Séamus Qualter still enjoying coaching journey
By Cian O’Connell
Just over two decades after taking his first steps into the coaching and managerial game, Séamus Qualter is still going strong.
The level or standard is never what mattered, merely finding a connection and an appreciation with a group of players, irrespective of the code.
Qualter’s current brief is to try to keep Athleague perched on the summit of Roscommon club hurling. A Roscommon Championship was gleaned in 2018, but now the task is to remain as the standard bearers.
Four Roads, always the most respected outfit in the county, provide the opposition in Sunday’s decider, but Qualter is just delighted to be involved.
Having won two Christy Ring Cups while managing Westmeath, Qualter continues to derive pleasure and satisfaction from sport.
“Regardless of the level, it is what it is,” Qualter says about the joy that can be found when improving a collection of hurlers.
“We have a team with older players and then a lot of younger players coming in. We have guys in Galway, Dublin, who try to come down. When they do come down they might have to play football so we have to mix and match in the middle of it all, to try to keep it all going.
“It is very enjoyable, there is a great hurling community in Roscommon. There is a great rivalry. When the game is over people go for a drink, enjoy it, whoever wins.”
The bond and respect that can be generated is something which has always struck Qualter with the various club, college, and county teams he has served.
“Yes, exactly,” Qualter replies. “That is what it is. You buy into it, they buy into you and you just get to know them. You make friends with them, you understand them.
“You'd see things like family occasions, different things happening with fellas. You are understanding the way they are thinking, they understand you.”
So it has been an interesting career for Qualter, who relishes the opportunity to assess a panel before trying to implement a plan to try to develop them further.
“It is all about going and meeting a group of players,” Qualter states. “It is about getting on. Too many clubs and counties have had turnovers when they appoint somebody and it hasn't worked out for them. I'm lucky in that regard.”
Undoubtedly demanding challenges are sprinkled everywhere, but Qualter always seeks to find a way. Solutions can always be found, especially with Athleague hurlers and Fuerty footballers motoring fairly well recently.
“Fuerty won the Intermediate Championship last year, this year they had a really good go in Senior getting to a Quarter-Final the weekend before last,” Qualter remarks.
“If they won that they'd have had a semi-final on the weekend past and then they'd have had a hurling final. Because football dominates there is nothing you can do about that, it has cut across us in that “Aonghus Lyons, who is on the county football panel got a serious knee injury against Strokestown. He is now out for us this weekend.
“You'd have a lot, guys like Aonghus Lyons, Darragh Heavey, who has played county hurling all year, but he has had to concentrate on football.
“What I do is I let them concentrate on football because you will not break that. It is just the way it is. I was delighted for Fuerty, I was hoping they might end up going for the double, but it is a lot to ask dual players to keep going week on week. It is a lot.”
Sport occupies a central role in the Qualter’s lives. Séamus’ father PJ hurled for Galway, while his son, Daniel, featured for Connacht Rugby before transferring to Nottingham.
That willingness to embrace challenges and opportunities has passed through the generations with Qualter recalling how coaching suddenly caught the imagination.
“I started off in Athlone IT around 1997-1998; we had some great hurlers from around the midlands area and we played UCD in a Fitzgibbon Cup Quarter-Final one year,” Qualter comments.
“I did about three years with them and I won an Intermediate Championship with St Oliver Plunketts in Mullingar. That is when Seamus Whelan, who was Chairman of the County Board rang me when Tom Ryan was taking over Westmeath, to come in as a selector.
“I was in 2004 doing that, but Tom left early a few weeks before the Christy Ring thing happened in 2005, and I was asked to take it over. That is where it started for me, we beat Dublin in 2006, we won the Christy Ring again in 2007 beating Kildare.
“I stayed fairly local here going down to Roscommon, we won an Under 21 B All Ireland in 2012.”
A native of Turloughmore in Galway, Qualter has a deep respect for the passion which burns for hurling in pockets of the midlands. It is why his stints in charge of Westmeath and Roscommon counted for something.
“I have been at events in Galway and with rugby - Daniel was involved in, I was introduced to maybe a coach or somebody and I was introduced as the Roscommon hurling manager and they'd make the quip, ‘oh do they play hurling in Roscommon’,” Qualter says.
“You just have to put up with that because that is what it is. That is the way people think out there, that it is only a few counties. If you mention hurling in Roscommon everybody says Four Roads first.
“That is because they beat Abbeyknockmoy and they beat Kiltormer in Connacht Finals previously, they have a steady stream of kids coming through all of the time.
“They have young lads coming through, they did eight in a row too, they are the team that is recognised in Roscommon.”
So now reflecting back on his time spent with Westmeath and Roscommon, Qualter remains adamant about the potential that can be nurtured. Encouraging signs are available according to Qualter.
“It is all about progressing all of the time,” Qualter stresses. “Because Billy Foley from Brownstown is the Chairman in Westmeath, he is from a hurling community.
“His interest has been hurling, he gives an absolute 50-50 to each. The fact that they have appointed a new manager, Shane O'Brien from Dublin.
“It is brilliant to have Division One hurling coming to Mullingar. It was like Kilkenny playing us in 2006, it was a marvellous occasion. We played well, we didn't let ourselves down, they beat us 1-23 to 1-9. They were beating better teams than us by that score at that time.
“It is just a mindset, it is getting the best players in each county. A lot of the time in Westmeath and Roscommon you will find that players can't commit or won't commit. They are all going to college, they have exams, or have jobs to do, and it is a massive commitment.
“When you have Christy McDermott, Gerry Keane, and Anthony Flaherty putting themselves out there all the time trying to push it on, to give the best and do the best. If every good hurler in Roscommon played for Roscommon for a full year they could and would win the Christy Ring, definitely.”
Qualter remains a believer as possibilities always exist. Four Roads and Athleague are ready for action again.