Kerry Footballers

Michael Quirke - Sportsman Supreme

December 15th, 2009
by Weeshie Fogarty

Something amazing occurred when the final whistle sounded in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick two weeks ago.  Kilmurry/Ibricane the Clare champions had defeated Kerins o Rahillys by one point to claim the Munster Senior club title. It had been a highly dramatic ending which resulted in tempers on the Kerry side being highly tested when referee Maurice Condon brought proceedings to an end. The sides were level with just minutes remaining.  Firstly David Moran's attempted free into the wind dropped short and Declan Quill punched to the Clare net. No goal signaled the umpires following consultation with the referee. It was a debatable decision in my opinion and the score could easily have stood. However I must admit I am not 100% certain one way or the other despite having a perfect view from my perch high up on the stand.  As the Kerins o Rahillys players were protesting and naturally some players were livid at the decision the ball was quickly moved down-field. Kilmurry substitute Evan Talty nonchalantly kicked a magnificent point from well out the field. The Clare men were ahead. Back came O Rahillys in one last desperate attempt to save the day. Barry John Keane who had a superb hour despite being constantly fouled whenever he got possession by a series of different players gained possession and headed for goal. For the umpteenth time the speedy winger was pulled and dragged and prevented from gaining ground. The referee was very close to the action and looked on dispassionately as Keane lost possession close to goal and the full time whistle sounded immediately. In my opinion this decision not to award a free which would most likely have resulted in the equalizer was more than debatable, it was wrong.

It was then we witnessed something that sadly is very rare indeed in Gaelic games. We saw a member of the losing team Micheal Quirke rush to the assistance of the referee as he began his walk to the dressing room as things began to turn nasty. A number of people obviously Kerins o Rahillys men confronted the Waterford official and began to angrily demonstrate with him. Then Quirke was plainly seen placing his body between the official and the protesters. While Michael was on the wrong side of those decisions he had the great presence of mind to do what he did and his leadership in that situation which certainly averted further conflict was superb. Local stewarts were now gathered around the referee and the big Kerins o Rahillys man stayed with the group until they disappeared down the tunnel and the safety of the dressing rooms.  He had quietly ushered some of his own team mates away from the official thus preventing any incident which would have certainly brought his beloved club into disrepute.

The whole thing for me as I peered down from on high on the unfolding events was a little surreal. I have racked my brains and failed to recall any such incident in all my years being involved both on and off the field. It's usually the other way around as it's the players from the winning side not the losers who generally gather around officials when trouble begins to brew. To fully realize and appreciate the exemplary actions of Quirke following the final whistle one should put themselves in that position. Now I have a confession to make in relation to referees. Firstly I feel I am fully qualified to speak from opposite sides of the fence. As a referee I have found myself in the very same situation as the Waterford man last Sunday week.  Debatable decisions have necessitated for me stewarts and at times Garda escorts from the field of play to the dressing rooms. In nearly fifteen years as the man in the middle in every province in the country never once has a losing player come to my aid when things rarely I must add, turned nasty. And I can assure you it's not a nice place to be. As a matter of fact it can be a very frightening experience when players, supporters and officials hurl abuse, spits and curses and attempt to get at you as surrounded by stewarts you yearn for the sanctuary of the dressing rooms. However it's the sheer hate and fury on the faces of those few at the time near insane individuals which remain etched in the memory.

Now as the fellow said let's turn to the other side of the coin. I have been involved on the side lines in the past for many years as I coached or trained various teams from under twelve to senior.  Now the most difficult aspect of the job can be when you see you side lose out at the final whistle due to an incompetent referee. And there are such people as competent referees as there are players, trainers and selectors every bit as incompetent.  To see a highly dubious free being awarded against your side or not being awarded a blatant free or penalty to win or draw a game is pretty hard to swallow I can assure you.  The natural and lets be clear, wrong action as the final whistle sounds is to make a bee line for the referee and question his decision. Its human nature and I have been guilty of it on just a few occasions against my better judgment.

So when the newly married Michael Quirk (we wish him and his new bride a long and happy life) put his bitter disappointment behind him in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick recently and rushed to the assistance of Maurice Condon he was showing sportsmanship at its very highest. In this day and age when cynicism, arrogance, bad manners, the deceiving of referees through ducking and diving is common place in all field sports the o Rahillys mans actions lit up the darkening gloom of a cold December day. Not alone did his behavior display his greatness but his words following the match also added to those moments of the highest sportsmanship.  "We lost it in the first half", admitted the Tralee captain to me. "We kicked too many wides, (nine in that first half) and that's the bottom line. That's life that's the way it goes. We are a young side and we will be back". If all his team mates adopt the superb attitude of their exemplary captain then they should be back next year bigger and better that ever.  The late great Pat Healy and John Dowling those two legendary Narries while being bitterly disappointed in their beloved clubs defeat would have been so proud of the example displayed by their club captain. For me his actions were one of the highlights of the year. And finally well done to the Clare men, they richly deserved their win. Now go on and make history and win the All Ireland lads.

Fogra: Are Tommy Doyle and Sean Walsh the only two Kerry footballers in championship history to play in every line of the field for Kerry in Croke Park, excluding goalkeeper?  Facts from Niall Flynn's superb new publication "Thirty Six and Counting" which I had the honor of launching last Saturday eve.

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