Sunday 11 December 2016

'I was maybe a millimetre away from losing an eye'

Gerry Quinn’s apology after Thurles blow in ’04 left something to be desired with his comment about drinking session

Henry Shefflin

Published 20/09/2015 | 19:19

Kilkenny team doctor Tadhg Crowley (hidden) attend to Henry Shefflin’s eye as referee Pat Horan and Clare’s Gerry Quinn (left) look on during the 2004 SHC clash in Semple Stadium
Kilkenny team doctor Tadhg Crowley (hidden) attend to Henry Shefflin’s eye as referee Pat Horan and Clare’s Gerry Quinn (left) look on during the 2004 SHC clash in Semple Stadium

I wasn't long home from Ardkeen hospital when the man who'd sent me there left a message on my phone.

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Gerry Quinn sounded genuine. "Henry, I'm just ringing to say what happened last Saturday, I never intended. That wouldn't be my form. If you get a chance, could you give me a ring back?"

We'd been introduced to the concept of seven defenders in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a Clare team managed by Anthony Daly.

Daly's ploy was to pull a half-forward, Alan Markham, back between his two lines of defence. It worked brilliantly.

On the line, Brian fumed. We kept looking across, asking him where the hell he wanted us to stand. Clare should have beaten us, but we hung in for a draw.

Cody didn't spare us the following Tuesday. We hadn't just been out-thought by Clare, we'd clearly been out-fought too. They'd roughed us up a bit, and that offended every fibre in his body.

That's what he was laying on the line now. 'This time, WE hammer into THEM!' he said.

Daly, it would seem, delivered much the same message to his team.

Because, if they were bullies the first day, they were even bigger bullies now. I felt starved of the ball inside and asked Cody to bring me out.

Soon as he agreed, I immediately started gesturing towards James McGarry to direct a few puck-outs down on top of me. If James could find me, I felt I could have an impact on the game. Now, I'm right-handed, which means I catch the ball with my left.

Gerry Quinn, who was marking me, is left-handed, catches it with his right. James' puck-out hadn't even arrived when the butt of Quinn's hurl came through my face-guard and I felt two distinct bangs in the eye.

Straight away, there was blackness. I was incensed. And scared.

Play continued while I was on the ground. No-one seemed to have noticed what'd just been done to me.

I threw my hurl away in frustration, panicking at my lack of vision. John Hoyne came across, saw my face and made a lunge for Quinn.

A penny was beginning to drop. Tadhg Crowley, the team doctor, came running in. 'F**k!' he said the moment he saw my eye. I was shouting now: 'I can't see, I can't see!'

Now I could hear the anger begin to rise in Tadhg's voice too. A real Kerryman, he wanted Clare people to understand the severity of what'd just been done to me. Decided he'd take me the long way off the field so that we swung down by the Clare dugout. As we went past, Daly and his selectors pointedly refused to make eye contact.

I was shouting, 'This is f**king wrong!'

Lohan was sitting in the dugout now, a pulled hamstring having ended his game. I could see him looking out at me, expressionless. As we swung down the tunnel, my rage gave way to tears and I started crying.

In the dressing-room, a steward began asking what seemed pointless questions and I was getting irritated. Tadhg tried to get me to lie on a bed, but I was like a racehorse refusing to go into the stalls.

Someone came in the door with an inquiry. Cody wanted to know, would I be able to go back on!

"No chance," shouted Tadhg.

I was given a bag of ice to keep pressed against the eye and went back out to sit behind the dugout. Ned Quinn was beside me. Ned has a short enough fuse and was letting the Clare management know what he thought of what had been done to me. Insults flew back and forth.

Kilkenny pulled away to win in the end, but the anger didn't taper.

Tensions were high, but the priority was to get me out of Thurles now and down to the Ardkeen as fast as humanly possible.

I threw on my tracksuit top and jumped into a car driven by Jim Freeman, chairman of the Supporters Club.

The former GAA president Paddy Buggy - RIP - sat into the back. A garda escort spirited us out through the traffic, and soon we had a clear road to Waterford.

I don't think there was much doubt in any of our minds that my year was over.

To begin with, they tried to open my eye but the swelling made it difficult. So they sent me down for an X-ray and a torn tear duct was identified. It was at that point the surgeon, Mark Mulhern, told me how close I'd come to losing the eye - maybe a millimetre.

I was back home when I got the message from Gerry Quinn.

I was still scared about the long-term implications for the eye and my anger hadn't quite subsided. Now I had a decision to make. Would I phone the man responsible?

I had a fair idea of what had occurred in Thurles and it hadn't been good.

Still, I was willing to listen to his explanation. I decided to step out of my parents' house and sit in the car. Best to keep this conversation private, I reckoned.

He answered immediately and, to be fair, sounded remorseful. He asked how I was, a good start. Then he began explaining. "I genuinely didn't mean to hit. That's just the way I go for a high ball . . ."

I could accept everything he said without absolutely believing it.

He was making an effort and I appreciated that. I like to give people a fair chance. Everything he said, I suppose I pretty much expected him to say. Except for a throwaway line at the finish.

"Jaysus," he said, "we had mighty craic on the beer all day yesterday."

I couldn't believe it. Maybe he was nervous and just blurted out the first thing that came into his head, but all I could think was, "Well f**k it, Gerry, you can't have been too concerned about me yesterday so if you were on the beer all day."

As I hung up, the anger was bubbling away inside again.

Quinn had been pilloried on 'The Sunday Game' by Tomás Mulcahy and Larry O'Gorman for the incident and, when he subsequently went public about his 'amicable' telephone conversation with me, the media generally depicted it as a self-serving gesture.

Looking back, I think the media, generally, were quite hard on him. I was angry at the time - furious - but I don't actually hold any hard feelings against Gerry Quinn.

Irish Independent

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