LIM­ER­ICK LEAD­ERS

Der­mot Crowe trav­elled west to meet the All-Ire­land he­roes

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - DER­MOT CROWE

ON Wed­nes­day morn­ing, the start of his third day as an All-Ire­land se­nior hurl­ing medal holder, Nickie Quaid makes his way down from his ho­tel room in Adare. The night be­fore has seen play­ers and man­age­ment carry the cel­e­bra­tion trail to the town of their cap­tain De­clan Han­non. Quaid’s voice is hoarse. His mother will see him later in Ef­fin, his home­place, where they’ll make an un­sched­uled stop and she’ll ad­judge him a lit­tle white in the face. The things that moth­ers no­tice. If he is not look­ing the usual pic­ture of health, it’s the price you pay, when you find your­self where he is now, a place he wouldn’t swap with any­one.

He says he never re­lin­quished that dream, walk­ing as he is in the foot­steps of Sea­mus Hor­gan, the goal­keeper in ’73, and Paddy Scan­lan, the famed and sto­ried stop­per of the 1930s and ’40s. Win­ning an All-Ire­land places him in rare com­pany, but goal­keep­ing and play­ing for the county is in the blood.

When the train fi­nally stalled in Col­bert Sta­tion on Mon­day evening, his grand­fa­ther Jack, 86, a former Lim­er­ick goal­keeper, was there to see him. Jack didn’t go to the match but noth­ing would stop him get­ting to the train sta­tion to see his grand­son ar­rive back with the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Jack’s son and Nickie Quaid’s fa­ther, Tommy, was in goal when Lim­er­ick lost to Gal­way in the 1980 All-Ire­land fi­nal. He played 37 con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onship matches over 17 years. Nickie Quaid’s cousin, Joe, re­placed him in 1993, suf­fer­ing the two All-Ire­land fi­nal de­feats in the 1990s. This was a vic­tory for all of them, re­ally.

And, he’ll ad­mit, his fa­ther was of­ten on his mind. In Oc­to­ber, 20 years will have passed since Tommy Quaid died af­ter a work ac­ci­dent in Charleville. He was just 41 and still an ac­tive player. Only a week be­fore he scored 1-5 for Ef­fin against Fedamore, play­ing out­field as he gen­er­ally did for his club. He left a wife, Breda, and three young chil­dren: Thomas, Nickie and Jack.

Life and hurl­ing in­ter­weave. The day Tommy’s fa­ther-in-law died, ear­lier the same year in the sum­mer of ’98, Lim­er­ick won the Mun­ster in­ter­me­di­ate hurl­ing ti­tle. Tommy Quaid was a team se­lec­tor. And on the day they won the All-Ire­land fi­nal in Oc­to­ber, later the same year, Tommy Quaid suc­cumbed to the in­juries be re­ceived when fall­ing while work­ing on the Credit Union in Charleville. Nickie and Thomas were at the game, their mother want­ing to re­tain a sense of nor­mal­ity. Their fa­ther re­mained in hos­pi­tal, at that stage be­yond any hope of re­cov­ery. On the Lim­er­ick win­ning team that day was John Kiely.

Nickie goes to his fa­ther’s grave be­fore ev­ery match, and each of the three broth­ers, who play to­gether with Ef­fin, carry a memo­rial card of their fa­ther in their gear bag. “He came into my head a cou­ple of times dur­ing the week,” says the cur­rent Lim­er­ick goal­keeper. “Of course I was think­ing of him, but I wasn’t the only Lim­er­ick player think­ing of fam­ily.”

How is your mother?

“She’s great. The GAA keeps her go­ing. Whether she is out sell­ing lotto tick­ets for the club at home. Or run­ning around do­ing some­thing for the ju­ve­nile sec­tion. Or wash­ing jer­seys and get­ting first aid kits sorted, all this kind of stuff. It’s great, all this stuff keeps her go­ing.”

*****

BREDA QUAID an­swers the phone at her work­place in Bruree. It’s Thurs­day morn­ing and she is em­ployed at Cuan Mhuire, an ad­dic­tion treat­ment cen­tre in south Lim­er­ick, since 2001. “It’s funny,” she says, “I am a tee­to­taller my­self, I never gave up my Con­fir­ma­tion pledge. As was my hus­band.”

Ef­fin and the GAA were in­valu­able sup­ports when her world fell in 20 years ago. “When Tom died,” she says, “the el­dest boy was 11, Nickie was nine, and then the small lad was two-and-a-half. I was ob­vi­ously go­ing to matches with the kids up to that. They were play­ing un­der­age matches, blitzes, things like that. I went to the club AGM the Christ­mas of that year, I got in­volved from there, I ac­tu­ally went off and did a (coach­ing) foun­da­tion course.

“I’d say I came the whole way up along as a coach with Nickie (from un­der 12). A neigh­bour of ours was very good to us and he used to take our el­dest lad Thomas to the matches, when I was tak­ing Nickie to his matches. Then they both played to­gether on cer­tain age groups when they got older. I was try­ing to coach. I wouldn’t have been fit to tie their fa­ther’s shoelaces as re­gards coach­ing. But at least I was there and the foun­da­tion course gave me a bit of con­fi­dence.”

She met her hus­band in Feo­hanagh, where he lived and played most his life, the en­counter made pos­si­ble when she trained there with the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and stayed in digs owned by an aunt of his. They were dat­ing when she went to see him hurl for Lim­er­ick in the 1980 All-Ire­land fi­nal against Gal­way and notes the irony that it was Gal­way again on Sun­day last when Lim­er­ick made their break­through with their son play­ing.

“And in fair­ness, Joe McDon­agh,” she re­calls, “who was there in 1980, I mean he came down to Ef­fin and spoke at Tommy’s fu­neral and Joe is dead since. I have great re­spect for that man. He said a lovely few words that night in the church.”

Breda Quaid came from Gal­moy in north Kilkenny and her fa­ther Nicholas was a cousin of the le­gendary Kilkenny sec­re­tary Paddy Grace. She im­mersed her­self in the GAA af­ter her hus­band’s death. “When I got in­volved with the GAA then, what I found, lit­er­ally from March to Oc­to­ber, it just flew be­cause it was all matches and train­ing and so on.

“The parish of Ef­fin were unreal at the time of the fu­neral. Even Jack, my fa­ther-in-law, said it. He said he couldn’t be­lieve what Ef­fin was do­ing for us, we were only blow-ins. And they were so good af­ter, they kept com­ing up to my house and of­fer­ing help. They did ev­ery­thing. But, look, I had my health, thank God. I was com­fort­able, I was able to af­ford to take them to matches and things like that. And I’d have a car filled with chil­dren and you’d pull up at the neigh­bour’s house and have a chat. And that’s what kept me go­ing. And my own fam­ily were good at home. They were ob­vi­ously into the GAA.”

At the fi­nal whis­tle on Sun­day last, Breda Quaid was with Thomas and Jack and other fam­ily mem­bers in the lower Cu­sack Stand. Her main con­cern was that Nickie would not make a blun­der. When the last Gal­way at­tack was re­pelled and James Owens sounded the whis­tle, the sta­dium erupted. “We went down to pitch-side and he came over,” she says. “My youngest boy was be­side me at the fi­nal whis­tle. He was very emo­tional. He held on to me for a cou­ple of min­utes.”

The fam­ily had set­tled in Ef­fin for a num­ber of years be­fore Tommy died, and he switched al­le­giance to Ef­fin three years be­fore, from Feo­hanagh-Castlema­hon where he played most of his ca­reer, 23 miles away. “Tom was work­ing in Golden Vale in Charleville,” ex­plains his wife. “Which is five miles out the road so we just bought a site in Ef­fin. We built a house. But he did con­tinue to play for Feo­hanagh for a good few years. Un­til the lads got big enough to get in­volved in hurl­ing them­selves.”

On Sun­day last, she bumped into his former team-mate for club and county, and close friend, John Flana­gan, whose son Sea­mus starred for Lim­er­ick.

“That’s a nice thing to see. Johnny Flana­gan’s el­dest boy, Seán, he played the same age group as my youngest boy, Jack. They played mi­nor and un­der 21 there to­gether on the county team. And then Sea­mus Flana­gan is a year or two younger. Ob­vi­ously he made it on to the se­nior panel. And I met Johnny above in Dublin. So it’s a great tra­di­tion.”

‘My youngest boy was be­side me at the fi­nal whis­tle. He was very emo­tional’

*****

OF the play­ers who started last Sun­day’s All-Ire­land fi­nal for Lim­er­ick, Graeme Mulc­ahy is the long­est-serv­ing. Tom Con­don, who came on and made the vi­tal last re­liev­ing catch, started in the same year, 2009, while Sea­mus Hickey made his first cham­pi­onship ap­pear­ance two years be­fore. Paul Browne is of sim­i­lar vin­tage to Mulc­ahy but in­jury ruled him out. What­ever opin­ion of Mulc­ahy you had set­tled on head­ing into the year, it can’t be the same now. He is now be­ing talked of as a po­ten­tial Hurler of the Year.

On a team noted for the strik­ingly high per­cent­age of tal­ented young play­ers, with an av­er­age age of 23, Mulc­ahy and Quaid are from the other end of the spec­trum. Mulc­ahy, qui­etly spo­ken, be­comes the first Kil­mal­lock player since Mossie Dowl­ing in 1973 to win a Celtic Cross. Both also share the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing All-Ire­land fi­nal goalscor­ers. Mulc­ahy’s story is one of en­durance and de­feat­ing the odds.

Like Quaid, he played on the teams that hurled through the strike pe­riod of 2010. He has worked his way through a se­ries of dif­fi­cult spells to fi­nally reap his re­ward, ad­mit­ting that 2015 and ’16 were frus­trat­ing years that “didn’t go very well for me”.

“Af­ter we got to the All-Ire­land club fi­nal with Kil­mal­lock I think fa­tigue set in. In ’16 it was just very frus­trat­ing, and last year I had an in­jury early in the year and tried to play through that and that was prob­a­bly a mis­take on my part. It didn’t work out for me and then I didn’t play against Kilkenny (in the All-Ire­land qual­i­fiers, which put Lim­er­ick out). That was prob­a­bly down to me not hav­ing my body right. I made a big de­ci­sion over the win­ter, I worked very hard, took a good chunk of time off and didn’t come back till mid-Fe­bru­ary. And came back right, came back fit. And we had a cou­ple of rounds of club cham­pi­onship be­fore we played the first round of the cham­pi­onship against Tip­per­ary. We have John Bru­dair in charge of us this year and I got moved out into a more cen­tral role. I was cen­tre-for­ward with the club and I think that gave me the con­fi­dence go­ing into the cham­pi­onship.”

The club role made a big dif­fer­ence? “It did for me. Con­fi­dence is a mas­sive thing. I would have taken a lot of stick. I would have read things I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have read.” Where?

“Just on­line I sup­pose, places like that. That’s some­thing I’ve learned, not to read any­thing like that. Just stay away from that.”

And the Kilkenny ex­pe­ri­ence nearly broke him, al­most snapped his con­fi­dence like a twig. “I found com­ing home from that match, we were af­ter los­ing, we were talk­ing on the way home and I was won­der­ing if I’d even come back this year. I re­mem­ber feel­ing par­tic­u­larly low af­ter that match. Prob­a­bly the first game in nine years I hadn’t started. I got around two min­utes at the end. Just the way the sea­son went, it was very frus­trat­ing. I was very low.”

So this is some trans­for­ma­tion?

“It is. It is a tes­ta­ment to John (Kiely) and the boys for hav­ing faith in me. I hadn’t fea­tured much be­fore that (hurl­ing for Kil­mal­lock in early cham­pi­onship rounds) and that gave me a plat­form to get on the ball again and in­crease my con­fi­dence. We played a chal­lenge match in Dublin the week be­fore the cham­pi­onship and I felt full of con­fi­dence, I took my chance that night.”

Mulc­ahy has been a rev­e­la­tion. You might have thought of a tricky cor­ner-for­ward good for a few scores here and there, slip­ping in and out of matches. Now you think of him in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent light. A se­ri­ous player who had a hugely in­flu­en­tial part in Lim­er­ick win­ning the All-Ire­land. Of all his scores — he hit 1-2 in the fi­nal — the last point, the last Lim­er­ick would score, putting them two points ahead, proved the de­ci­sive one. When he scored it they were gasp­ing for air.

“Just two min­utes be­fore that I got a ball com­ing out of de­fence and I looked up and saw Cian Lynch free in the mid­dle of the field. And gave a pass back to him but it wasn’t the best of passes and went straight to Niall Burke and he put it over the bar and that brought it back to a point. So if the ground could have opened up and swal­lowed me there and then I would have fallen into it. In my own head I sup­pose I was say­ing I need to make up for this. I was lucky I got that op­por­tu­nity.”

He was just six years old when Lim­er­ick lost the 1996 All-Ire­land. That didn’t give him to­tal im­mu­nity. “I would have still grown up with the tra­di­tion of it. Lis­ten­ing to sto­ries about it. And watch­ing the videos. It was funny. I have a brother (Jake) who is only a year and a half younger than me. And we would be out the back as kids pre­tend­ing to be the Pilk­ing­tons.”

Mulc­ahy blushes at men­tion of him be­ing a con­tender for Hurler of the Year. “That wouldn’t have been on my mind. I wouldn’t even have con­sid­ered my­self in the run­ning be­fore the fi­nal. Tommy Walsh is prob­a­bly my favourite hurler of all time. And my brother would know that too and he sent me the video of Tommy putting my name for­ward for it. And that alone for me is a priv­i­lege, a huge hon­our, if I never got a nom­i­na­tion, to be talked about like that by a player like him and what he’s achieved.”

He thinks of those jour­neys home from de­feats with Nickie Quaid, his neigh­bour who he of­ten jour­neyed with, when not a word might be spo­ken in the car. And he thinks of the morn­ing af­ter the fi­nal on Mon­day, in the ho­tel, head­ing down for a swim and af­ter­wards re­lax­ing in the sauna with Richie Mc­Carthy, an­other vet­eran, who he trav­elled to train­ing with over the last cou­ple of years from Cork where they both work. “It was just a quiet mo­ment, to re­lax and ap­pre­ci­ate what we’d achieved. We both would have talked about not com­ing back af­ter last year.”

*****

THE year Nickie Quaid came into the team seems a life­time ago. With most of their best hurlers un­will­ing to play, Lim­er­ick were on the floor. In the Na­tional League they fin­ished up with a 31-point ham­mer­ing from Dublin which sent them into Di­vi­sion 1B from which they only es­caped this year with a win in Salthill. Quaid was an out­field player when he came on in the Mun­ster semi-fi­nal against Cork. They were well beaten, as ex­pected. But here’s a thing, he tells you. That same day there was a young lad play­ing in the pri­mary schools match from Kildimo-Pal­laskenry. His name was Kyle Hayes. Not too many out­side his fam­ily and neigh­bours would have paid much heed.

Eight years on, at 20, Hayes lit up the All-Ire­land fi­nal with a ma­jes­tic dis­play af­ter half-time that prob­a­bly more than any player de­ter­mined the course of the match. Time spills like sand through your hands. In no time at all, boys turn to men, and men to he­roes.

“Nickie was on the Tony For­ristal team in goal,” says Breda Quaid. “He was a sum­mer baby. I also came up (coach­ing) with Jack, the youngest fella, but I found that when they came to 16 they didn’t want their mother there.”

What are they like, the boys? “The el­dest boy Thomas is very like his fa­ther. The other two are more alike, they say they are more like my side of the fam­ily, the Graces. But, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, they all have their char­ac­ter­is­tics from their fa­ther. Very de­ter­mined. Great stamina. They are re­ally, re­ally de­ter­mined to progress in ev­ery part of their life, ca­reer-wise as well as GAA-wise. They are very dis­ci­plined as re­gards their train­ing, they never miss train­ing; as re­gards in­juries they play them down, do ev­ery­thing in their power to get back play­ing.” Where are they all liv­ing now?

“I am blessed to have three sons, and three of them in Ire­land. That’s num­ber one. And we were lucky to have five acres of land pur­chased be­fore Tom passed away. And the el­dest two lads are ac­tu­ally build­ing on that. And Jack, the youngest lad, is still at home with me. Ah, I don’t know how lucky I am. And I do think of the par­ents that have seen off their fam­i­lies. I was lucky in that they never showed any in­ter­est in mov­ing away. And the ca­reers they chose al­lowed them to stay around. If you like they could have taken over the role of pro­tect­ing me.”

Their fa­ther is al­ways present. “From day one I al­ways brought them to the grave with me. And now it’s great, now they go them­selves. The other two will go be­fore matches as well. I would have been play­ing say­ing, he is look­ing down on ye, look­ing af­ter ye. Things like that. It has kept his mem­ory alive.”

*****

GALBALLY is a beau­ti­ful ru­ral hide­away un­der the Gal­tee Moun­tains, in rich fer­tile Golden Vale ter­ri­tory. On Wed­nes­day night, hav­ing left Ef­fin, the vic­to­ri­ous play­ers and man­age­ment went to the fur­ther­most fringes of south-east Lim­er­ick, where it shoul­ders Tip­per­ary. This is John Kiely’s place. They have had to com­bine with Gar­ryspillane to field adult teams. It is a strug­gle to sur­vive. But the GAA here is as vi­brant and es­sen­tial, per­haps more so, as any­where else.

They ar­rive just be­fore 8.0pm, the evening dry but turn­ing cool. The MC for the evening is Matt O’Cal­laghan, a lo­cal journalist and ar­dent fol­lower, who in­tro­duces the play­ers to the crowd. Some need coax­ing. One of those is Tom Con­don. In the Mun­ster Cham­pi­onship round robin against Clare, the day they lost and missed out on the Mun­ster fi­nal, Con­don came on and was then red-carded. He picked up a two-match sus­pen­sion. Had he never been seen af­ter that in a Lim­er­ick jersey it would not have been a sur­prise.

But here he is be­ing in­tro­duced to the crowd and asked to show them the hand that caught the ball that stopped Gal­way from res­cu­ing the match in a tense fi­nale. Nickie Quaid stood be­hind a de­fence deemed lighter on back-up than their for­ward coun­ter­parts. Yet on the day Richie Mc­Carthy and Con­don made in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tions when in­tro­duced for the in­jured Mike Casey and Richie English.

Quaid was con­vinced that Joe Can­ning was go­ing to score from the last free, a few me­tres out­side his own 45-me­tre line. “And then I re­alised it was go­ing to be drop­ping short. When Tom Con­don came out with it and went out the field I was never as happy.”

A re­liev­ing sight? “Bril­liant. And that’s what you have to re­alise about Tom. He has been an un­be­liev­able ser­vant. He has been there longer than I have been there. And to in an All-Ire­land fi­nal come out with the last ball, I was de­lighted for him. Af­ter Clare he’d two games (sus­pen­sion) got so he knew that un­less we got to an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal he wouldn’t have a chance to

get a jersey. To be fair to him in train­ing he knuck­led down, he didn’t sulk. He car­ried him­self very well. He trained very hard and forced his way back into the 26 for those two games, which is not an easy thing to do. Like, there’s a lot of lads fight­ing for po­si­tions. He worked his way back.

“He was also af­ter putting in a very im­por­tant tackle on Conor Whe­lan. He had a very ef­fec­tive last few min­utes. I sup­pose he said to him­self that when he came in he wasn’t go­ing to have any re­grets, he was go­ing to go for ev­ery­thing.”

Did you fear it was slip­ping? “When Joe (Can­ning) got that goal, the free, it went from five to two points and there was still four or five min­utes to go. To be hon­est with you, ’94 crossed my mind. I said, ‘Oh no, don’t let this hap­pen again please’. Thank­fully, Graeme came up with a huge score, af­ter they’d got it back to a point, to put us two ahead. We hadn’t scored in a long time. It was a huge score.”

IN Galbally they want to hear Kiely, who is stand­ing on the makeshift stage. The club has been no­ti­fied less than 24 hours ear­lier that the party will be com­ing, but in that time they have turned the place into an im­pres­sive host venue. Kiely takes the mic, field­ing ques­tions from O’Cal­laghan.

“Look, it’s a dream come true. All the hard work had paid off. I am just de­lighted for ev­ery­body. De­lighted that the 45 years has been put to bed now. And it’s over and done with. It took too long. It could have hap­pened be­fore now. A lot of very good teams were close to the line. And that just for all sorts of var­i­ous un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dents it just didn’t hap­pen. At the same time those teams laid the way for this team and the way they main­tained the tra­di­tion of Lim­er­ick hurl­ing right through­out the 45 years, and th­ese guys are the prod­uct of that, if you like. And ev­ery­body can share in the suc­cess of the team. It’s a win for the county and ev­ery per­son in it.”

He cites the league game against Of­faly which he says might seem in­signif­i­cant, but where they “all felt some­thing.” Nickie Quaid goes back to Mal­low, on De­cem­ber 30 last year, when they played Cork in the Mun­ster League. “There was some­thing John (Kiely) said, he said we were go­ing to get bet­ter as the year went on. I ac­tu­ally saw a photo from the match the other day. Gearóid McIn­er­ney had the ball. I think it was five Lim­er­ick lads sur­round­ing him. To me it just summed up what it’s been like this year.”

One of the mo­ments of the year was his save against Sea­mus Harnedy who looked cer­tain to score the de­ci­sive goal in the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal. But mod­esty for­bids an elab­o­rate dis­sec­tion. “I said to some­one af­ter, that play­ing out­field for the club, it was kind of a nat­u­ral thing for me to do more than any­thing. The ball was there and I just tipped away the ball. I sup­pose the big thing that I took out of that is that if you look back there’s three of our play­ers on the line be­hind me, and we had around eight play­ers in­side our 13-yard line af­ter 71 or 72 min­utes of an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal. It just showed the work rate and de­sire of the lads to get back and close out the game. I sup­pose it is what we have prided our­selves on all year.”

They did things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. All small lessons for the past adding up. In 2013, they went up the day be­fore the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal loss to Clare and the match day dragged. This time they trav­elled on the morn­ing of the game. Ev­ery­thing was more re­laxed and time zipped by. The felt they were in a good place com­ing in. The ‘B’ team beat­ing the ‘A’ team a week be­fore might have sounded an alarm some place else.

Here it was merely af­fir­ma­tion that the next 15 are ca­pa­ble of stand­ing in and em­u­lat­ing the ones for­tu­nate enough to be cho­sen.

“But the young lads were a breath of fresh air,” says Quaid. “His­tory means ab­so­lutely noth­ing to th­ese fel­las. It re­ally doesn’t bother them. Kyle Hayes said to me re­cently (grins), ‘Were Lim­er­ick in an All-Ire­land fi­nal in 1996 too?’ When I heard that it ac­tu­ally made me smile to think that his­tory didn’t mean any­thing, he has his own his­tory. Sea­mus Hickey summed it up very well in Lim­er­ick on Mon­day evening, they are the most ma­ture im­ma­ture bunch of peo­ple he has ever met.”

As John Kiely said as dark­ness be­gan to fall on Galbally on Wed­nes­day night, 45 years is too long. Ger Cussen, the Galbally club sec­re­tary, is one of those who was in Croke Park in ’73 when they won the pre­vi­ous time. Many of those in Galbally on Wed­nes­day were not clearly born then. Cussen was 12 years old. “And I thought at that time,” he says, “that ev­ery year was go­ing to be like that.”

Didn’t they all.

‘They are the most ma­ture im­ma­ture bunch of peo­ple he has ever met’

Nickie Quaid (bot­tom, in­set) lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup while Graeme Mulc­ahy (be­low) minds Nickie’s nephew, Thomas Quaid. Wil­liam O’Donoghue (left) cel­e­brates with the Cup on the open top bus and (above) John Kiely and De­clan Han­non greet the sup­port­ers at the home­com­ing.

Pho­tos: Ram­sey Cardy, Seb Daly, Diar­muid Greene and Sena Curtin

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