Jimmy Gray speaking at the GAA's Annual Congress in 2018.
Jimmy Gray speaking at the GAA's Annual Congress in 2018.

In ómós Jimmy Gray

By Cian Murphy

A founding father who was a father figure to all, an unrivalled go-to man, confidante and friend. The passing of Jimmy Gray this week has elicited an outpouring of emotion and reverence for one of the original True Blue heroes of Dublin GAA.

Former GAA President John Horan was a close friend of Jimmy’s having been coached and mentored by him in Na Fianna, the club that Gray had been instrumental inestablishing in 1955.

Their paths would cross weekly on Thursday nights in Na Fianna’s clubhouse on Mobhi Road where Horan recalls Jimmy as the club’s inspirational father figure for members of all generations – a willing fountain of knowledge happy to offer help, advice, and guidance.

“Jimmy Gray was all things to all men in Na Fianna. No job was too big or too small. He was ever-present at matches, and he would sit in a corner of the clubhouse and on a Thursday night he was a go-to man for people. He looked after loads of people in different ways. He helped young people looking for jobs, helped people who had difficulties or challenges and it was always done discreetly and never in a manner looking for credit.

“It wouldn’t be unusual to see him writing notes on a beer mat to remind him of something that he had to do after beingasked to help out by someone in Na Fianna. Whilst known as a great administrator, he was very talented with his hands and spent many hours volunteering to do work around the club.

“Even as he got older, he maintained a huge interest in young players coming through the club, engaging with them and seeing how they were progressing.

“He has been a father figure to so many people who have successfully steered the club. One of his great strengths was his positive approach to dealing with a situation and being able to bring people with him. The voice may have got weaker in recent times but that passion for all things Na Fianna was always strong and he passed his great love of the GAA on to his family.”

That devotion to his club and county resonates with Tom Ryan, another Na Fianna stalwart and another man who, like Gray, made a significant impact on the landscape of Dublin hurling.

“He was inspirational. He took great pride in the club and in all of Na Fianna’s teams. One of the great features of Jimmy was that he believed 110 per cent every year that Dublin would win the All-Ireland – in football and hurling and that Na Fianna would win both senior championships every year. That was a mark of his positivity,” he recalled.

Former Dublin senior hurling manager Jimmy Gray.
Former Dublin senior hurling manager Jimmy Gray.

Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Larry McCarthy paid tribute to Jimmy, who at the time of his passing was Uachtarán of Dublin GAA.

He said: “Jimmy Gray will be remembered as a gentleman. A great hurler who was a great supporter of Dublin hurling and an inspiration to so many who were led by his selfless dedication on and off the field.

“As a founding member of Na Fianna he nurtured the club and watched it grow for almost 70 years and in that time it has become synonymous throughout the GAA not just for producing gifted players but is renowned as a well-run club that is the focal point of its community and enriches the lives of its large membership. It is a powerful legacy and lasting tribute to Jimmy for the decades of work he invested at developing Gaelic games in Glasnevin and its surrounding area. We are indebted to him for the wider contribution he made throughout his lifetime to Dublin, Leinster and the GAA at national level. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Greta, sons Tom and John, daughters Annmarie and Carmel and his extended family and many friends.

“Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dhílis.”

The goalkeeper on the last Dublin hurling team to contest the All-Ireland senior final in 1961, Gray was a respected inter-county referee and was Leinster hurling final referee in 1969 and later Leinster GAA Chairman. As Dublin County Board chairman for 11 years he is etched into folklore as the man who dismissed the conventional selection committee approach to running inter-county teams and in 1973 put together the footballing brains trust that was Kevin Heffernan (St Vincent’s), Dónal Colfer (Synge Street) and Lorcan Redmond (St Margarets) to look after the senior football team – ushering in a transformational period of success that was felt far beyond the confines of Dublin GAA.

Later he was manager of the Dublin senior hurlers himself from 1993-1996.

Jimmy Gray will be remembered as a man who embodied the philosophy of selfless dedication to something bigger than oneself and making a difference for those who follow in his footsteps.

His funeral will take place tomorrow.