March 05, 1993
Eamonn Grimes leads Limerick's 1973 team around Croke Park prior to their All-Ireland final victory over Kilkenny.
For nearly a decade after Limerick's accession to national hurling prominence in 1973, the South Liberties club remained a bedrock of the county's challenge for another All-Ireland hurling title. However great the trail of tears was at Munster Championship or National League level thereafter, the credo of the famed city club continued to be a source of powerfully talented hurlers. It bred men whose craft and guile made them trump cards in Limerick's quest to hang in there with the leading bunch. One such trump card was the energetic and hugely skilful Eamonn Grimes.
Irrespective of how much Limerick's aggregates of skill and athleticism ebbed and flowed over the period 1966-82, Grimes, the utility man, was always consistently inspirational and certainly never anything less than awesome on the playing fields of the country's greatest hurling arenas. The story of Grimes, the hurler, is a veritable blockbuster but one consciously of the Oscars which ought to have been gleaned by the laestro whose starring roles for his native county over sixteen seasons were adequately rewarded save on that occasion back in '73.
Even twenty years later, the gifted midfielder cum wing three quarters is still a household name in his native county. Along with twin terrors Richie Bennis and Eamonn Cregan, granite-like full back Pat Hartigan, Joe McKenna and Sean Fley had still to make bigger names for themselves, the erstwhile All-Ireland winning captain is, perhaps, most quickly identified by indigenous Limerick gales and, indeed, other hurling fans in far-flung places with the 1973 victory over Kilkenny. A player whose accomplished stroke play, mild manner and selfless style of play made him just as much a player's player as a manager's delight, Eamonn Grimes was a figure synonymous with the very best hurling served up by the Green Machine of yesteryear.
A District Marketing Manager with the brewery company Beamish and Crawford, but undoubtedly better known for his past exploits in the green of Limerick and the famed colours of South Liberties, Eamonn Grimes was blessed in his youth with most favourably hurling surroundings. It was thus almost inevitable that given the nature of his sporting environment that the fledgling superstar would prosper in competitive ranks and see his talents bloom accordingly. Coaxed to maturity at the oldest club in Limerick (South Liberties was founded in 1883), Eamonn Grimes was reared on a diet of sport and more sport and the aura surrounding the local hurling greats such as Johnny Dooley, Joe Shanahan and Eamonn Dooley excited and left him in awe of their extraordinary gifted craft. A county champion sprinter like his uncles before him, a sojourn at Saint Michaels CBS in Limerick copperfastened the Grimes hankering for more than just a camoe part in the school's premier hurling team.
A resident midfielder with Michaels, Eamonn Grimes teamed up with other would be inter county stars to engineer some unique things on the college hurling merry-go-round. Winning a hat trick of All-Ireland College Under 18.5 Harty Cup titles in seasons 1963/64, 64/65 and 65/66 was no more than could rightly have been expected from such a galaxy of precocious striplings gathered together at Saint Michael's at the same time. What school mentors Jim Hennessy and Brother Bourke had beneath their watchful eyes was a real kaleidoscope of players who were capable of playing a brand of hurling well beyond their years. Students like Tipperary pair Seamus Shinnors and Noel O'Gorman and Limerick duo Donal Manning and Donie Russell wielded their collective hurlers like the established artist Grimes would become. Thestar rating of Saint Michaels also happened to be uplifted by the inclusion in the college's ranks of one Eamonn Cregan. All told, some thirteen of the 1964/65 winning team would fulfill their star billing by graduating to inter county senior ranks. Some, however, weren't fortunate enough though to wield the same influence as that which would be afforded the libero from the Liberties.
Cut from the same cloth that gave Liberties hurling his brothers Laurence, Michael and Joe, Eamonn Grimes never knew the sweet taste of success however, without experiencing the bitter pill of defeat. While revelling in the highs of Harty Cup success, hurling fortunes back on native soil were taking a firm nose-dive. In an amazing run of ill-luck, Grimes and comrades from the Limerick hurling stronghold lost out to Boher in the county junior finals of 1964, 65 and 66. Extremely mobile, pacey and stamina akin to that oozing out of a newly-introduced substitute, he was a natural leader and helped form the backbone of the South Liberties team which saw fit to elevate themselves on to the county senior arena. Despite the fact that Boher had made the club look less than all-powerful at junior level the year previous, the faithful at the South Liberties unit took the brave decision (on the basis of some top quality senior tournament victories) to enter senior ranks in 1967. Within one season, Eamonn Grimes, Pat Hartigan, Walter Shanahan and Mick Butler would help to fully justify the decision, duly steering their club colleagues to a barnstorming senior championship county title. Soon the material that had worked the oracle for South Liberties would similarly do the trick for the county's first fifteen.
Twenty one years old and with a Limerick senior medal in his back pocket, Eamonn Grimes would doubtless have been happy with his lot had not the amalgam of talent which surrounded him goaded him on to even greater things. A Munster minor medal winner in 1963 and 1965 (Messr. Cregan captained the latter side), his senior county debit in 1966 was as significant for Tipperary's hurling fraternity as it was for him personally. Tipperary's defeat to Limerick was their first such defeat at the opening hurdle in Munster for a dozen years. It was, indeed, a shock defeat for the Jimmy Doyle-powered Tipperary side, a defeat though which was was to leave an indelible mark on the impressionable leaving certificate student. Marked by the legendary Len Gaynor ... "the most difficult opponent I ever came across" the young wing forward was substituted but not before he had gleaned just enough of what it took to pass through the white heat of battle without scorching one's self belief and confidence to cinders.
A string of top solo performances at club level made his rising star almost predestined. Another senior title was lavished on the South Liberties tour de force in 1970 and again two years later which lifted the Limerick likely lads miles above the trite and trivia of mere county hurling circles of the time. Sadly though, a hat trick of Munster club final defeats to Waterford's Mount Sion, Cork's Glen Rovers and Tipperary's Roscrea left the Grimes athleticism, boundless energy and vast appetite for the games best honours somewhat unfilfilled and hollow. His attitude to the game, he always thoroughly enjoyed, never dropped in its intensity though and as part of a burgeoning county side in the early seventies, suitable rewards weren't far away.
A National League title win in 1971 followed by Oireachtas success the following year plus another county medal laid the basis for the ultimate in gaelic games achievement. The zenith of his career was no rushed affair though. Grimes was made wait. Today, he reflects back on when fancied Limerick came a cropper at the first hurdle in Munster at the hands of surprise packets Clare in the summer of 1972. "It was a shock to us to lose to Clare but we were all very complacent and I feel that that was the root cause of our failure. I must say, nobody was more culpable in that respect than me. I'm not exaggerating by saying that I shot fourteen wides that day, all from play."
With a mix of resolve, power and renewed ambition, it did all come right for Limerick in 1973. Grimes was more a general on the field that year than captain and on the sideline were men of great stature such as team manager Jackie Power and trainer Mickey Cregan. The entire combination first signalled their sincere intentions when beating Tipperary in the Munster final. For Limerick's Captain Courageous the game ranks in a class of its own. "It was certainly the greatest game I was ever involved in. We won it by one point and in hindsight I think it shed all our inhibitions and gave us the confidence to impose ourselves thereafter, especially against Kilkenny in the final."
The business of building upon the 1973 All-Ireland success was much more difficult than the pundits ever came to recognise, the 46 year old brewery executive maintains. Acknowledging that the team fell short of reaching its potential, he'll only go on record as saying merely that "we should have won more honours at that time." A tigerish defensive midfielder with the capacity to run up and down the pitch at will and all day long, Railway Cup honours and even two All Star awards in 1973 and 76, plus a Texaco award in the aftermath of the All-Ireland win failed to dent his insatiability for matches and training as he bid adieu to his twenties. At his peak in 73, the emergence of Patrickswell at the close of the seventies put the brakes on the South Liberties ambitions to add to their 1976 county senior championship win. It wasn't until some ten years later however, that Eamonn parted company with promising club newcomers Brian Finn and Declan Nash, hanging up his boots after an 18 year haul at club level.
Always ill at ease with his 5'8" and thirteen stone frame (his fight with the flab was forever a millstone around his neck), Eamonn Grimes severed his senior county connections in 1981 when bowing out as a substitute in Limerick's semi final defeat against Galway. By then, the zip and remorseless zest for all-out action had dissipated somewhat. The player himself is more succinct in reflecting on his decision to draw the curtain on his 16 year county career. "My body and particularly the 'oul waistband really called the shots at that stage," he explained. Married to Limerick City lady Helen and father of Eamonn (14) and Karen (7), he's non-committal on eulogising on Limerick's chances against Clare in the forthcoming Munster championship, save to say that "commitment seems to be the missing ingredient over recent years." The no-so old master hath spoken. We await and see whether Limerick's class of 93 take heed!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
5th March 1993
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