boardsmill club in east Meath and now the county team, could be on the verge of another unlikely win with the Royal County ladies. They will play Donegal on Sunday in the Lidl National League Division 1 final and if they win, it will be another first.
Murray says the cups and the honours and the achievements are undoubtedly important but reckons it's ultimately about the journey and the people who have come along with him and the players for the ride and been inspired by the success.
"Oh it was very moving, I'll never forget that," said Murray of his late friend from Limerick. "I'm just sorry I didn't go to see him. He went to a lot of bother writing a letter to me. But not just that, I got letters from Down, from Clifden in Galway, from Kerry, from New York even, a few weeks after, just mentioning what we'd done and how much they'd enjoyed it. That means an awful lot. Those stories I'll never forget."
More people will surely join the green and gold bandwagon if they can land the Division 1 league title on Sunday. Their recent record at Croke Park augurs well, winning All-Ireland intermediate and senior finals there in the last 16 months, as well as last year's Division 2 league final.
"We're after winning four games in a row there," said Murray. "We beat Westmeath in the intermediate championship final, then Kerry, then Cork and Dublin. We love that pitch. If you can't love that pitch, there's no hope for you."