In 1950 the Casey family, being the Attorney General Charles Casey, his wife Helen Casey and their eight children Helen, Billy, Frank, Joan, Jimmy, Ruth, Teresa and Joe lived in Jerpoint on Elton Park. One sunny evening in May, nine-year-old Jimmy was walking down the road when he heard funny noises which he thought might be worth exploring. He wandered up the lane into the tennis club and saw elegantly attired players with racquets hitting balls over a net. He thought it was magic. He heard laughter, “good shot” and “30 love”, not to mention some language which was entirely unsuitable for a nine-year-old boy to hear.
After a while Jimmy turned to see a tall man entering the driveway pushing his bicycle. Jimmy was frightened and thought he was done for. The man must have sensed Jimmy’s fear because he laughed and said: “you can watch the tennis in more comfort from the seats above”. For Gus Farrell, this was a simple act of kindness, but for Jimmy it was life changing – his love affair with tennis and with Sandycove Tennis Club had begun, an affair that was to continue for the next 68 years.
Jimmy used a nice word to describe that day in 1950. He said that, for him, it was an epiphany, a moment of revelation. There are some other words and phrases that we associate with him. After meeting a nice woman he would say: ”she was a lovely lass”; when a serious point had to be made in conversation it was: “listen here head” and anyone chancing their arm would be called out with “that’s bullxxxx”. Jimmy had a finely tuned BS detector and never hesitated to rail against unfairness, injustice or prevailing wisdom.
Back in the tennis club, Jimmy graduated from observer to ball boy and then to tennis player. Soon he got his first Sandycove cap when he was selected for an under 15 team to play Green Road in Blackrock. As he remembers it, Roger Federer would not have prepared for this match with more care. He thoroughly examined all his strokes in the mirror at home the night before and willingly went to bed at 7.00 p.m. The result of that particular match went unrecorded, but Jimmy’s talent was immediately obvious, and he couldn’t wait to get on a league team to try his hand. Eventually in 1957 his big day arrived, and he was very proud to be selected to play for Sandycove Men’s First Team in Class 2 of the Dublin Leagues. His pride in being asked to represent the Club never waned over the next 60 years, although he did subsequently admit that his enthusiasm didn’t always stretch to going to bed at 7.00 p.m. the night before a match.
The leading players at the time were Tony Timmons and Gerry O’Shaughnessy. Jimmy couldn’t understand why they weren’t playing at Wimbledon, they were so good. Apart from them and Jimmy’s siblings, others who made the tennis club their playground around this time included the Hendersons, the Lyons’s, the Quinns, the Kanes, the O’Hanlons and the Farrells
Jimmy soon excelled on the national junior stage, famously winning the Irish Under 15 Boys Singles Championship in Fitzwilliam in 1955. A star was born.
Victories on the senior tournament circuit followed, two of his best years being 1973 and 1974. In 1973 he won the Irish Close title and was also selected to play for Leinster, a feat he repeated again in 1974. He won doubles titles with many partners, including the redoubtable John O’Shea and also with his cousin John Murray. He also won the Connaught Hard Court title.
As younger players took over winning the Club singles title, he was still chalking up doubles titles and embarked on a vets tennis career that saw him achieve international recognition at over 45 and over 50’s levels. He was very proud to represent Ireland at international events in California, Venezuela and other places in the company of John O’Brien, Harry Sheridan and others.
In the annals of Sandycove nobody stands higher than Jimmy Casey. Club Champion (14 times), Centenary Year Honorary Captain (1986), Inaugural Club President (1990) and Honorary Life Member. The Grand Slam. He did the lot. His contribution to the club on and off court is without parallel. Yet for Jimmy, it was always more about people than prizes, more about planning and process than final result, more about giving than taking.
These qualities were evident far beyond the confines of the tennis club. They were, in fact, brought to bear worldwide. In 1976 Jimmy was instrumental in setting up the Third World Charity, GOAL and became its first Treasurer at the behest of John O’Shea. John’s call to help the poorest of the poor resonated deeply with Jimmy and through GOAL and other agencies he regularly contributed his time and expertise in foreign parts over the years, making a real difference. Closer to home, Jimmy was the driving force behind the creation of the Dun Laoghaire Enterprise Centre in 1995. He was a passionate supporter of small business and spent much of his life assisting start up enterprises. This continued right down to the present. Jimmy loved the RAMS, except that the word “retired” wasn’t part of his lexicon. He died with his boots on, and that was the way he always wanted it to be.
Back in Sandycove, when Robert Cherry equalled and then surpassed his record of fourteen Club Championship wins nobody was more pleased than Jimmy. He was proud of Rob as his successor in titles.
When Jimmy fell ill recently, his first thoughts were to advise Michael Butler that he would be unable to captain the Sandycove side taking part in the inaugural National Tennis Masters club competition in Carrickmines and to say to Giles Kerr that their weekly game would have to be postponed for a short while. Amazingly, one of his last acts from his hospital bed was to recruit a squash player for the club, through his carers in Blackrock Clinic.
When he looked back on all the league campaigns over sixty years he picked out an unlikely one as the one which gave him the most pleasure. In 1995 Jimmy was on the second team whose captain had them down training twice a week for four weeks before the league started, practising all sorts of doubles combinations and doing circuit training such that, by the time the league started, they were highly prepared. Having come through their section they lost narrowly to Glasnevin 3-2 in the promotion match. This was not failure, they left nothing out there. On account of the esprit de corps generated on that team, Jimmy rated this his most enjoyable league campaign. For Jimmy the equation was simple. Great preparation + great effort = no regrets. This was a no brainer, as far as he was concerned.
When Jimmy was setting up an inaugural Junior Coaching Programme in the 1980’s he found in Eugene Daly a willing accomplice and ally. Between them they coached a succession of Juniors over the course of 10 years, which was hugely appreciated and enjoyed by the personnel involved, some of whom went on to attain representative recognition, including Rosemary Langford, our only member ever to attain full international honours.
One of Jimmy’s favourite memories from that time was of giving out to Kevin O’Shaughnessy for a somewhat less than vigorous effort one particular Sunday morning following which Kevin muttered something back by way of excuse about having seen rats the night before. Jimmy didn’t know what he was talking about and asked him afterwards about the rats. Kevin cracked up laughing at the thought that there was somebody in Dun Laoghaire who had never heard of The Boomtown Rats.
Jimmy married Maeve Gannon in 1968 and together with their children, Garrett and Deirdre, and grandchildren; they had a wonderful Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration this year in their favourite destination, Madeira.
No mention of Jimmy Casey would be complete without mentioning Thursday Nights in Sandycove. Thirty years ago Jimmy fell in with a group which met each Thursday for tennis, some lemonade and……….. a quiz. The group included over the years : Eugene Daly, Conor O’Reilly, Jim O’Hanlon, Roy Bailey, Ken Browne, Paul Fitzgerald, Brian O’Gorman, Bryan Cunningham, Brendan Henderson, Maurice Johnson, Frank McCooey and many others. This gathering, and Jimmy’s role within it as it’s spiritual leader, quizmaster and general Svengali, has been lampooned at many a Christmas Show, some people thinking that it comprised a dangerous sect or cult. Others had a different view and we prefer at this point to remember a quartet at the bar comprising O’Hagan, Morrissey, Deverell and Keane whose tradition it was to stand to attention every time Jimmy entered the room, in deference to the great man. Certainly, Thursday nights will never be the same again.
James Henry Casey, 16th July 1941 – 5th November 2018.
Tribute to Jimmy Casey by Conor O’Reilly