The GAA Gene - The Quaids

The GAA is built on tradition, and there is nothing more traditional in Gaelic Games than great family dynasties.

Trace the history of any county team in Gaelic Football or Hurling and you’ll see the same surnames consistently reappearing as you move back through the decades.

In our series – The GAA Gene – we profile the families that have given outstanding service through the generations.

This week we focus on the Quaids of Limerick.

*By John Harrington *(@jharrington79)

The Quaids of Limerick must surely hold some sort of record because their unbroken service to Limerick senior hurling teams now stretches to a remarkable seven consecutive decades.

The lineage began with twin brothers Jack and Jim Quaid who won an All-Ireland Junior title with Limerick in 1954 and a Munster senior title the following year with the famed ‘Mackey’s Greyhounds’ team.

The twins played for Limerick into the sixties, then Jack’s son Tommy established himself as the county senior goalkeeper in the 1970s. He played from 1976 until 1993 when he was succeeded as Limerick’s custodian by his first cousin Joe, who’s a son of Jim. Joe hurled into the noughties and then in the first year of this decade Tommy’s son Nickie made his senior inter-county debut and is now the team captain.

He has followed in his father’s and cousin Joe’s foot-steps by wearing the number one jersey for Limerick, and it is that goalkeeping tradition as much as anything that has made the Quaids a household name. Jack and Jim Quaid generally played at midfield or in the half-back line, so it was Tommy who paved the way for Joe and Nickie to follow.

“Yeah, It kind of started with him,” Joe Quaid told “He was small and they put him in the goals when he was younger. When he started getting older then they moved him out the field with the club and put his brother John in goals. And then when I got to 14/15, I was put into goals.

“I think my first match in goals was an U-15 match when I was 11. We had a goalie who had a habit of pulling on the ball at the time and they just turned around and said, sure, look, let’s try him, he's a Quaid. That has followed my own lads down.

“I have twin boys now who are 12, Liam and Killian. About four years ago the U-10 manager rang me to know would one of my boys play in goals for an U-10 tournament even though he was U-8. I said, 'He will, yeah. But have you ever seen him playing?' He said, 'No'. I said, 'If his name was Murphy, would you have rang?' He went, 'Probably not!'

“They don't want to play in goals at the moment. Now, they're well able to play there, they're good goalies, but they don't want to play at the moment in goals. They played a bit this year with the U-14s but they asked could they not play in goals. I'd prefer that. I suppose it's too young to be pigeon-holing them yet. More than likely though they'll be asked to go in there before too long.”

Tommy Quaid started the goalkeeping tradition in the family.
Tommy Quaid started the goalkeeping tradition in the family.

He never really planned it, but goalkeeping was always likely to be Joe Quaid’s destiny. He grew up idolising his older cousin Tommy, and had the benefit of the best mentor possible.

“When I was growing up Tommy was a good bit older than me, 13 or 14 years older than me,” says Quaid. “So I grew up following him. All I ever wanted to be was Tommy Quaid. That put huge pressure on me then when I actually did take from him.

“There's a funny story about the day I made my debut against Cork in the Gaelic Grounds. We were down 2-4 to 0-2 after 15 minutes and some fella sitting in front of my father in the stand got up and threw his cap down and said, 'Jesus, bring back Tommy!' But by the end of the match I was the best thing since sliced pan!

“One of the first memories I have of pucking around with Tommy was down at his house with his brother Pat who was the same age as me. I went into goals and kept getting hit with the sliotar because I was ducking. He said, 'Keep your eye on the ball and you'll be able to get out of the way'. So I kept my eye on the ball and kept out of the way. And once I realised I could get out of the way I thought I might as well have a cut off trying to stop it. That's how I got into it.

“Look, being a goalie is the best place in the world when things are going well, but the worst place in the world when things are going badly. I suppose you need a certain resilience in there. You've got to take a lot of flak at times. Like, I can't understand how people get nervous playing out the field after playing in goals. I think if anyone plays any kind of a Championship match in goals, I don't think they'd be any bit nervous if they moved out the field. People do be on about working on their first touch, in goals there's no first thing as a first touch. You've one touch."

Joe Quaid won an All-Star in his very first year as Limerick’s goalkeeper and a second one in just his third year. He was a cocky presence between the sticks and there was a real flamboyant self-confidence about the way he pulled off spectacular diving saves and stood up bravely to every one-on-one showdown. That's why it's surprising then to hear that he acutally suffered badly with nerves before every match he played for Limerick.

“Oh, I was the most nervous in goalie that ever walked on two feet despite probably coming across as one of the cockiest goalkeepers,” he admits. “I used to be very bad. I remember going into the Munster Championship match against Clare in 1996 and I had to pull up on the side of the road after hearing a preview of the match on the radio. I had to get out of the car and puked into the ditch. Which wasn't great for the supporters who were going to the match! To see their goalkeeper hanging out over the back of a car getting sick with nerves!

“I would always be bad up until the game would start. When the National Anthem would play, by the end of it I'd be so bad that my eyes would water up and I'd always be hoping that a ball wouldn't come in straight away because I'd be blinking. But once you got the first ball you might as well be playing in your own club field as playing in Croke Park. You'd just forget everything that was around you.”

Joe Quaid in action for Limerick.
Joe Quaid in action for Limerick.

Whenever a high ball would come down Quaid’s throat, he’d silently say to himself, “Don’t drop it, don’t drop it.” He was the antithesis of the positive visualisation approach that every sports psychologist encourages, but was fortunate that he had a manager in Tom Ryan who had a knack for pushing all of the right buttons get the best out of Quaid.

“Tom Ryan used to give out to me so much that I used to go out nearly every day to spite him,” says Quaid. “I thought he used to be picking on me, but it was only once he went that I realised he obviously knew how to get the best out of me. I give him unbelievable credit for that. You'd be going out to play thinking, 'Well, feck you!’ But that's what he wanted.

“I remember one Thursday night at training before we played Cork in 1996 down in Páirc Ui Chaoimh. He was after calling out the team and he goes to me, 'Quaid, we don't want to see any of your f**king gymnastics now on Sunday!'

“About ten minutes into the match I think Mark Mullins pulled on a ball on the ground and I dived the full length of the goals and turned it around the post. He came in after the match then and said, 'Jaysus, Quaid, we were glad of your gymnastics today weren't we, you bx!”

Quaid’s commitment to the Limerick cause could never be questioned. Any man that plays Championship hurling just two months after losing a testicle is a special sort of zealot. The accident happened in a challenge game in April 1997 against Laois when he was struck by a high-velocity sliotar, but Quaid nevertheless still played against Tipperary in the Munster semi-final the following June.

“When I look back on it, I thought it didn't have an effect on me at the time. But it probably really did,” he says. “In the '99 replay against Waterford I came out to Paul Flynn who was coming through on goal and when he threw up the ball I turned my arse to it, something I'd never do. I remember when I landed and the ball went into the net I just thought, 'shit!'. The one thing I would have always been as a goalie was brave. I would have always put my body on the line to stop a ball. When you find yourself turning your arse to something, then it's not too pleasant.”

Losing a testicle would be no laughing matter to most men, but Quaid is the sort of character who can extract humour from most situations. He has a long list of funny stories he tells at his own expense, the best of which may be the day someone tried to knee him in the groin in a club match and was surprised to find he now wore a heavy-duty jock-strap.

“His face was priceless when he kneed me and connected with the big boxer's guard with the cup that I was wearing,” laughs Quaid. “Sure t’was like meeting concrete hitting that. I could see his face going, 'Oh shit!' I gave him one back with interest anyway!”

One situation Quaid unsurprisingly fails to see any humour in is Limerick’s defeat defeat Offaly in the 1994 All-Ireland when they held a five point lead with five minutes to play but ended up losing by six. Quaid admits he made a mistake for the Johnny Dooley goal that jump-started Offaly’s late surge, but the accusation that a hasty puck-out was to blame for Pat O’Conner’s goal less than a minute later still rankles.

“The one thing I will always put my hand up for that day was the initial free that Johnny Dooley scored a goal from,” says Dooley. “For some reason, I left an extra man back into the goals that day which I would normally never do. I'd normally have two to the left and two to the right of me and I'd take the middle.

“I knew he was going for a goal and I think Mike Nash came in behind me and said, 'Joe, move over a small bit.' I took a half a step to the left, the ball wasn't hit that well, and I though the boys would handle it but it went in. If I had stayed where I was I would have stopped it. I didn't take much notice of it though because we were still up by two or three points at that stage.

“Ger Hegarty was free out on the wing 80 yards from goal and I put it into his hand. It was probably the most accurate puck-out I ever hit. There wasn't a mention of a quick puck-out all day or night until some b**s rang in to the Sunday Game and say the puck-out had been taken too quickly and then straight away it was latched onto. There was nothing wrong with the puck-out, but I will take the blame for the other goal. Most definitely I should not have left anyone else in beside me.”

The 1994 and 1996 All-Ireland Final defeats were painful, but real tragedy has a way of putting everything else into perspective. The Quaid family found out that the hard way when Tommy Quaid died tragically at the age of just 42 after a fall at work.

“It happened on a Tuesday,” says Quaid. “Two day previously he had scored something like 2-10 for Effin in a match. To be fair to that man, I've gotten it down the years this crack of people saying I was a better goalie than Tommy, but to this day I would swear on my kids lives that I was nowhere near lacing that man's boots. He was a phenomenal hurler. He was just out of this world. 

“To me, I think he was the best goalkeeper in the country by a mile. The fact that Limerick went for years without progressing in the Championship and it might have only been one match every year...I would have gotten to see Tommy playing out the field with the club at home, Feohanagh, and I saw him once score 4-11 out of 4-14 in an Intermediate County Final. Tommy was probably the best forward in Limerick for years.

“A lot of people only saw Tommy infrequently at county level because there was no back door and many years Limerick would only have one match. But he was a phenomenal hurler.”

Nickie Quaid followed in his father Tommys footsteps from a young age. Here he is playing for Irelands U-12s in a hurling-shinty challenge against Scotland.
Nickie Quaid followed in his father Tommys footsteps from a young age. Here he is playing for Irelands U-12s in a hurling-shinty challenge against Scotland.

Nickie Quaid was only nine when his father died, so there’s a certain poignancy to the fact that he followed in Tommy’s foot-steps to become the latest Quaid to stand between the posts for Limerick. His older brother Thomas has also hurled at senior level for Limerick, while his younger brother Jack has hurled at minor and U-21 level and looks destined to be a senior inter-county player too.

“To be fair to Tommy’s wife Breda, she's done an absolutely fantastic job with the three boys,” says Quaid. “If you meet them, they're three of the nicest, most mannerly, and courteous lads you'll ever meet in your life. Hurling runs through their veins.

“I'd say the lads would regard it as an honour to their father that they've made it to the level they have. I'd be saying to my own two lads that they're the next generation and have to follow us. No pressure lads!”

Nickie Quaid has followed in his father Tommy’s steps in more ways than one. Like his father, he also excels as an outfield player for his club. He made his Limerick debut as an outfield player, but when Donal O’Grady was appointed manager he told Quaid he saw his future as a goalkeeper.

“Nickie to me the night Donal O'Grady rang him and asked him would he play in goals,” says Quaid. “He asked me what I thought, and I said, 'Would you prefer to play outfield'? He said, 'I would, but I don't know if I'd make it outfield and he wants me to play in goals'. I said, ‘Well then go play in goals. It's an honour to play anywhere on a county team and you're a great goalkeeper.’

“I’ve always said this to people who don't know too much about the game that you need one of your best hurlers in goal. I go back to what I said earlier on. In goals you have one touch, you don't have a first touch, you have one touch.

"Even more so now from when I was playing and Tommy was playing because puck-outs are so important now. In our day you lobbed it down and it was every man for himself. Any attack now starts with the goalie so that's a completely different aspect to the game. Nickie is a great hurler as well as a goalkeeper, and hasn’t put a foot wrong for Limerick.”

Nickie Quaid celebrates with his team-mates after Limerick beat Cork in the 2013 Munster Hurling Final.
Nickie Quaid celebrates with his team-mates after Limerick beat Cork in the 2013 Munster Hurling Final.

The Quaid hurling dynasty began with the twins Jim and Jack, and another set of them might be the next generation of the family to continue the tradition of playing for Limerick. Joe’s sons Killian and Liam show the same aptitude for the game that their father did, and Quaid believes the ‘GAA Gene’ is as much about attitude as it is bloodlines.

“The difference between the GAA Gene being in the family and it not, is dedication,” he says. “You could have a young fella who'd be a good hurler and a good athlete and would go training three times a week but he wouldn't touch the hurley in between. As a guy once said to me, back in his day they only trained once a week but they hurled every day.

“Whereas now a lot of them the only time they take the hurley out is when they go to training. Whereas hurling families, and I'd see this with my lads at home, they're hurling all the time. The first thing we did when they were growing up was put two sets of goal-posts out the back lawn. They're outside constantly with hurleys and that I suppose makes the difference.

“The way I look at it, I don't care what level they play at as long as they're enjoying it and doing their best. The big thing is that they're enjoying it.”