Rea, Eamonn

05 April 1991

Former Limerick star Ned Rea outside his public house in Parkgate Street, Dublin.
Eamonn Rea

Eamonn ’Ned’ Rea of Limerick ’73 fame - still highly involved in the game he loves

He walked into the hotel and was immediately at home with the group of businessmen milling around the foyer. Tall, elegantly dressed with an immaculate haircut, Eamonn Rea was unrecognisable as one of the Limerick stars of the ’73 All-Ireland Hurling Final. The long hair and sideburns have been replaced by a well groomed look more in tune with the image of the successful executive he is today. Hurling will nonetheless always be significant for him - as Chairman of the 106 year old Faughs hurling club in his adopted county, Dublin, the GAA stalwart is tireless in his efforts to promote the game.

"I would like to see more young people involved, they bring a freshness and diversification of opinion to a club, which is an obvious asset," Eamonn states. Fit and strong, the player lined out until he was forty, but surprisingly he is reluctant to advocate that others follow suit. "Young players weren’t as plentiful when I was playing, normally I would prefer to see people retiring earlier. If a guy’s attitude is right and if he is fit and dedicated there’s no reason why he shouldn’t continue - but definitely not at the expense of a younger player," he says, adding that the older member could put their experience to better use guiding the future of the club rather than remaining on the field.

Faughs had no exact location, and attaining a plot of ground from the Co. Council eventually settled in the Templeogue area of Dublin. Tommy Moore was the original Chairman and had the distinction of holding office for forty years. A recipient of a Hall of Fame award, the late publican’s holstery in Cathedral Street was a meeting place of the club for many years. His successor Mick Clayton reigned for sixteen years and was instrumental in finding a home for the mobile club. A private members draw raised the phenomenal sum of over £100,000, with contributions rolling in from every county in Ireland. "There always has been a big cross section of people from both Dublin and all over the country involved in our club. We encourage younger members by subsidising helmets and organising five-a-side competitions, that way everyone gets a chance," the Limerick man says - passionate about paving the way for others to follow in his famous footsteps.

"Relatively easy going" is how Eamonn describes himself, but when asked whether his sport is adequately promoted a more steely side of his character appears. "No, it is not," he says, focussing all his attention on answering the question, "the cost of kitting out a child is very high - hurling needs more investment and more coaching. The role of schools in this promotion is vital, we owe our children the chance to participate in this excellent sport," a view which obviously rates highly on his list of priorities as Chairman.

Forward thinking, Faughs encourage the active participation of women. Mrs Keane, who is Assistant Treasurer/Secretary and Mrs Spellman are both on the executive committee and Mrs Burke, whose father and uncle won numerous Dublin medals, has an extensive knowledge of the game. "I don’t believe in pigeon holing women into such activities as sandwich making - I feel that there is nothing to stop them rising through the ranks of the GAA, we don’t differentiate between members," Eamonn says, genuinely unpatronising. Another unusual aspect of this caring club is its prophecy to seek employment for members should they find themselves without work. Within the ranks it has proved possible through their numerous contacts to fulfil their promise on several occasions, much to the delight and relief of those concerned. Food for thought for other clubs possibly?

The day dawned not bright and clear, but wet and windy - it was a day both sides had worked towards and now they were facing each other on the field. The year was 1973 and as his side faced Kilkenny, Eamonn felt a sense of pride at having got that far - whatever the outcome there was everything to play for. "We couldn’t enjoy the game, it was so tense and exciting, naturally we were hoping to do well and it would have been very disappointing to lose, but we thought the end would never come, we were so anxious to savour success," the player remembers. At first unwilling to relate too much of his past glory, saying with a smile, "It’s a long time ago - I’m really showing my age," Eamonn got caught up in the telling, enjoying, reliving such a memorable experience.

The road to All-Ireland triumph had begun for Rea playing his first minor game against Dublin of all teams, in Croke Park in ’63. On the senior panel a job as Depot Manager with Mitchelstown Co-Op. In his first year with Faughs, 1970, they won the Dublin Senior Hurling Championship - "a good start" - he says, laughing at the understatement. The team also won out in ’72, when the player had been recalled by his county, and again in ’73. As a result of a defeat in the League Final by Wexford, Eamonn was dropped for the first few games of the championship. While visiting his grandmother in hospital, the then Limerick selector Jackie Power suggested that he change position to full forward for a challenge game against Waterford. Impressed with his performance, the selectors picked him to play against Tipperary in the Munster Final.

The strains of Johnny Cash were burned into Eamonn’s memory forever as he travelled to and from Limerick for training sessions with Jim O’Donnell, team mate and owner of the solitary tape. "I think I bought him another one, there were so many trips - can you imagine listening to that over and over again," he says, laughing at the memory which had stamped its mark so strongly. Training was extremely tough under Michael Cregan, and though everyone complained of the strict discipline, no-one would risk appearing on the pitch for a minute after the allotted time of 7.30. "Players would lace their boots on the field rather than waste time," the hurler remembers. "It was obviously well worthwhile in the end."

Up to 5,000 people turned out to watch sessions before the All-Ireland, lending huge support to the champions, and providing even further motivation for the side. Sadly, Eamonn’s grandmother had died after the Munster Final, but his grandfather, who had been a long standing influence in his career, continued to root for him as always. "I remember going to see him before the All-Ireland. He had a picture of the 1936 team over the fireplace and I said that a picture of the present team would shortly be joining it." Shifting position had no doubt a hand in Limerick’s victory as the player recalls "I was an unknown quantity in Kilkenny’s eyes - I had always been a back man to them." His proud grandfather did hang the new picture beside the old - jubilant that his grandson’s prediction had in fact been realised. "He was a great GAA man and a great greyhound man," the player says of the man who had revelled in Eamonn’s success well into old age.

The following year Kilkenny turned the tables on the Limerick side. Losing the 1974 All-Ireland was really disappointing for the team whose play had improved since their win the year before. "Twenty minutes into the game and seven or eight points up, things suddenly started to go wrong." The Kilkenny team, playing superbly well, notched up three goals in ten minutes and some harsh decisions, since well debated, going against Limerick, put them in an optimistic mood. "You can’t give a team of the calibre of Kilkenny breaks like that - you’ve got to eliminate the opportunities for them to take and we would never concede the game," he says. "I would have preferred to have lost the first final and won the second, rather than the other way around. When you win you really can’t appreciate it and then when you lose so soon after, you realise how important that victory actually was," Eamonn says thoughtfully.

Limerick have been as good as any team in Ireland since the ’70s he feels. A team’s reputation has always been built on their ability to win an All-Ireland, a fact which disturbs the player greatly. "People see this as a measurement of how a county has done over the years, implying that they haven’t done well - when in fact this is not true." Of the current team, the medal winner says that players should be able to build up a relationship and that is not possible when they don’t know where they are playing. "There have been too many changes, Limerick need a more settled team and at the moment, there are problems in the full back line and the forward line," he states. Although living in Dublin for the past twenty three years and despite his ties with his adopted club, Eamonn keeps an eye on the home county. "I love going to Thurles for championship matches for the atmosphere and the location, everything gels there, it’s marvellous."

Catching him glancing at his watch I am suddenly aware of the amount of time this busy man has given over to the interview. "There’s no hurry, honestly," he says, sitting back continuing to chat about his involvement in hurling. "I like the recreational side of things - it is good with work pressures and having a young family (Lisa 6 and Sean 3) to have other interests. I enjoyed the experience of playing so much and now I love being involved in club activities." Mary, his wife is involved with the badminton in the club and because of this, is tolerant of the hours Eamonn devotes to his position as Chairman. It is said that son Sean must be destined to be a hurler. With the legacy of his father and the fact that the little boy was born on All-Ireland day in 1987, fate has surely already played a hand in his future.

There is still so much to be said about this hurling star - his school and college days, his medals for football and his interest in rugby, how he marked his brother in an All-Ireland semi-final, how Faughs was founded by Clareman Michael Cusack, how the new dressingrooms were built by Eamonn Long, also of Clare and how they were opened by former President, Patrick Hillary, another Clareman, his views on hurling in general and his hopes for Faughs, the great friends made and remembered and much, much more. As a bribe to entice her son to take the entrance exam to St. Munchins, Mrs Rea promised the boy a new hurl and ball, opening the door to what has for him become a way of life. Cool, courteous and charismatic, Eamonn Rea finishes up with the words, "You’ll never feel lost as a result of playing the game, I regard hurling people as very special people indeed."

Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
5th April 1991