The joy and release of Limerick’s All-Ireland win and the pain of his sister’s passing last year have changed Joe Quaid’s outlook on life. He now knows life is to be enjoyed and he won’t worry too much about his Westmeath side’s chances of a critical breakthrough tomorrow.
Just before heaven, there was purgatory, though it felt more like hell. As a player Joe Quaid lost two All-Ireland finals — and a testicle as well, as every piece about him must reference — yet he ranks the nine minutes of added time in last year’s All-Ireland final as “the worst nine minutes of my life”.
For half that life, he’d to contend with all the jibes and theories as to what he and Limerick should have done in the ‘five-minute final’ of 1994, when Offaly scored 2-5 in the last five minutes to secure victory. Over time, he’d learn to mute the volume and store away that particular horror movie, but suddenly the remake was unfolding in front of him and he found it even more frightening than the original.
“It was worse, because we were hit with it in ’94. Now, I was watching history repeat itself. History that I had been involved in.”
He was in the lower Hogan Stand with his four children and partner and brother, occupying the last seat up against a small walkway and, the longer those nine “horrendous” minutes went on, the harder he gripped the steel barrier behind him.
When Joe Canning stood over that last free, it was too much. He turned his back to the play and instead faced the crowd, his arms resignedly draping over the steel barrier, his chin resting on its bar.
“I picked out a woman from Galway and a man from Limerick, about 10 rows away, and I heard the free being hit and I waited for their reaction. Only neither of them reacted, and I was saying to myself: ‘What in God’s name is after happening?’”
With the pregnant pause being even harder to bear, he turned around again to see the ball dropping into the Limerick square. “And all I could picture was someone getting a touch to it, back of the net, game over.”
Only that’s not what happened. Turned out, this film had a fairytale ending. The boy got the girl. The Limerick man got the cup, because Tom Condon got onto that dropping ball and came tearing out with it, straight in front of Quaid and his kids, the lot of them breaking into tears.
“It’s something I never knew how I would react to, a Limerick team winning an All-Ireland, and it was probably something that had been bugging me.
Would I be elated? Or would I be selfishly pissed off and envious that it was them getting it and not us? Would I feel a bit cheated by not getting to achieve what they had achieved?
“And the great part of it was that I didn’t. Ah, it was incredible. The relief, to have it won, and to turn around and see the four kids crying and being able to share that moment with them and my brother and Theresa. It was just magic.”
As the dread quickly gave way to Delores and Dreams, he felt the urge to seek out another family member. For seven decades a Quaid had represented Limerick at senior level. Jim and Jack Quaid, at ’87 now the eldest living male twins in all of Ireland, both won Munster medals in ’55 and played into the ’60s.
Jack’s son, Tommy, caught the tail end of the ’70s and played into the ’90s before handing over the number one jersey to Jim’s son, the bould Joe, who was still between the posts in the noughties. Now, Tommy’s son, Nickie, a constant with the county team since 2010, had finally delivered a senior All-Ireland for the clan and the county.
Sure enough, Nickie spotted his second cousin by the side of the pitch, only for another teammate to rush in behind and give Joe an even more vigorous embrace.
“Seán Finn nearly choked me,” says Quaid, smiling. “And he told me: ‘This is as much for you as for anyone else!’”
Because Finn hadn’t forgotten.
As a coach, Joe Quaid doesn’t claim to be any kind of guru. With Westmeath now he doesn’t even take the coaching; he delegates that to the likes of Shane O’Brien and Adrian O’Sullivan. What he will give himself credit for is his ability to get good people around him and develop a bond within a group.
The Limerick U14s of 2009 were his first guinea pigs after the Bord na nÓg chairman of the time, Tony Roche, gave him permission to experiment. Cian Lynch would have been among that pack, the audacity of his hurling a constant source of wonder, as would the likes of Tom Morrissey, Colin Ryan, current footballer Ronan Lynch. Finn and Aaron Gillane would have been there too, not quite strong enough yet for the As, but too promising not to include on the Bs.
Together they’d have all sorts of field trips and retreats and escapades. He brought them up to an All-Ireland semi-final so they could sample Croke Park. They took up a section in the Davin Stand, where they giddily tried to catch whatever balls escaped the big net, before some of them tried to work on getting the shift from a Kilkenny camogie team in the vicinity.
A fortnight later, they were in Waterford for the Tony Forristal itself. Their first ever night away together and first time representing their county.
“We spent half the flippin’ night walking the roads with them,” Quaid laughs. “I’d told them that if they couldn’t sleep, to give me a shout and we’d go for a walk along the Cork road. The first crowd rang at 12 o’clock. We weren’t back when the second group rang.”
It worked, as Quaid’s wit soothed their fears. They’d soon learn there was a lot worse in life, though again being together helped in such situations. When Dylan Dawson’s mother passed away, the whole team met as a group in the funeral parlour in Kilfinnane, and Dylan’s family remarked to Quaid how comforting and impressive that gesture was.
A little later, one of the lads themselves died. All of hurling now knows of Darragh O’Donovan from Doon, Cian Lynch’s regular midfield partner, but once there was a Darra Donovan from Monagea, a member of the county U15 panel, before sudden death adult syndrome claimed him in December 2011.
“I’ll never forget the night we went out to his removal. All the lads were in their Limerick gear, as was Darra himself in the coffin. There was a massive crowd out the back of the house, and naturally there was a loud hum from everyone talking, but once our lads started to file out, there was a complete silence.
Everyone just stood back and allowed his teammates to pass through the kitchen. Moments like that, you’ll never forget.
The following summer, that group of players would go on to win Limerick’s first and only U16 All-Ireland title, beating Galway 3-20 to 0-8 in the final. Yet, only 24 hours later, Quaid was informed by the county board that his wish to take the team up to minor had been refused. He could be a selector if he wanted to, but his wingmen Don Flynn and Ray Ryan couldn’t.
“We were gazumped. I’ll be straight about it, I felt very hard done by. I didn’t so much feel stabbed in the back as stabbed in the face. After all we’d done and been through with the lads.”
The lads themselves appreciated that, though. That’s why Finn hugged him by the side of the pitch last August, and that night out in the City West, all of them to a man who spotted him made a point of going over to thank him... Tom Morrissey, Cian, Peter Casey, Barry Nash, Colin Ryan. Finn and Gillane even expressed their gratitude for him putting them back onto the 14Bs so they’d get more game-time.
The following night, he was in their orbit again, back in Limerick, having by then met old comrades, such s Gary Kirby and Ciaran Carey, all of them beaming like him. Quaid didn’t get to the Marty party in the Gaelic Grounds, but by midnight he was raving in Amber nightclub to DJ Mark McCabe spinning Maniac 2000.
“I was never a Cranberries fan before last summer. I’m a Cranberries fan now. Same with [Maniac 2000]. It was something I could have taken or left, but to be out the night after Limerick winning their first All-Ireland in 45 years, and the whole of the Limerick team up on stage with the guy who wrote it, the lot of them with their shirts off, it was just mental!
“If we won it again this year and again for the next 10 years, I don’t think any night will ever replicate it. I’ll even go as far as this: I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the night in ’94 and ’96 any better had we won either of them.”
So, Declan Hannon, your hope came true. At least one past Limerick manager and player that drove your teammates on as young lads enjoyed last August as much as you did. After the minor door was slammed in his face, other doors opened up for him, most of which he would never have previously countenanced.
Quaid had yet to attend a camogie match when he told the Limerick women’s intermediate team at the start of 2013 that he’d get them to Croke Park that September. It was, as he says himself now, “a wild promise”, but it was one he’d fulfil. Too literally.
“That year, we won Division 2 in the league, the Munster junior championship and we got to the intermediate All-Ireland final, only Galway beat us. So I gathered them down by the Hill and said: ‘Girls, I should have promised you that we’d win in Croke Park, but I promise, if you we stick together, we’ll win here next year.”
Again, he was as true as his word. The following year, his management team would guide the county to the All-Ireland minor title and that coveted intermediate title, with Quaid even pipping Paudie Murray for camogie manager of the year.
“People scoff at fellas managing camogie teams, but it’s the best training you will ever get to manage a senior [men’s] inter-county team. Manage an U21 team and you could be finished after one match. With the camogie, you’ve to plan a pre-season, a league campaign, provincial championship, then the All-Ireland series.”
That grounding has served him, along with Kildare and Westmeath hurling well. Last season, in his third year with the Lilywhites, he guided them to the Christy Ring title. The only downer about it all was that it wasn’t enough for them to gain promotion to the Joe McDonagh Cup; six days later they’d to play Antrim in a playoff in the hardly equidistant venue of Armagh.
“A lot of players that were coming to the end of their careers would have stayed on to play McDonagh, but instead they retired and some of the younger lads went travelling. It cost the county about 10 players. This year, they were lucky to avoid a [Ring] relegation playoff.”
Quaid himself, though, has got to sample McDonagh Cup action this summer, having decided last autumn that he and the Kildare boys could do with a change from one another. At the start of this year, he told the Westmeath lads that within three seasons he expected them to win promotion to Division 1 hurling and the senior Leinster Championship. Already they’re just 70 minutes away from all that. Clearly he has more going for him as a manager than just a sense of humour.
“What I would say is I’d pride myself on my honesty and ability to deal with people, to read them and get them onside, and come with me. I’ll have a row with you, but I won’t fall out with you. I’ve got rid of friends in setups, because they weren’t able to do the job that they told me they were able to do and I asked them to leave, but we’re still friends. I don’t deal on reputations. I deal with what’s there in front of me.
Sometimes you’ve to listen to bullshit about how there’s nine Raharney lads on the team. The day we beat Offaly, someone said Raharney got something like 24 of our 27 points. I don’t care who gets our points. I don’t care where people are from. I have no agendas and tolerate no agendas and, when I’m in something, I’m in it, there’s no half measures.
So, there’s only one result he’s interested in tomorrow. His cousin Nickie might be playing in the Munster final and Nickie’s brother Tommy might be a selector with the Limerick minors, but it’s not as if he’ll be pulling the phone out on the sideline in Croke Park to see how Limerick are going in those two games. The spectre of another Quaid though will be with him on that line.
“My sister [also named Theresa] died last June, just 60 years of age. She was two-and-a-half-years fighting pancreatic cancer. I never saw a fighter like her. She’s my hero. My inspiration in life.
“She looked out for everybody, especially me; she was my godmother, as well. I could walk into her house and pretend to be in the best form ever and I could be in the depths of depression. She’d say: ‘Are you all right? Work getting to you? Something happen?’ She could feckin’ read through my eyes, it was an unbelievable knack she had. She was always there for you.
“So [her passing] has been a huge change in my life. I’m now at the stage where I’ve realised life is here to be enjoyed, to be appreciated more, to not get stressed out over things.
“Some of our players might come to me and tell me they’ve issues outside the game and can’t come to training, because of it, and I’ll say: ‘Listen, that’s okay. This is our hobby, not our life.’
“Before, I’d worry about everything. I’m talking to you now and we have a match in Croke Park on Sunday. If this was a few years ago, I’d be sitting here and I’d be… [rattles the table with his fingertips]. A nervous wreck. I wouldn’t be sleeping.
“But now? Whatever is going to happen on Sunday is going to happen. We’ve the work put in and we’re going to have one hell of a cut at it. That’s the way I look at life now. There’s no point worrying about it.”
At least since seeing Limerick, as well as Theresa, reach heaven.