Willie Quigley, the most recognisable of figures around Kilkerley Emmets, played for his club across five decades and yet is still only “looking forward to the free bus pass”. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Willie Quigley, the most recognisable of figures around Kilkerley Emmets, played for his club across five decades and yet is still only “looking forward to the free bus pass”.
Emmets’ PRO of 26 years featured in his last game, a junior championship affair against Ardee St. Mary’s, in 2000, with Mickey Clarke and Johnny Quigley, after which one of the elder statesmen offered a ruthless assessment.
“Either of them said it after the game that we had almost 120 years between the three of us,” Quigley adds, laughing. Enough.
Having debuted in Reaghstown against Westerns in 1969, in that dressing room 31 seasons later, he opted to retire; but only from on-field duty. For what Willie Quigley has done for both his community and club since goes beyond the power of description.
“It was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.”
There is a fabulous publication on the Kilkerley Parish, released in 2010. It’s often referred to as “Willie’s book”. Justly so considering every last script of it was sourced and written by a man whose public nature defies what he does for a living.
A regional officer with the Unite union, he’s often responsible for fighting members’ cases against their employer; a role suited to the wicked type, perhaps. Yet, when it comes to dealing with matters Emmets related, or meeting him in person, he’s the consummate gentleman.
And so when it came to piecing together a bound history of the area in which he’s lived all his life, he became the central cog in its production, the finished product being the result of seven years’ craft.
“For the wife, Margaret, and the family, they found that I was still around after the book was launched because for a few years before that I was at the computer night after night,” Quigley adds, smirking. “They got the house back to some extent!
“But it was a relief to get it done, it was a big project. It was very, very time consuming, but once the book came out - there were 600 printed - the real satisfaction for me was the satisfaction people expressed to me about the book and not one person ever mentioned the price of the book. It’s gone to America, lots of countries and people even today would mention it, ‘we’ll look at Willie’s book for...’.”
The entirety of the proceeds were divided among various groupings in the area, Emmets among them. Quigley had been keeping a record of just about everything the club had achieved and done for years - and will continue to until such time as there is a successor to his position of dedication.
“It was a vehicle to get the football stuff done,” he says, adding that his commitment to the book prevented him from accepting an offer from the now disbanded Darver committee, which had been set-up with a view to fundraising for the Louth GAA centre of excellence, to join its delegation.
All the while he rarely, if ever, missed a Kilkerley senior game. His professional capacity would have seen him drawn to all parts of the country and yet he was still at a ground wherever in the county in time to carry out his typical matchday duties.
“I’d be flying into the field to make sure that I’d the teamsheet written out and that I got my hand on the linesman’s flag,” he quips. “People might be saying that Willie was late, but they’d hardly be thinking that Willie was after driving from a meeting from, we’ll say, Bus Eireann in Tralee or somewhere in Cork to be back home for that. I wouldn’t bother explaining to people…
“But over the 25 years I haven’t been late too many times and if I was it’d be just as the referee was throwing in the ball. Sometimes the referees who’d know me well would be saying it to me when I’d come out at half-time, ‘you were late’.”
Hoovering up the miles to make it back for an Emmets outing, one wonders if he’s some sort of record holder. Or, has he a record of another type?
“I can remember a time in Roscrea and it wasn’t even coming back, it was going. I was so interested in this football pitch that was so well laid out, so tidy, so well done and somebody cutting grass that all my eyes were on that.
“When I looked I was after passing a Garda with a hairdryer so I’d to turn around, go back with the tail between the legs and just tell him what happened. Lucky enough, he was a GAA man himself and he gave me an on the spot pardon.”
One Gael looking after another, just as it ought to be.
“There were signs there that this team had a bit of backbone in it.”
The Quigleys have something of a dynasty when it comes to guarding the goalline. Since his brother, Noel, manned the No1 slot in 1965, there has pretty much always been a component of the family between the Kilkerley sticks. Another sibling, Patrick, took over for the ’67 and ’68 seasons prior to Willie assuming the mantle as Emmets battled away in the second division ranks.
He, of course, would play out the field by times and it was only really towards the latter end of 1977 that he fell fully back into the ’keeping position, having played as a full-back for his work team in an All-Ireland inter-firms competition.
Quigley remained Kilkerley’s undisputed first choice for 16 years until his eldest son, Seamus, came on to the scene in 1993. But with the latter being a useful outfielder, there were often days where Willie slotted back in, completing a rare father/son partnership which wasn’t given much thought at the time. Cillian, younger again, remains a stopper with Emmets.
“Nearly all seven of the kids have lined out in the goals for a time in their careers, be it football or camogie,” he adds.
Willie had great success in the position and Kilkerley, having regained their senior status in 1978, ending a 30-year spell out of the top grade, were on the up, reaching the 1979 championship semi-final before piping their conquerors in that clash, Cooley Kickhams, in the Cardinal O’Donnell Cup decider of 1980 - their sole top-flight triumph.
The Lennons - Pat, John, Terry and Pete - had transferred in from St. Bride’s some years earlier and with John McCarthy and JP O’Kane also arriving, the Kilkerley cocktail was hugely powerful. The eighties produced the club’s golden era.
“To win the O’Donnell Cup was big and to beat Cooley in the final, to this day if you speak to your colleague, Joe Carroll, he will tell you that is the best O’Donnell Cup final he ever saw.
“In ’81, we were back in the final. They were great times to be on the team.
“Shortly after Pat Lennon came to us, we’d a new spectator at every game we played, Stephen White. Why was he coming? We had those players, and in particular Pat Lennon.
“In a game in Castlebellingham, Pat got a ball around the middle - we were being beaten - and soloed in and buried it from about 23 yards against the Mochta’s - draw game and we won the replay.
“Someone said to Stephen, ‘there’s not a player in Louth would score a goal like that’. Stephen says back, ‘there’s not a player in Leinster would score a goal like that’. Within a couple of years Pat played with Leinster.
“The Lennons being home and grown, it meant a lot. They were parishioners.”
But tragedy wasn’t far away. Pat Lennon lost his life in a car accident in 1980 and O’Kane’s subsequent emigration - and transfer to St. Joseph’s - saw Emmets weakened, though not enough to prevent them from reaching the senior final for the first time in 1982 and again four years later.
Defeat was the outcome on both occasions.
“Geraldines were the better team on the day in ’82, but we started to make a comeback in the second half and I think it was Jemser Renaghan who had a shortness of breath and lay down. Our momentum was broken after that.
“When we had the reunion 25 years later, Geraldines invited myself and few others up to it. I was asked for a few words and I think that was part of what I said, ‘I think Jemser won it for you’, but I was only slagging.
“Though ’86 against the Blues was a really hard pill to swallow. We were seven down at one stage and got back to within a point at half-time; a great performance to come back. The two goals they scored against us early on were hammer blows. A whistler in the crowd really upset us that day; some of our players stopped on both occasions thinking it was the referee’s whistle, when it wasn’t.
“I think that’s the one that got away. Even though the team probably wouldn’t have been as good as the ’80 team, it was the championship we came nearest to winning.
“The Blues bus was pulling out of Dromiskin that evening when they realised the Joe Ward wasn’t on the bus. So somebody had to get down and go back to collect it off the seat in the dressing room. I can tell you this much, if Kilkerley Emmets had to get Joe Ward, it wouldn’t have been left behind!”
He adds: “I honestly believe that had we had Pat Lennon and John P O’Kane in either of the ’82 or ’86 finals, the chances are that we’d have won. Had we had both of them in both of the finals, there’d have been only one result. They were two of the best footballers that I’ve encountered in my time; exceptional. If you put Shane (Lennon) along with them, you could use what Jimmy Magee said about Maradona, “different class”.”
Are they the best team to never win the senior championship? Should they have got a grasp of Joe Ward at least once?
“People from other clubs would say to me that ‘yis were good enough to win a championship’ or ‘yis deserved a championship’, but my response is, if you deserve a championship you need to be good enough to win it. If you don’t win it, it just means you weren’t good enough to win it; end of story.
“You may have been a bit unlucky and in ’86 we lost Paul Kneel to an awful bad injury that day and I think the Blues should have been down a man, but weren’t. You can’t turn the clock back, though, and while I do accept that we were a very good team, my slant on it would be that if we were good enough we’d have won it.”
Typical Willie, as straight as a dye.
“There’s a club there that deserves support and I just happen to be one who contributes in the way I do. I’ve got satisfaction out of it and the club owes me nothing.”
He was a part of the Kilkerley squad that reached their last SFC showpiece, in 1999. Stabannon Parnells, in what was their last major hurrah, proved far too strong in a game which, Quigley admits, was pretty much over after 20 minutes.
With the defeat went his last chance at securing the county’s most coveted prize. Not that it was his first time missing out. Albeit he would play for Louth Masters over many seasons, selecting the team as well, he was unable to ever break into the senior side during his best days.
A panellist during the early 1970s, training with the Wee County U21s, juniors and first-team over a couple of campaigns, a breakthrough never came before Gerry Farrell’s emergence. And, as he says himself, “there’s only one Gerry Farrell”.
Seamus fell into a similar predicament years later, serving as Louth’s understudy for many seasons, by which time he was a regular with Cooley Kickhams, having transferred to Fr McEvoy Park via a stint with Castleblayney Faughs.
Indeed, there were meetings of Kickhams and Kilkerley in which there would have been Quigleys in either goals and their father pacing the touchline.
All seven of the next generation - Yvonne, Seamus, Karen, Voureen, Cormac, Darlene and Cillian - have followed in the rich GAA tradition of their parents. Margaret was O’Hare before marriage and her brothers, Fergal, Peter and Paidin, were class players in their day.
“She’s where Jamie and Barry O’Hare (key Roche Emmets men) got the football from,” he adds, giggling.
Not that Kilkerley’s near and fierce rivals have been the sole beneficiaries of the gene considering Yvonne and Voureen, players with Inniskeen at the time, were on the Monaghan side beaten in the 1994 All-Ireland senior final. Albeit there was consolation that season in the form of a National League crown, while Voureen also landed an All-Ireland minor gong. However, two years on, the pair were climbers of the Hogan Stand as The Farney County defeated Waterford in the Croke Park decider.
Furthermore, his nephew, speedy winger Fionn McDonagh, is the hottest prospect in Mayo GAA, having broken on to the Connacht county team last year.
There are grandchildren representing clubs including Emmets, Cooley and Inniskeen, something which Willie takes immense pride in. Football has been good to him and his family, and so, he insists, has Kilkerley.
“I wouldn’t be a person who craves recognition. I’d rather be somebody who would just do something that I’ve been asked to as best I could and promote the club as much as I could while doing that.
“Every time Kilkerley puts a team on the field, I feel the team and the mentors are out there to win. It doesn’t happen by times, other times it does, but any time I can come home from a match and feel we’d left everything on the field, I’d be reasonably happy.”
A story from his childhood days... watching Roche!
“I’d ride to games and I remember one of my first games over there, in Jack Treanor’s field, on a Sunday afternoon was Cooley and Roche. I got myself sitting up on the hill where I thought I could see everything - I wouldn’t have been that far away from the sideline.
“Peter Hoey was refereeing it and lo and behold, where did the only and biggest row break out only almost at my toes! I remember it well, Peter Hoey standing back and looking, ‘Listen, lads, whenever yis are finished, we’ll restart the game’. That was that.”
Willie has been close to the action ever since.