Shea Tomkins talks to Peter Quinn about his years of dedication to Shamrock Rovers
SOMETIMES an empty dressing room can reveal all that you need to know about the heartbeat of a football club. Enniscorthy's Shamrock Rovers stars of the future are outside perfecting the art of trapping balls and fine touching their nutmegs on the state-of-the-art astroturf pitch, chairman Peter Quinn and secretary Leslie Roberts are indoors, and in the mood to chat.
Leslie gestures toward the playing surface and pays tribute to the man sitting on the bench next to him. 'If it weren't for Peter we wouldn't have that facility. The work he has done for this club is priceless.'
What work is that? Well, if you have been out for a drink in any of Enniscorthy's watering holes over the past 13 years there is a strong possibility you will recognise Peter's face. Seven nights a week he does the rounds, lottery tickets in hand, fundraising for his club. It is estimated that he has sold in excess of 20,000 tickets, and the draw drum is still rolling. In fact, he is a difficult man to avoid. Traditionally, he'll thump the book down on the table in front of you, and if you don't happen to have any cash on you, he promises to catch you again. He even accepts Sterling.
'I'm a Manchester United fan and travel across to Old Trafford for a game two or three times a season,' he says. 'Usually Pat O'connor takes a busload of us, and I bring the tickets with me. On the Saturday night after the game we go for a few drinks in the hotel, and I catch the boys. Or even on the bus. I get home then with pockets full of pound coins, and first thing Monday morning make a trip to the bank to exchange them for Euros. It all helps.'
A Father Cullen Terrace resident all his life, Peter's footballing education began as a selector with Enniscorthy United in the late Seventies before he switched his loyalties to Rovers, after their formation in 1978. Changing sides was common practice back then, as most of the Shannon men that played for United moved back across the Slaney once they had a club to call their own. The name took serious deliberation. Shannon Rangers and Rovers were suggested, but deemed too likely to heighten the rivalry factor, so Shamrock Rovers was settled upon. Peter tried his hand at playing the game too, but felt he had more to offer from the sidelines. One of the town's more colourful characters, he still turns out for the annual charity matches, where he is usually the main attraction. He also looks after the club's penny bank.
After seven years of following the team as a fan, and occasionally togging out, he was invited onto the committee, eventually taking up the position of chairman, which he has now held for over 20 years. His involvement with the club is a seven-days-a-week commitment, and he combines it successfully with his day job as caretaker at St Senan's Community Centre. He also assumes caretaking duties for Rovers, and is constantly making sure that the place is kept in meticulous shape.
'In this parish there are not too many things for kids to do,' says Peter. 'That's why we provide such a valuable service for them, us and the GAA club. We help keep the kids off the streets, starting with the under-nines and all the way up to adult age.
'When most of the players reach retirement age they tend to go away for a few years and then when their own kids get old enough to play, their involvement with the club starts again,' adds Leslie. 'A lot of them still come along to watch the matches.'
Last year was a historic one for Shamrock Rovers and the most significant in 34 years of existence – they did the treble. The A team won the Premier Division, the B team won Division 2A and the C team were crowned Division 4 champions. This year they are in the running to do it all over again.
'Last year was brilliant and it was great to see the lads get their just reward after all the hard work they put into it,' says Peter. 'For me winning the Premier Division has been the most special moment, as we had never done it before but we were knocking on the door over the past four or five years.'
And has there been any one player that has caught the eye of Rovers' biggest fan down through the years?
'We had a lad go on trials for Hibernian in Scotland a couple of years back, and a few play in Dublin, but the one player for me that could have gone to play for any club in the town but stayed with us was Paul Moorehouse. He's a classy midfielder and still going strong even though he is in his mid-forties. He plays for our C team and is still scoring cracking goals on a Sunday.'
Peter points out that the successful running of the club comes down to the dedicated efforts of all the members of the committee and those who devote their spare time so generously. It is testament to these volunteers that the club is in such a strong position financially, even though there is such little disposable cash currently knocking around in the immediate society. With any sporting organisation, ambition is the key to progress, and already there are plans to build a new dressing room being discussed.
For now, the astroturf pitch has eaten a large chunk out of the cash reserve, and the fundraising starts from scratch. With Peter Quinn and his team, there is every possibility that all goals will be achieved. But what about Peter himself, was there ever a football dream as a young lad? Did he ever want to score a goal to clinch the Premier League or fantasise about dinking one over Grobbelaar to lift the FA Cup for the red side of Manchester?
'No,' he says with a smile. 'I'd be happy enough to get tarmac down on that place outside. I'd prefer to be filling the cups down in Toss's or the White House of a Saturday night than lifting them. That'll do nicely.'