Leitrim’s Mighty Quinn
by Gerry Hand
One way and the other it has been a heck of a last 18 months for the mighty man from Aughawillan, Mickey Quinn.
There’s been the rise and rise of Leitrim football, a new found prominence for Quinn in the national media, and of course, the All Star midfield berth to top the lot, or does it in Quinn’s mind beat everything?
“Not really – okay, it is great to be honoured in such a fashion, I’d never say otherwise, but the really important think is getting Leitrim into division one.”
Loyalty to the county has always been the hallmark of the man who at ’thirty something’ has at last, after years of trying, become an overnight sensation, he remembers the bad old days all too well though.
“There was a time when no matter how well I might feel I was playing myself, the county side was treated as a bit of a joke by those outside Leitrim, and you were lucky to get three men and a dog at league games and mostly the do didn’t bother turning up.”
The arrival of PJ Carroll changed all that, no more did some of the side train in Dublin while the rest put in the effort down in Carrick, the training was scheduled for the halfway house of Kells in County Meath and was stepped up considerably, players were treated better and the results began to all attention to Leitrim and the towering figure of Quinn.
If it appears that Leitrim’s rise runs parallel to Quinn’s then that is as it should be, rather like club and the orange, you can’t have one without the other.
A lot of people are of the opinion that Leitrim will flatter in the league, only to deceive in the championship, not a wise statement to make in front of the big midfielder.
“Whether we’ll win the championship, or even win a game in it has to take second place in our minds until after Sunday, but we are confident the way we are playing, we have to be, and remember we are All-Ireland winners – too many people forget that.”
The title in question is, of course, the All-Ireland B annexed when Sligo were defeated, but it was all part of the confidence building programme that Quinn finds so essential.
“Winning games gives you the feeling of invincibility, it is a great habit to have.”
So how, if that theory holds water, are we to account for Leitrim’s stumble at the two final hurdles in the league with the finishing post and a place in the top section in sight?
“It was, looking back on it, a case of trying too hard, coupled with the fact that we were due an off day, in a peculiar way now the pressure is off us against Kildare.”
He doesn’t need to be encouraged to elaborate on that particular theory, as his eagerness to talk is matched only by his enthusiasm for victory on the field.
“Kildare you see, with O’Dwyer in charge, are expected to beat us, that is reversal of the role we’ve been playing all year when with all the paper hype, we were always favourites, now we are back to being underdogs and that suits us fine.”
Sunday’s clash will be of grater interest than usual to the neutral according to Aughawillan’s pride and joy.
“Well, it will be interesting to see just how advanced are the two teams who have been the flavour of the months over the winter, there will be a lot of other teams watching with interest.”
So does Leitrim’s renaissance serve as a prime example to other counties, to demonstrate just how much can be achieved given the required organisation and effort? According to Quinn it does, if only just!
“A well known GAA person once said you can’t win a derby with a donkey and it is true, all the effort, determination and dedication will only bring rewards if the playing material is there.”
Quinn, who became the second All Star ever, Maurice Fitzgerald was the other, to never have played in Croke Park prior to winning his award, admits to having judged his own performance by the standards of previous All Star winners.
“Maybe ten or twelve times I played on fellows who would have won awards and you’d know yourself how you would be getting on against them, it was a good way to gauge my form.”
The championship is, despite Quinn’s refusal to look too far forward, looming large on the horizon and when he eventually consents to speak on the subject, he sees great cause for optimism.
“We have Sligo in Carrick and Roscommon must come down to us, if we win that one, so I’d reckon that will work to our advantage.
“We have Sligo in Carrick and Roscommon must come down to us, if we win that one, so I’d reckon that will work to our advantage.”
So also will the age of the side as Quinn reveals, surprisingly to this writer at least, that Leitrim have a very young outfit.
“We would have six or seven lads on our regular first team who are just 20 and 21, they are fit, both physically and mentally fit. PJ has done an awful lot to develop our mental fitness and that has been a great asset.”
The secret of success is neatly wrapped up in that sentence but the midfielder has one other point to add on that score.
“Now we actually look forward to playing a match and that attitude is certainly an improvement on a few years ago.”
Club football rivalry has always been significant in Leitrim and Aughawillan’s great rivals are Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins, though Quinn was full of praise for their efforts this year.
“Their reaching a Connacht club final was a great boost to us all down here.”
He pauses momentarily to reflect on what might have been for his own club the previous season.
“Well, we kicked a bucketful of wides against Clan na Gael last year and had a goal rather dubiously ruled out, so it could have been us.”
The revived interest among Leitrim men and women everywhere about the county brings added pressure on to the team, and while Quinn has already stated he believes the pressure is off next Sunday against Kildare, it surely must affect performances at some stage?
“Not really – pressure to a large extent is something you bring on yourself, if you are playing well the pressure is off, if not well then you really feel it.”
Getting Leitrim into division one is the priority but when in his closing words Quinn reveals his feelings on the championship he says it with such intensity you have no choice but to believe him.
“If we won the championship I’d die a very happy man.”
Now that’s what I call passion for football.
Taken from Hogan Stand
29th March 1991