A key change from soloing to soloist
Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30
For big Kieran Quinn, life on and off the field has always been about the highs and lows. After eight years with Sligo footballers, however, he has replaced performing in the black and white to performing on the black and white.
Quinn is a pianist and a major gig in Dublin next Wednesday night - 10 days before Sligo enter the Championship - marks a new chapter in his professional career as a musician.
His football journey ended at half-time in the 2008 Connacht clash with Mayo, but despite the obvious perils of playing his sport to Championship level, he managed during the same period to develop a teenage obsession into a livelihood.
"When I was about 16 or 17 I figured out I could play it by ear and could play songs I heard on the radio and I got a great buzz off that," says Quinn. "It was only then that the kick started for me in music really."
Like his music, Quinn's career with Sligo didn't take the traditional route.
Having attended boarding school in Clongowes, where little emphasis was placed on Gaelic games, it was only after returning from a trip to Australia as a 19-year-old that the county door was opened for him.
"I played very little football in my teenage years and then I spent a year in Australia and while out there I joined a club in Sydney. When I got back, I started playing with my local club and within six months I was called into the senior panel," he explains.
Unfortunately his senior debut was a baptism of fire against Galway.
"I was brought into the panel for the 2000 Championship season and my debut was the last 10 minutes of a 0-22 to 0-4 defeat by Galway in Markievicz Park," he recalls.
Better days were ahead for Quinn and his comrades though, with '01, '02 and '07 sticking out in his memory.
"They were great years for Sligo, the qualifiers came about at the right time for us. We had a good side but Connacht was very strong at the time. We got to Croke Park in '01 for the first time in 26 years for Sligo where we beat Kildare and then drew Dublin in the next round. We lost to them but it was an unreal occasion."
The following year would be another whirlwind year for the Yeats men as they went on another run through the back door, beating Tyrone in Croke Park and putting eventual All-Ireland winners Armagh to the pin of their collar.
Persistence paid off for Quinn and Sligo with a long overdue Connacht title in 2007, their first since 1975.
By 2008, Quinn's music career was taking off and he was married to Sinead, so with new responsibilities, hand injuries weren't something he or his family could afford. He made the difficult decision to hang up the boots.
"It's unfortunate, I'd be still playing club football otherwise. I love it, but my hobby and my career just don't match very well," he says.
After seven happy years plying his trade as a professional musician, the birth of his son Tom (his daughter Nixie is four) last year has sharpened his focus on his career.
"A moment like that makes you think and re-evaluate where you are in life," he says.
"I suppose up to that my career was largely teaching and a lot of wedding work. The week after he was born I made the decision that I wanted to pursue more of my own work.
"Through projects I had been working on I gained a lot more confidence in myself as a musician, so I wanted to make a go of it with my own stuff."
He released his first album last year and a second is due out later this year; he plans to tour it nationally in the autumn.
Next Wednesday's gig in the Sugar Club is not just any concert for Quinn: it is a statement of intent from a former footballer turned musician, determined to make it on his own with his own music.
Recent engagement with the GPA's Personal Coaching Programme has helped bring new impetus and ambitious drive to his career and it continues the relationship between music and sport in his life.
"It's a big step for me. It's the first gig I'll ever have played that will be largely my own music. I've gigged in the Sugar Club before but never on my own," he says.
"A lot of the music will be new music that will never have been heard before so I'm looking forward to seeing how people react."
For more about Players in Focus, see www.gaelicplayers.com
What I listen to: Second Captains
The last book I read: 56 - The Story of the Bradford Fire
Favourite sport other than GAA: Soccer
What I love about football: Many things. However, I don't know have I ever felt as alive as when in the thick of a big Championship match and the game is in the melting pot with 10 minutes to go.
What I hate about football: It's not compatible with my career choice.
If I could change one thing about football: The resistance to change in the GAA.
My advice for young players: Don't forget to plan for life after your playing career; if you're lucky it will be over half your lifetime, so it's worth doing right!