It may have escaped your attention but one of the most important men in Kilkenny hurling stepped down last week. No, not Brian Cody, you would have heard that on the nine o’clock news. It wasn’t TJ Reid or Michael Fennelly either, in case you’re wondering why you didn’t see that in any of the main sports titles.
Instead, it was Mooncoin’s Ned Quinn who left his position as county board chairman, bringing to an end 23 years of exceptional service to the county. Quinn started as county board vice-chairman in 1994 and has served for two 5 year terms, (the maximum time permitted) as county chairman. But last week he brought the curtain down on a glorious, if such a word can be used, administrative career.
He did so in typically understated fashion, deflecting the praise he received onto other, he felt, more deserving board members. “People have no idea about the time they put in. They are dedicated, loyal and very capable. Kilkenny would be regarded as a very progressive board, one that is open to new ideas. If I was young enough I would start all over again. It was an honour to serve.”
Quinn has never been one to hog the limelight. The very fact that I’m writing this would probably be enough to make him scurry for cover. He’s not a John Delaney or Pat Hickey type desperately clinging onto power. There’s no “Deluded Ned Quinn” accounts on Twitter. But he’s as important, if not more so, than any other great player or manager the county has had in the last 23 years.
Hard as it is to believe, in the mid 90’s, Kilkenny hurling was at a low ebb. The senior side had been hammered in a Leinster final by Offaly (remember them?) by 11 points. The minor team had managed to score the princely sum of 1-2 (no, that’s not a misprint) over 60 minutes in a similar drubbing in the All-Ireland final, by an all conquering Cork side. Recognizing that there was a deficit of top class young talent in the county, Quinn and his cohorts set in motion a system of development squads, that suitably bore fruit over a massively productive 00’s and current decade.
On that magnificent Cork minor side was the one and only Donal Og Cusack, who managed to develop a, shall we say, slightly more fractious relationship with his own county board secretary over the years. The comparison between Quinn and Frank Murphy is a pertinent one. When Donal Og unleashed the infamous “Stepford wives” jibe at the Kilkenny hurlers a few years ago, it was done with a sense of anger. How dare these elite athletes just blindly accept their lot.
In reality though, there was more than a hint of jealousy in the comments. The fact was, and Cusack may have had trouble getting his head around it, the relationship between the Kilkenny players and their county board WAS harmonious. And Quinn was one of the main reasons why they were so happy. Practically anything the players wanted was granted. The only consideration in Quinn’s mind at all times was the betterment of Kilkenny GAA (specifically hurling). Wouldn’t it be great if all administrators were so?
Of course while Quinn is first and foremost a Kilkenny man, that doesn’t mean he is blinkered to what else is going on around the country. In particular, he insisted on giving a helping hand to some of his, less well off neighbours in the form of the Carlow hurlers. Kilkenny made a point of inviting Carlow teams into the Kilkenny junior leagues to improve their own level, and it did so to such an extent that the likes of Mount Leinster Rangers could reach an All-Ireland club final only a few years ago.
The favour hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Speaking recently, Mount Leinster Rangers’ stalwart James Hickey paid tribute to the generosity of spirit that exists in the Kilkenny boardrooms “I’d love to see more Kilkenny men involved at national level and having a bigger say. Kilkenny approached us in 2001 to go in and hurl in a junior league. And we took it with open arms. They invited us in. We went in and studied their ways. You play every match and it’s like a championship match. After the match, there’s tea and sandwiches. Ned Quinn was the chairman down there. They’ve huge respect for Carlow and what we’re trying to do. They took us under their wing and brought us in there. I said it on air when we won the Leinster final in Nowlan Park that what they (Kilkenny) had done for the lower tier has been huge.”
If you’re in any doubt as to Quinn’s importance in the county’s success, you only have to look at what Ger Loughnane said about him in an interview with John Harrington on the GAA.ie website in 2016 (http://www.gaa.ie/hurling/news/the-big-interview-ger-loughnane/). Now Loughnane has never automatically been the best friend of Kilkenny hurling. As effusive as he has been in his praise, he can also be stinging in his criticism of Cody, the “functional beyond belief” players, and anybody else in the firing line. But there is one Kilkenny man who Loughnane is unafraid of giving a ringing endorsement to, and that is Ned Quinn.
“During the era when they were at their peak, that four-in-a-row team, I always said that Kilkenny was a three-legged stool. It was Cody, Quinn, and Shefflin. They were the big drivers of that….
Quinn has been vital to it. Ned Quinn’s contribution to Kilkenny hurling, I think all Kilkenny people realise it, but outside of Kilkenny it’s not realised that much.
The effect he has had and the reassuring presence. He’s always there, he’s always watching out, he’s always the man in the background saying very, very little. He has an iron will. Everything is for the good of Kilkenny hurling. That’s his bottom line. Anything that’s done has to be for the good of Kilkenny hurling. To have a man like that, at such a powerful level, invaluable doesn’t even begin to describe how important that is. When you see in other counties how much better things could be if they had a Ned Quinn. And maybe if you had more Ned Quinns you’d produce more Brian Codys as well. Because they’d be looking out for who was the best to take it on. And they’d ensure that everything at ground level was being done almost to perfection. And then you give yourself a chance ”
“That’s where other counties have to start. Not just looking at their structures, but looking at the people who are driving those structures and driving the thing. I think that’s the secret that everybody should take from what Kilkenny are doing”
There’s hardly anything I can add to that can I? Get your structures right, and then success will follow. For 23 years, indeed his whole life, Ned Quinn has been getting things right. Now perish the task of any man who has to follow him. All the best Neddy. It won’t be the same without you.