Two days before Dillon Quirke’s sudden and tragic passing on the field of play, Brendan McAnallen, father of former Tyrone captain, Cormac, died at the age of 77.
A quiet man of dignity and decency, McAnallen and his family saved countless number of lives because of the work they did honouring Cormac who died of sudden cardiac arrest. They relentlessly raised awareness about the condition among young adults through their establishment of The Cormac Trust.
We think of ex-Derry captain Kevin McCloy who collapsed during a club game in Dungiven eight years ago who revealed last year that he had suffered several heart attacks. “I had five cardiac arrests in the space of building the house, over that year-and-a-half,” he told The Irish News 12 months ago.
A defibrillator saved McCloy’s life in that Lavey-Magherafelt game just as it did Seaghan Kearney, the former Dublin senior hurling analyst who collapsed after a five-a-side soccer game in 2010. “When you hear of someone saved by a defibrillator that is a big thing,” said McAnallen. “Like Seaghan Kearney in Dublin. He is a patron of the Trust. The defibrillator that saved him didn’t come from here but it was donated by a local pharmacist because of the publicity arising from The Cormac Trust.”
Hours before Quirke’s last game, Antrim star Neil McManus helped save the life of a man who had suffered a heart attack in his car. As he was making his way to work, McManus and a woman called Emma noticed a stranger was in distress and came to his aid.
Speaking to Gaelic Games video journalist Jerome Quinn after lining out for Cushendall in a championship win that night, McManus said they used a defibrillator from a nearby shop: “I was lucky to be at hand, driving along the road at the right time. Emma, who is well-equipped with CPR knowledge, arrived and spent a few minutes with him, getting him around and thankfully the ambulance crew were there quickly on hand.”
Revealing Emma had saved another man on the same road a few weeks ago, he continued: “I was lucky to be at hand, driving along the road at the right time. This highlights the need for rural communities to be equipped properly with defibrillators to deal with situations like this.”
The experience was an acutely personal one for McManus, whose father Hugh was saved by a defibrillator in 2015. A local neighbour Joe Burns was the first responder after McManus, who was living at home at the time, rang for the ambulance.
“Without him (Burns) that day, there is no way my father would still be there,” recalled McManus last year. “The ambulance was there really quickly, within about three quarters of an hour, we are about an hour from Belfast so they were making good time to get down into the Glens, so we were just incredibly fortunate as a family.”
Along with his father, McManus has been part of a GAA campaign to encourage clubs to fundraise for automated external defibrillators at a saving of almost €1,000 per unit.
Two days after what happened in Thurles, Christian Eriksen was playing his first season game as a permanently-signed professional footballer since his heart stopped during last year’s Euro 2020 game for Denmark against Finland. Like McCloy, Eriksen has an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) fitted, which has allowed him to continue his career.
Quirke too was aware of his condition myocarditis, an inflammation of the lining of the heart. He followed the protocols and took a complete rest from hurling in 2019. As eager as he was to come back having been called up to the senior training panel, he only returned when he had received the all-clear.
As he is laid to rest in his beloved Clonoulty today, the outpouring of grief and sympathy across the country and beyond is palpable. Raised on the feats of his family, Quirke emulated so many of them at such a young age while retaining the same class as his father Dan and uncles Declan Ryan and Andrew Fryday. As a distraught famous son of the club told this column: “He was a treasure. A very special human being.”
Quirke’s star was so brilliantly bright that it will never dim. Clonoulty-Rossmore and Tipperary have plenty of heroes to follow but the 24-year-old will be the greatest example of life and hurling’s preciousness. His memory will be honoured rightly in the county long after today, but in general terms the best way of commemorating him is to expand cardiac screening programmes, make CPR training part of school curriculums and insist on every sports club having a defibrillator installed and regularly maintained.
Brendan McAnallen strove and succeeded in acknowledging his fine son in the most fitting way. He knew there would be more parents like him but because of his efforts there were less of them. That baton now passes to those in authority across the jurisdictions.
It might have seemed like he swallowed the whistle during the first quarter of Sunday’s All-Ireland senior camogie final but huge credit must go to Ray Kelly for his contribution to a terrific game.
The Kildare referee, widely regarded as the best in the business, took a light touch approach to a rulebook that, let’s be honest, is holding back the sport.
Yes, he could have blown for a lot more over-carries than he did but he was an addition to the spectacle and his officiating was admired by beaten Cork coach Davy Fitzgerald.
“Ray Kelly was unreal today – that’s the way refereeing should be done. There are a few like him, John Dermody another, a good lad. About 70%-80% of the refs are very decent, there might be 10% or 20% of them who need to look at themselves.”
Seven days earlier, Maggie Farrelly took a more literal interpretation of ladies football’s rulebook in her supervising of the Meath-Kerry All-Ireland senior final and as a result it was no surprise that the fare didn’t flourish.
It shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of individuals like Kelly to referee the way players want. That responsibility falls on officialdom in both associations and until both female Gaelic sports realise the conditioning and commitment levels of their leading players have outgrown their rulebooks they are abdicating their responsibility to promote the game.
Not for the first time, TG4 and Nemeton showed initiative in their live GAA coverage with Sunday’s Kerry senior hurling final in Tralee where referee John O’Halloran was mic’d up for the game.
Those watching at home were privy to the conversations between O’Halloran and players and it added to the enjoyment and understanding of what was unfolding between Causeway and Ballyduff.
From the same people who brought us behind-the-posts footage and understanding the speed at which goalkeepers are restarting in hurling by showing replays of scores in picture, it is yet another example of what can be done to augment the viewing pleasure of Gaelic games.
Of course, it helps that the players know when they are being recorded. That was an issue for Kieran Donaghy in the 2015 All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin when referee David Gough was mic’d up for a documentary shown later that year. After the game, Donaghy denied he was eye-gouged by Philly McMahon but the audio of his exchange with Gough demonstrated he had claimed otherwise.
“I don’t think a ref should be reffing a big game, knowing that he is mic’d up,” Donaghy said a year later. “That would be my take. Just for the mental side, they have enough to be worrying about on the field without worrying about if I say this or I say that.” But for major championship games, the referee is just that and the audio is available to the television companies who are keen to broadcast them in real time.
With RTÉ’s innovative spider cam abseiling between the Hogan and Davin Stands, the GAA have shown they can work with their media partners to present their showcase games in the best light. The use of replays to assist referees in getting major calls right where possible would seem the next obvious port of call but do they have the foresight to do so? The standing playing rules committee are due to present proposed changes to Central Council later this month. Let’s see.