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Why former Clare star Tony Griffin is auctioning off his All-Star to help Ukraine

Now involved as performance coach with Kerry footballers, Griffin won the hurling award in 2006.

2006-vodafone-gaa-all-star-awards Tony Griffin with Clare team-mate Sean McMahon at the 2006 Vodafone GAA All-Star Awards. Source: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

TONY GRIFFIN WAS laid up in bed recently with Covid. He passed some of the time scrolling on his phone through news apps, reading in horror about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dumbfounded an atrocity like this could happen in 2022, the image of hospitals being bombed particularly struck the former Clare sharpshooter. 

“Just to see families running, bent over trying to hide from gun-fire and shelling, and trying to run to such an uncertain future,” he tells The42

“I was picturing myself and my wife doing that with our two kids thinking, ‘What do you tell them? How do you explain what is happening?’

“I think it was just the audacity of what is happening, to invade another country is just unbelievable. I felt so helpless. I was asking what could I do.”

He’d already made a donation to Unicef on behalf of his family, but something inside Griffin yearned to contribute more.

Then he woke up one morning and it hit him. He would auction off the All-Star he won in 2006. He decided to put up the coveted prize for the highest bidder. He’ll donate all the proceeds to the Irish Red Cross to fund humanitarian supplies in Ukraine.

It’s an accolade that remains very close to his heart, with a great deal of sentimentality attached. 

“I know it sounds corny but when I was 13 I wrote on my sister’s door in white chalk, I can still picture it: ‘I want to play for Clare, I want to win an All-Ireland, I want to win an All-Star.’”

Griffin’s county career was sandwiched between two successful eras. He arrived on the scene in the early 2000s when Clare’s great team of the ’90s was winding down and retired in 2009, a handful of years before they delivered the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time in 16 years.

He played in two Munster finals and an All-Ireland final, and lost all three. So as far as silverware goes from his playing days with Clare, he says his All-Star was “really the main one.”

In December 2005, his father Jerome died from lung cancer. The following year, Griffin was named on the All-Star hurling team after delivering his best season for Clare. 

“I was nominated twice before that,” he says. “It was a poignant year because Daddy had died and I knew he’d just absolutely love the thought of me winning that. That would have made his so happy because he loved the sport. So it is pretty precious to be honest. I haven’t kept many awards whereas I’ve kept that one.

“I do sometimes look at it and go, ‘Jeez you earned that one,’ admits the Ballyea clubman.

“There were a few moments when people put their money behind when I realised my sons aren’t going to get to have this in their house when they’re older and that sort of thing.” 

Knowing those close to him would attempt to talk him out of it and he’d “lose the will”, he didn’t run the idea by anyone. Instead he went ahead and posted a video last weekend on social media inviting bids for the All-Star.

“They know me at this stage,” he says of his family’s reaction. “Even my mother said it’s only a piece of metal. Now it’s a very heavy piece of metal but it can do so much more for some one else. Jerome, (my son) who’s seven was saying, ‘I’m sad because you won’t have it but I know it’s the right thing.’  

“We’ll get a few photos of Jerome with it before we hand it over. It’s not that big a deal, that’s what I’m trying to get to.” 

He’s always been a doer. 

This is the man who dropped off the Clare panel at the peak of his powers in 2007, instead cycling 7,000km across Canada to raise money for cancer charities in honour of his dad. 

Writing on social media, Griffin said: “If I didn’t have two young children, I’d travel and fight.”

tony-griffin-celebrates-a-point Tony Griffin celebrates a point for Clare in 2008. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Speaking now he says, “Sometimes it would be nice if I could switch off my sensitivity to these things. I’ve realised I am a person who likes to act and that means sometimes you take on too much.

“At the same time, this is huge. I was thinking to myself that when I saw all those people flying over and defending Ukraine, if I didn’t have kids I would do that.  

“I don’t think I’d be on the front line with a machine gun, I’d probably shoot one of my own people with my aim! But maybe I could dig trenches or ferry food. I just think that would be a worthwhile thing to do. Not heroic just practical. But I’ve two kids and I’m not going to be doing that but what else can I do?

“I was thinking lately that a few of us could put money together and rent a house close to where we live for a family to come and use. That’s practical and as good as digging a trench, I’m sure.”

The auction has received a huge reaction already. There have been multiple pledges ranging from €3k to €5k. The highest bid so far is €10k from a Canadian with Irish links.

He plans to close the bidding next Thursday, on St Patrick’s Day. Griffin is keen to stress he’s not doing it for a pat on the back, but instead to help out those in need.

“Every is saying, ‘You’re great, well done.’ But I don’t see it as that at all, that’s not what it’s even about. It’s about can we raise some money for humanitarian aid. 

“It’s not going to be for buying arms. Even though they need those too. I just think of people that the Red Cross would support on the borders, in refugee camps. It’s the basics: clothing, blankets, tenting and then food and medicines.

“There’s so many people who are walking across countries to get to safety and they have mental health needs or everything from heart disease to other issues they need medicine for. So it’s going to be going for a range of humanitarian supplies.

“When I see some of the footage with these small kids, their parents will need every support they can get in order to help the kids. Not this year or next year but for the trauma of war.

“The one thing about the Red Cross is they know what they’re doing and they know what’s required in situations like this. 

“Imagine the fear of these people as they’re waking up in the middle of the night in months to come petrified of where they’re at. And just having to start new lives, like. We take so much for granted that we have.”

former-clare-hurler-tony-griffin-now-part-of-the-kildare-backroom-team-and-his-son-jerome Tony Griffin, and his son Jerome, during his time with the Kildare backroom team. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Worlds away from the crisis in Ukraine, Griffin will travel to Tralee this evening as part of the Kerry football backroom team for their Division 1 clash against Mayo. 

Griffin is performance coach with Jack O’Connor’s side, having previously undertaken the role with Kildare footballers and Dublin hurlers. 

“I spent two years with Jack when he was over Kildare. My remit was the same as 2013 with Dalo and that was to work on collective chemistry. Collectively I work with the group and then individually I work on mental skills. 

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“That’s the role: mental skills, mental performance, that’s the main remit. Same as it was with Kildare and Dublin. I’m focused on mindset really, that’s the main thing.”

Griffin was part of the Dublin hurling set-up alongside former team-mate Anthony Daly when they reached the All-Ireland semi-finals nine years ago. He admits it was a surprise when the call arrived from O’Connor to get involved with the Lilywhites in 2020.

“It was completely out of the blue. When he rang me I thought he was Jack O’Connor the Wexford hurler for some reason. I met him. The physical trainer Ross Dunphy had been involved with Dublin and he had recommended that Jack talk to me.

“I’m living in Kildare now. I had no intention whatsoever of getting involved and then I met him for a walk. By the end of the walk I was going, ‘Shite. I like the sound of what you’re about.’

“I get on very well with Jack. He’s very open minded. When he asked if I’d be interested in coming to Kerry, I said I’d just go down and do a half session with the lads. By the end of the session I’d developed a bit of a chemistry with them.

“So we said we’d continue. I’m not that hugely interested in what they win but I’m really interested in the culture they create as a group.”

Griffin heads down to Kerry once a month to take a group session with the squad and he regularly does one-on-ones with players. 

“Inter-county players live in the communities that they play in so there’s a lot of expectation, especially in Kerry.

“They don’t usually have places where they can explore their thought patterns around things. I wish I had someone like me when I was a player because it’s just so useful. I’ve no input to the selection, I’m not even at any of the trainings. I’m interested in them as human beings first and footballers second.

“I even see the difference from when I started in 2013 with Dalo versus nine years later. The self-awareness of players has increased and their openness to working on the mental side of the game is not seen as a weakness, but it’s just seen as another piece of the performance puzzle. And they’re very, very open to it.”

The Kingdom are in the middle of the third longest stretch in their history without an All-Ireland, having fallen short in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final to Tyrone, the 2020 Munster final to Cork and 2019 All-Ireland final replay to Dublin.

“They are (conscious of the pressure on them),” he says.

“They’re used to winning, they were winning throughout their teens. They haven’t won for a while. It’s like when I was in Kildare, the lads don’t like being beaten.

“They’re a high performing A-type personalities. They don’t want to lose, they want to win. For each player that looks different. For a new player coming onto the panel it might be, ‘How do I get to play? I want that place.’ For someone near the end of their career it’s, ‘How do I elongate this as much as I can?’

“It’s just someone to develop their mental game with.”

******

-To make an offer for Tony Griffin’s 2006 All-Star, sent him a DM on Instagram or email him at tonywritesandtalks@gmail.com 

-Auction ends on Thursday, 17 March 

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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