‘Jack Griffin was first in to start a job, and the last out’, says Army comrade

At Jack Griffin’s funeral last week, former colleagues of his from the Defence Forces ended up chatting with his Thurles Sarsfields clubmates, naturally enough. Gradually it sank in with the former group that perhaps his friends in Thurles didn’t know how far he’d gone in the Army.
‘Jack Griffin was first in to start a job, and the last out’, says Army comrade

“That would have been Jack’s way,” says one of those Army comrades, Niall Twomey. “They knew him as a player and as a trainer, but he was on his way to the very top in the Army.

“If it came as a surprise to some of them how much he’d achieved in the Army, that was because he’d never made a big deal about it in the club. There was always a total lack of ego on Jack’s part.”

Griffin was killed in a road accident the weekend before last. A selector with Thurles Sars’ senior hurlers, he had just finished a training session ahead of their Munster Club SHC tie against Na Piarsaigh of Limerick.

His funeral last week, in the cathedral in Thurles, was attended by hundreds of people, and the Sarsfields gave their fellow clubmate a guard of honour on his journey to the cemetery. The father of three was 47.

Michael Maher, chairman of Thurles Sars, can remember Griffin figuring on the first underage team sent out by the then-new Durlas Óg club, back in 1979. Durlas Óg had been formed to act as a feeder for clubs in the town, and that first team claimed an U12 title.

“He won minor and U21 county medals with Thurles Sarsfields, and a county junior medal as well, as well as a couple of Mid-Tipp senior medals. He went into the Cadets in 1986, so he’d have been away with the Army as well, off and on. The link was strong, though. His father was secretary of the club, going back to the 50s, and he always supported us even when he wasn’t playing.

“Jack always had an air of leadership, and more so as an army officer. And it was an asset to the club, to have someone who was a professional leader in his day job. As I say, he had that knack of being able to have a laugh with the lads but still be the boss.”

“That was a skill he had,” says Twomey. “He could read people very well, and combined his experience in both the Army and the GAA to hone that skill even further. He could tell which people who needed to be shouted at, and which people wouldn’t respond to that approach, who’d need some positive encouragement. Twomey first met Griffin in the Third Battalion, where the Tipperary man acted as a mentor.

“He showed everyone the ropes there,” says Twomey. “Myself and (Cork footballer) Alan Quirke were involved in the Army football team, and Jack was involved with the Army hurling team, which combined his two passions - the Army and the GAA.

“He brought the same qualities to both. Hard work, dedication, getting the best out of any group he was involved in.”

In terms of sport Griffin had more quantifiable advantages. Going to the University of Limerick exposed him to sports science years before the term became current.

“Now inter-county teams all have people with qualifications in sports science,” says Twomey. “He had that years ago. What Thurles Sars also got was the benefit of his experience with other club teams and the Laois ladies football team; by the time he fell in with them recently he was bringing the sports science and the knowledge of people with him.

“The likes of Joe Schmidt are always stressing the collective. Jack was doing that 12 years ago. He wouldn’t have had time for egos on a team - the superb individual had to be part of the team.

“And he had the personality to do that in a player-friendly way, to get the best out of those players.”

When Maher describes the news of his death as a jolt, he’s not kidding.

“The senior team trained that Saturday morning,” says Maher. “Jack went home and headed out for a bit of a jog ahead of watching the Rugby World Cup. He was hit by a car about half a mile from his home.

“It was a bad jolt to get. Na Piarsaigh were very good, very magnanimous when we were in touch with them about getting the Munster Council to postpone the game. We’ll be out to beat them tomorrow, but it was a great gesture of support from them. We really appreciated it.

“The thing with the Defence Forces,” says Twomey, “You mightn’t see a fella for a couple of years but when you meet up, after 30 seconds it’s back to the way it was. He was in my guard of honour for my wedding, and vice versa. Jack was first in to start a job, and the last out.

“Always the hardest worker. He was a leader to his finger-tips. There are few enough people you meet who generate that intense loyalty, who impress that on you with their personality. Jack Griffin was one of those people.”

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