Dermot Crowe travelled west to meet the All-Ireland heroes
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.