Not content with taking down the opposition’s high-profile poster girl Sarah Rowe when Armagh met Mayo last autumn, Tiarna Grimes is now taking on ubiquitous Body Coach Joe Wicks with her own home workout videos!
Of course, the humble Lurgan sportswoman, who turned 24 last Tuesday, wouldn’t characterise her exploits in such hyperbolic terms, but Grimes can be quietly proud of how she has kept progressing on and off the gaelic football field in recent months.
She did a great job marking Rowe, who had scored 2-9 against Tyrone the previous Saturday, in November as Armagh claimed a first ever victory over Mayo to reach the All Ireland Senior Championship semi-finals.
Armagh just lost out to a star-studded Dublin team who were on their way to a fourth All Ireland title on the trot but secured some pre-Christmas silverware by beating Monaghan in the Clones showpiece to be crowned Ulster champions for the first time since 2014.
Although ostensibly a defender, Grimes got forward to post the insurance score which meant the Orchard crew weren’t in danger of having victory snatched away if Cora Courtney’s last-kick free had gone under rather than over Anna Carr’s crossbar.
So it was a special couple of months for an Orchard outfit unrecognisable from their spring struggles and, although Armagh haven’t been able to get going yet in 2021 due to the pandemic, Tiarna has been helping people in lockdown keep moving.
Grimes is doing special ‘Fitness Friday’ videos for Ulster LGFA but, with these being shared widely on social media for anyone to view, the Wicks comparisons can be made, much to Tiarna’s amusement.
“I wouldn’t classify myself like that at all, but I’m just glad to be able to provide a focus for kids, who are couped up at home without their normal outlets for activity, over a number of weeks.
“My county captain Kelly Mallon was approached initially and she kindly passed on the opportunity to me as I’m working in the fitness industry,” explains Grimes, who graduated in Sport and Exercise Science from Ulster University last summer.
“Unfortunately, with the coronavirus restrictions, we weren’t able to have a graduation ceremony and just got our certificates posted out, so there was no gown and special photo for Instagram as everyone talks about, but I can’t complain.
“I got most of my time at uni before coronavirus changed the student experience, and did a course which I enjoyed and that isn’t the case for everyone as many just drift on into third level education from school without knowing what they really want to do.
“I’d actually originally applied for Human Resource Management. I’d enjoyed Business Studies at A-level, but realised I didn’t want an office job as such. So, I took a year out, repeated PE and improved my grade from a C to the required A.
“I’m currently working in my brother’s Ruairi’s gym in Lurgan, Focus, have begun undertaking qualifications in Strength and Conditioning coaching and am hoping to do Nutrition too.”
Doing the workout videos has taken Tiarna outside her comfort zone but she embraced the opportunities, is enjoying the experience and knows it will be beneficial from a self-confidence and career development perspective.
“That public presentation side is something I haven’t had and I wouldn’t be that confident to put myself out there online. Not a lot of people know me and I tend to keep myself to myself. I don’t even like doing voice-notes,” confesses the engaging but unassuming Grimes.
“Just taking zoom classes for the gym was a challenge before but I’m glad I’ve taken on the ‘Fitness Friday’ videos and have got good feedback following the first session. Hopefully these sessions can help people too during lockdown.
“These are strange times for everyone with this latest lockdown, and it’s important to try and keep a routine. Thankfully the weather was great first time round last spring and myself and Ruairi had equipment to train out the back of the house.
“I suppose, from a positive perspective, the restrictions on other aspects of life have led to a good proportion of the population becoming more active this past year. Lurgan is packed now with people walking to an extent you certainly wouldn’t have seen before this.
“Although I was involved in sport, I’d never have just gone out for a walk but it’s more normal now for families. The limited lifestyle forced upon us has got people moving more, which is a healthy thing, even if it’s just walking a kilometre at a time.
“Obviously the pandemic has been difficult for many but the past year has opened people’s eyes about what’s important in life. Families are seeing each other more, spending less money on things they don’t need and so forth.”
Grimes recognises that she was in a privileged position to be able to keep playing sport last autumn when grassroots activities had to shut down again, and having big brother Ruairi around during the earlier lockdown was a bonus.
“As well as being my boss, he’s also the Armagh ladies S&C coach. We’re close as brother and sister but he treats me like another employee at work and the same as the other players in the county set-up, so I don’t get special favours!
“However, with Armagh matches being behind closed doors last autumn meaning family members couldn’t be there, it was special to have Ruairi to share the experience with, just like the Marley, Mackin or Coleman sisters had each other within the playing panel.
“He’s my biggest supporter and, another reason it’s good having him there is that I’m always wanting feedback on my performance. With the restrictions, he had to stay further from the pitch, but the lack of crowd noise meant I could still hear him clearly!”
For Grimes, the silver lining of not having supporters present at inter-county championship matches last season was that all games were shown somewhere, whether televised live or streamed online, so her proud family members could watch from home.
“Our two All Ireland group games were chosen for broadcast by TG4 and the semi-final if we got there was always going to be televised, but our Ulster semi was also streamed live and it was brilliant that the BBC came on board to show the final from Clones online.
“My granda wouldn’t have been able to come to games and my dad wouldn’t have been keen on driving some of the long journeys. They loved getting to see us play and Armagh also picked up plenty of casual supporters along the way.”
The orangewomen won many new admirers on the back of their compelling performances and impressive results as they trounced Tyrone twice, overcame Mayo, pushed Dublin to the limit and finished the year with a trophy triumph.
Armagh’s autumn magic came as a pleasant surprise to their followers on the back of a disappointing National League campaign, followed by that long lay-off before returning to action with a somewhat depleted panel which had lost several experienced players.
“Going into that Ulster semi-final against Tyrone, we knew we were strong enough but definitely didn’t expect we’d win with a 13-point margin. They’d been brilliant last time we’d played them at the start of February and probably came to Crossmaglen as favourites.
“But we got off to a good start and just kept building from there. Almost before we knew we were playing Dublin in the All Ireland semi-final. Losing narrowly was tough to take but winning the Ulster Championship afterwards was the perfect finish to the year.
“Last year’s lockdowns were negative for a lot of people, but we were able to enjoy going to training in the autumn after most sport started shutting down again. We didn’t know what to expect of ourselves and no doubt we were written off outside the camp.
“As you say, coming into that Ulster semi-final, Caroline O’Hanlon had been injured and the Mackin sisters were self-isolating but other players saw it as their time to shine and stepped up positively.
“We had players came through in the autumn who hadn’t really had a look in before and others already within the team started shouldering more responsibility,” says Grimes, who formed a brand new half back line with Blaithin Mackin and teenager Grace Ferguson.
At the start of the year, few would have predicted that combination being fielded for a big game although both Blaithin and Tiarna are adaptable players and Ballyhegan’s Ferguson had been earmarked as a good prospect from an early age.
By January, the trio were occupying all three half back positions in the Irish News Ulster All Stars line-up. Active voting by an energised Orchard base got them over the line, but being shortlisted independently proved they were in the frame on merit.
“It’s nice to be recognised but I don’t get too bogged down with the awards side of things. I’m grateful I got the Irish News All Star, to have been shortlisted and then voted for, but primarily you set out to perform for yourself, team-mates and the management.”
Had the national All Stars not been scrapped, regrettably, by the LGFA, Grimes may have been in contention to make that shortlist and her clubmate Clodagh McCambridge make the ceremonial line-up, but both these likeable Lurgan girls aren’t about superficial glory.
They can reflect with satisfaction on their contribution to Armagh’s uplifting journey last autumn and the growth which was so evident for the team as a whole and so many individuals within it, not least that fledgling half back line.
“The year before, I was mainly in midfield for Armagh and Blaithin in the forwards, with Clodagh at centre half back, while Grace hadn’t really featured until this past season so it was an unfamiliar formation being brought together going into a championship campaign.”
Traditional rivals Tyrone were smarting for revenge when the teams met again in the opening All Ireland group game in Breffni Park on a floodlight Friday night at Halloween just 13 days after their Crossmaglen mauling, but the Orchard crew came out on top once more.
“We knew Tyrone weren’t going to go the whole way to Cavan not to put it up to us and try to make amends for the Ulster semi-final. In spite of the previous result, it was all up for grabs on the night, but Armagh scored five first half goals and we won well again.”
Grimes chipped in with a point in the Orchard’s convincing 6-16 to 3-13 victory but she was given a big job at the back next time out against Mayo, the only significant county Armagh had never beaten in a competitive match, when assigned to mark Rowe.
A former Republic of Ireland Under 19 soccer player and currently plying her trade Down Under with AFLW outfit Collingwood, Rowe is something of a media darling and dated fellow Mayo footballer Aidan O’Shea before present partner Sean O’Brien, the Irish rugby star.
“Who doesn’t know Sarah Rowe? She’s tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, plays in the AFLW and has been pretty prolific for Mayo. I only found out that week in training that I was going to be marking her,” recalls Tiarna.
“A lot of people like looking into individual opponents in great detail as preparation but personally I think there’s a danger of information overload. You can’t plan for every eventuality and it’s important to have a clear head and adapt quickly to what you’re facing.
“She’d scored 2-9 against Tyrone the Saturday before and only got a couple of points against us so people were saying ‘well done’ to me but I actually came away from that matching thinking to myself ‘what did I actually do’ for she beat me to every ball!
“All credit to Grace Ferguson for the job she did on Grace Kelly, another big star for Mayo who had a big height advantage over her but ended up being taken off. There were so many Armagh heroes on the day, from Clodagh at the back through to Aimee Mackin.
“That match was a great advert for our sport in terms of the quality of football as well as being such a close contest, so it must have been a fantastic spectacle for the television viewers, and it was a very good day for Armagh.
“I actually wasn’t aware in advance that Armagh had never beaten Mayo before but, as important as that history was the fact we showed we were able to perform on that stage, nullify their threats, do damage ourselves and ultimately get over the line in a tight game.
“Sometimes you’re so caught up in the next task that you don’t know what the score is and I had to check the board behind me at the end to make sure we’d won. Everybody delivered that day but Clodagh’s intercept just before Catherine Marley’s clinching goal was key.
“Clodagh is a very quiet individual who doesn’t seek the limelight but is always smiling at training. She’s a real rock at the back for us and has just started getting some of the recognition she richly deserves.
“We didn’t know where the semi-final would be, because the pandemic meant we missed out on Croke Park which hosted them last year, but going back to Breffni, where I’d never played until the Tyrone match, at least felt familiar for us.
“In the end it just wasn’t to be against Dublin, but we were right in that game, know we can compete properly with the country’s top team and wouldn’t fear facing them again. Losing was a blow but we were able to pick ourselves up and win the Ulster final,” says Tiarna.
GRIMES GROWING WITH EACH CHALLENGE
Few would have taken much notice of the little-known 20-year-old sub being introduced as Armagh’s All Ireland dream slipped away with defeat to Kerry in the 2017 quarter-final in Kilkenny’s Nowlan Park.
The debate afterwards was more about why Armagh hadn’t been bolder when needing to chase the game and the criticism of manager Sean O’Kane surrounded negative tactics rather than not turning more or earlier to what appeared a relatively bare bench.
The limited involvement of Tiarna Grimes may have been largely overlooked by the watching world but that cameo meant plenty to a young player who had been around the set-up since the previous season and was craving game-time.
“I’d been there under Ronan Clarke the year before, but getting on in that All Ireland quarter-final at the end of the 2017 season was significant for me and I can remember it as clear as day, going on to play alongside girls I’d long looked up to,” she recalls.
“It’s tough for girls sitting on the bench waiting for the opportunity to make their mark and I had to stick with it for a couple of years before being given my chance but, to be honest, looking back now, I know that I wasn’t fit enough then.”
As a hungry young player, you happily accept the scraps, bank bits of encouragement and build upon each learning experience and, like other front-liners in the present team, Tiarna is testament to the fact that hard work and persistence pay in the end.
Fast forward a couple of seasons and a blossoming Grimes was winning the 2019 Armagh Player of the Year award having established herself as a first-choice starter under O’Kane’s replacements at the Orchard helm, Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney.
“I owe a lot to Lorraine and Fionnuala for giving me my chance and putting their faith in me. I’m not sure exactly what they saw in me, maybe athleticism a bit but also a willingness to do all the jobs nobody wanted.
“Fionnuala also identified that I wasn’t confident enough in myself, so she worked behind the scenes with me on that mental side and it was very beneficial because that’s her professional background.”
McCaffrey had also been joint manager during Armagh’s glory years of the mid-noughties, while McAtamney was that 2006 All Ireland final team’s All Star nominee goalkeeper, and both were passionate about wanting to steer the Orchard outfit to fresh success.
Unfortunately, Armagh missed out on promotion to the NFL’s top flight two years running and reached the Ulster final in both their seasons in charge only for the two showpieces to end in painful drubbings by Donegal.
They stood down with unfulfilled dreams after the 2019 All Ireland quarter-final defeat against Mayo but the emergence of Grimes was certainly a success story of their time at the helm and developing this versatile athlete is a lasting legacy in itself.
“I can only thank them for the time invested in me, and the opportunities in the team. I improved during their two years, getting stronger and stronger,” reflects Tiarna, who had to bounce back from dislocating her shoulder in a league game against Waterford in Lurgan.
Although Grimes was something of a signature project from McAtamney and McCaffrey’s tenure, it still came as a surprise to Grimes when the departing duo chose her as their Armagh Player of the Year for 2019, though she wasn’t there to collect her award!
“Fionnuala had rung me to see if I was going to the Armagh LGFA Awards night but I was living it up in New York at the time! I’d gone there three days before and I absolutely love New York, it’s a special place for me, so I had no real regrets.
“Clubmate Maebh Moriarty collected it for me on the night, but it was a huge honour to be chosen and I was so surprised when Fionnuala told me over the phone. She said she couldn’t believe how much I’d come on. I’m forever grateful to her and Lorraine.”
“Tiarna is a great girl who was an absolute pleasure to work with, a really genuine person with talent, a wonderful attitude and a drive to work and learn – all that you could really want in a player as a coach. She’s an unsung hero of the Armagh team,” is McAtamney’s tribute.
Earlier in 2019, Grimes had enjoyed Giles Cup success under O’Kane as part of a Ulster University Jordanstown side featuring her Clann Eireann clubmate Aoibhinn Henderson and Armagh’s Mackin sisters, with Aimee hitting 2-11 against Waterford IT in the final.
Grimes maintained her starter status under new Armagh manager Ronan Murphy at the start of last year before suffering an unfortunate friendly-fire injury during the narrow Orchard defeat to Kerry in a National League game in Tralee.
“I was having an operation on my nose a year ago yesterday. Myself and (team-mate) Catherine Marley went for the same ball and I banged it off her head. Ironically, she then got concussed in the next game against Wexford – must’ve been karma!” she jokes.
“That was actually the second time I’ve broken my nose. Me and my brother were messing, he went to pull his arm out of where I was holding it, hit my nose and I heard a crack. I can still feel it a bit on one side after the last time but, thankfully, have had no breathing issues.”
The injured duo had to watch helplessly as Armagh shipped a double-digit defeat against newly-promoted Meath in the Athletic Grounds in early March just before the coronavirus shutdown and it was more than seven months until the Orchard’s chance came to make amends.
We’ve relived Armagh’s brave All Ireland bid through Tiarna’s eyes on the opposite page and, although the heroic near miss against Dublin was tough to take, the year ended on a high note with that Ulster title triumph.
“It would obviously be right up there in terms of career highlights so far. We’d done so well against Mayo and Dublin, but I’d never won silverware with Armagh before and we’d lost out in the last two Ulster finals, so it was a very important match for us.”
Grimes scored Armagh’s final point of 2020 to put her team three clear, meaning Monaghan captain Cora Courtney couldn’t have snatched a Farney win with a last-kick free which, in the event, went over the bar as the final whistle sounded.
“I wasn’t sure my shot had actually gone over the bar, so was waiting for the umpire to raise his flag. My player was over the far side, so I’d a bit of space. In a situation like that, if the chance comes, you must take it regardless of the number on your back.
“Scoring may not be my main job but they all add up. I remember (corner back) Sarah Marley chipping in with a point in a league game and obviously Blaithin got some useful scores during the recent campaign.
“I’m just glad to be the type who can slot in anywhere as that is useful for the team, gives the management more options and maximises my chances of playing. You have to be very versatile now in gaelic football, comfortable on the ball and willing to work hard without it.”
Primarily a midfielder for Armagh in the first phase of her Orchard career, Grimes has also shown she could do a job anywhere across the back six with her height, tenacity and work ethic supported by impressive physical fitness and adaptability.
Way back in 2004, this writer had the privilege of interviewing England’s rugby World Cup-winning hero Jonny Wilkinson and the then Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard on the same day and the contrast in the training regime each followed was striking.
As an outhalf who liked to hit hard in defence, Wilkinson wanted to bulk up but, logically enough, Gerrard wanted to maintain mobility as an important priority, so their regimes were quite different.
Gaelic lies somewhere between rugby and soccer on the physicality spectrum and position-specific considerations also come into play in terms of working on the main attributes required to optimise performance in various roles.
So, while skipper Kelly Mallon emerged from the initial lockdown with an even more powerful physique, which is serving her well as an imposing full forward, Grimes has had a different focus, no pun intended.
“In terms of your Wilkinson-Gerrard debate, I wouldn’t want the rugby build. You have to taper your strength work and all I really want to do in that regard is maintain where I’m at. I’m strong already, in fact probably don’t use my strength enough. My brother says I should make more of it going into tackles.
“During the lockdown, I’m trying to focus more on agility and speed because I always want to keep quite light on my feet,” says Grimes, reflecting that each individual’s programme will vary, reflecting factors such as injury profile, position, stage of career and so forth.
“I like to think I’m fairly flexible in terms of football and I don’t mind the dirty jobs that nobody else likes. I enjoy going forward but also marking people, so that’s why I love midfield for you can combine both and I believe I’m fit enough to do that sort of role.”
There will be no return to collective training until after Easter at the earliest and, although Grimes is working hard on her own, she looks forward to being back in what is a very happy Orchard camp under the exceptional pastoral leadership of captain Mallon.
“At the minute we’re working on strength and conditioning individually but it’s hard doing it on your own. Sometimes myself and Clodagh (McCambridge) cross when we’re running at 7am. In fairness, she’s always smiling even at that time of the morning!
“I can’t wait to get back to team sessions. There was a fantastic spirit in the autumn and it’s the closest we’ve been as a team. That bond between us undoubtedly helped performances on the field and, in turn, winning generates a real feel-good factor.
“So much credit for that atmosphere must go to Kelly and it’s great to have her there as captain. She’d always text us individually to see how we are and is so caring towards her players. Her on and off-field leadership is a real asset for Armagh.”
The mid-July return of club football brought relief from the first shutdown last year, though it proved a disappointing domestic campaign for Clann Eireann, who were dethroned as county champions by Armagh Harps and didn’t win the league title either.
No silverware was an unaccustomed feeling for a club used to such success, though Grimes has only one Senior Championship medal to her name so far having just joined Clann Eireann ahead of the 2018 season after moving from St Peter’s via St Paul’s.
“Gaelic football was always my main sport growing up. I played underage at my local club St Paul’s, but they had no girls side so that was why I went to St Peter’s and now I’m at Clann Eireann. Sure I’ve had more clubs than Tiger Woods!” she quips, self-deprecatingly.
Rather than chasing glory in the form of top trophies, Grimes moving to Clann Eireann was more about becoming a better player and furthering her Armagh ambitions by competing with and against the county’s top talent at club level.
“I learnt a lot at St Peter’s and had a lot of friends there, people I’m still friendly with now. However, when the chance came to go to Clann Eireann, I felt the move would improve my performances and the St Peter’s managers gave me their blessing.
“It was great getting back to football last summer after the big break but it proved to be a disappointing season for Clann Eireann. I was quite disheartened with how the club season went so the inter-county campaign coming afterwards was a welcome chance to move on.”
The Orchard championship is set to be exceptionally competitive in 2021 with Harps proudly defending their title, Clann Eireann determined to regain it and Camlough clubs Carrickcruppen and Shane O’Neills also realistic contenders for the Orchard crown.
This season’s schedule will be determined by how the coronavirus situation unfolds over the next few weeks and months but Grimes is looking forward to working with former Armagh manager James Daly, who has returned to the Clann Eireann helm, for the first time.
“I came into the county panel the year after he finished with Armagh and he’d just gone when I joined Clann Eireann, so this will be a new experience which I’m really looking forward to. His training sessions won’t be easy, but I want to be pushed hard.
“James is someone with a lot of authority and I think that’s what we need as the club scene is so competitive now. Hopefully he’ll help bring the younger players through because that’s the future for Clann Eireann, just like we’re seeing with Armagh,” she says.
Given her height and athleticism, you could imagine Grimes being of more interest to AFLW franchises than a lot of county footballers and, if Armagh continue to challenge for the highest honours, the Lurgan woman may find herself in the shop window for offers.
“I’d never say never. I’d definitely be interested if the opportunity arose to try out for the AFLW and would probably like to explore possibilities, but only when the time is right at some stage in the future and when we can travel freely again.
“A major attraction of the AFLW is the chance to play sport professionally but doing a bit of travelling and experiencing gaelic football in another country, be it America or Australia, also appeals to me,” says Grimes, though her full focus for now is on winning with Armagh.