ON THURSDAY Clare and O’Curry’s stalwart Ger Quinlan quietly announced his retirement from the inter-county football game after 15 seasons, only months after reaching the landmark of 100 appearances between league and championship for the saffron and blue.
His 100th appearance came when he played against Cork in this year’s Munster semi-final, an achievement that The Clare People marked at the time with a special feature article.
He made his debut against Down in the National League against Down in 1998 and for the next 15 years gave great service to the county. The feature on Quinlan, which was carried in the edition of June 11, 2013 is reproduced here.
QUINLAN JOINS SELECT CLUB
WHEN Kerry and Clare met in the 2004 Munster Championship that great follower and fount of Kingdom knowledge – the recently deceased Fr Jackie McKenna from Dingle who kicked ball with such luminaries as Tom ‘Gega’ O’Connor, Paddy ‘Bawn’ Brosnan, Billy Casey and many more – took a few minutes out on the field after the game.
“I was here in ’38 when playing for the Kerry minors against Clare,” he recalled from his Kerry debut 66 years previously, before exchanging greetings with the Kerry stars of the day like Colm Cooper, the Ó Sés and Seamus Moynihan.
Moynihan was still catching his breath after a contest in which Clare were competitive – Kevin Dilleen held Gooch to a point, while Brian Considine kept Declan O’Sullivan scoreless, as did Ronan Slattery on Paul Galvin – but Kerry were still comfortable as goals by Johnny Crowley and Eoin Brosnan helped them to a 2-10 to 0-9 win.
The game within the game, however, was the one between Moynihan and Ger Quinlan. Moynihan the multiple All Star, All-Ireland winning captain and one of the greatest of his generation; Quinlan the workaholic detailed to make sure the Glenflesk tearaway didn’t make hay down the left flank.
The change over the jerseys a few feet away from Fr McKenna after the game told the story – Quinlan, who lined out at right-half-forward that day in a direct match-up with Moynihan, earned his stripes and that number seven by subduing Moynihan in what was one of his finest hours in a Clare jersey.
And, those hours have been many, with 2013 marking the season in which Quinlan joined a select club of Clare footballers – the one belonging to those who have amassed 100 appearances between league and championship, with Quinlan reaching that landmark when playing against Limerick in the final round of the Division 4 campaign.
For years the club was the preserve of two members of Clare’s 1992 Munster championship winning team in Noel Roche and Frankie Griffin – now Quinlan has joined them.
“There’s huge pride in that for a small club,” says O’Curry’s stalwart Michael Curtin. “Going to a championship or league match,” he continues, “the first thing you did you bought a programme and the next thing you did was open up the middle page and made sure that Gerry Quinlan was on the clár. That what it means to us. It’s huge”.
Quinlan’s league debut came in 1998 against Down in Cusack Park – he’s made 74 more league appearances in the intervening 15 years, while in championship the first of his 25 appearances to date came in the 2000 victory over Waterford in Cusack Park.
In all those years he’s kicked ball against 25 other counties in competition – make that 26 by throwing in London and 27 if you want to throw in a Tommy Murphy Cup game against Louth – with Armagh, Tyrone, Dublin, Galway and Wexford the only counties he hasn’t crossed competitively.
“That’s why he’s talked about in the same breath as Tommy Kelly of the 1940s and Michael Downes in the 1970s,” says Curtin.
“They were O’Currys’ great countymen – we don’t produce many men of that calibre and Quinlan is another one of them – a great character and an ambassador.”
“It’s his attitude,” says Dinny McMahon, who soldiered with Quinlan at club level for many years and who now manages O’Curry’s. “It’s been phenomenal – his attitude every day he goes out is unbelievable.
“When we won a Junior championship in ’95 he was on the team at wing-forward that year, but broke his collar bone the night before the county final against Cooraclare,” he adds.
“Michael Downes was on that junior team,” says Curtin, “and it was his last year after coming back down to play his last few years with the club, so when he went it was as if the mantle passed to Ger,” he adds.
“He went to midfield around ’96 or ’97 and has been there since then and when we first went senior he was kicking seven and eight points every day for us, often chipping in with a goal,” says McMahon.
“It’s all because of attitude,” says Curtin, “because he donned the O’Curry’s jersey you know you got 110 per cent from him – irrespective of whether it was a championship, a league match or a challenge match.
“He says very little, does his talking on the field, but I’m tell you this – at half-time when Gerry Quinlan speaks there’s silence. He articulates the way the game has gone as good as any manager would.
“Everyone shuts up when he talks – the mentors, the manager and the players. If you weren’t good, you’re told about it – that translated right onto the team going out. You always knew that when he spoke we were within a grasp of winning the game,” adds Curtin.
McMahon plucks a few from the O’Currys’ back catalogue – when silverware was at stake, but also more often than not when the men from Doonaha, Querrin and Carrigaholt were teetering on the brink.
“I remember we survived against Corofin a few years back up in Lahinch. It was an awful day very late in the year and he was outstanding. There was his second half against Cusacks in the 2001 intermediate final – we’d lost two finals in ’97 and ’99 and wanted this one badly. Gerry fetched some ball that day and if we kicked eight points on the day I’d safely say he kicked five of them from midfield.”
A few more points from midfield on his 101st appearance between league or championship and O’Curry’s pride at his achievement will soar that bit more.
“We’ll be there on Sunday,” says McMahon, “because for big county games we’re always there and during the warm-up when Ger gives a look up and sees a few O’Curry’s men in the crowd it will give him a lift. It gives us a big lift seeing him too because of what he’s done for us.”