Sport Rugby

Sunday 4 December 2016

Alan Quinlan: What was I thinking?

I was thinking Leo you b****x you're going to legally pull down the maul and I'm going to stop you but it was careless and not mailicious

Published 12/11/2010 | 05:00

Leinster's Leo Cullen and Munster's Alan Quinlan get to grips with each other during the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2009.
Leinster's Leo Cullen and Munster's Alan Quinlan get to grips with each other during the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2009.

You b*****. What the f*** are you at?" My hand is slapped away.

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I'm looking at Leo Cullen but I'm not paying much attention to him or what he's shouting. Somebody's always shouting in the middle of a game like this. It's another way of saying, "Hello sir, how are you today? Would you like a bang on the ear or a kick in the arse to go with your double moccachino?"

I should know. I've been slapped, raked, thumped, kicked, pulled, yanked and stamped on enough times to understand how this game is played. Bad language is a helluva nicer way to be insulted than most rugby alternatives.

So, Leo Cullen calling me names or bawling me out in the middle of a Munster-Leinster Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park isn't something that's going to stop me in my tracks.

Besides, he can talk. He's just come barrelling through our maul, trying to pull it down moments after I lifted Paulie in the line-out.

I know Leo because Leo's like me -- he's disruptive and very competitive in close combat. He has his job to do. I have my mine.

Weak

This is what Munster pay me to do. This is what the Munster fans demand I do. They don't expect me to go weak at the knees at the sight of one of 'Les Blues' coming through the middle. This is it. This is what I do.

I am the reinforcements.

He has Paul around the neck, so I grab him and pull him backwards. I want to pull him sideways. But what can I do? I'm a strong man, and so is he, and he has momentum on his side.

I need to get him out of here. We need this maul. We need to seize the initiative. We need to put pressure on them. We need to stir our fans. We need to score. We need to get back in the game. We need to win. We need, we need, we need ...

I need to stop Leo so I reach across for his shirt and he swipes my hand and curses at me. So what? What do you expect him to say? "Hi, Quinny. Tough old game, what? Best of luck there, old boy." Hardly.

So, I don't pay much heed. You often get grabbed around the neck or pulled or obstructed. There's always somebody shouting at you. Or you're doing the shouting yourself. So, I'm thinking, 'screw it'.

I know I made contact with his face, but there wasn't much in it. After all, I know what was in my own mind, what my intentions had been. I hadn't intended to hurt him or damage him around the face, so I don't expect any big deal to be made of it.

But I know I made contact, so I tell myself, "Just be careful, like."

Nobody likes to get their face pulled at or touched in a game. I'm the same, so I wouldn't do something like that.

Why would I start doing that at this stage in my career? Going for somebody's eyes. Why would I do that? I'm 34. I'm in the last couple of years of my career.

I have a tough reputation and I catch a lot of flak for being mouthy and for giving away stupid penalties but I'm not a dirty player.

In the days, weeks, months and year ahead, people would ask me about this moment, "What was in your mind? What were you thinking?"

What was I thinking? I'll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking, "Leo you b*****, you're going to illegally pull down the maul and I'm going to stop you."

Did I think, "Now, if I angle my fingers just right, I might be able to gouge Leo's eyeballs, cause him a serious, long-term injury, possibly put him out of work, but I need to be careful because the ref is nearby and the TV cameras might pick it up"?

Did I think that? No.

There was no plan to grab for his face. It was just grab anywhere.

Careless, but not malicious.

When it happened, you know, I kind of knew my hand shouldn't have been there but I wasn't even in aggressive form. It was just a case of, "There could have been something in that."

But right there, in the moment, in the heat of battle, I didn't have time to dwell on that.

I don't think I did anything nasty.

Leo doesn't think I did anything nasty.

The ref doesn't think I did anything nasty.

Play away.

*****

It's a funny experience being in the public eye. People think they own you, that you are public property.

At the very least they think that they're entitled to ask you questions about one of the most vitally important moments in your life. They don't consider that they are asking you about the very thing that has plunged you into an abyss, in which you're struggling to breathe.

In the midst of it all, they want to dwell on tiny points, which they think prove that I did or didn't deliberately gouge Leo Cullen.

One of their favourite questions is why I apologised to Leo after the game. As if saying sorry to him was proof that I felt guilty about it all myself and was blatantly trying to smooth things over ahead of a possible citing investigation.

But that wasn't the case at all, and I don't think Leo thought that way either.

I apologised to Leo because that's what I do. I just said to him that if there was anything in it, it wasn't intentional. I said, "Look, Jesus, I'm sorry for pulling your face there, I didn't mean anything." We shook hands and I wished him well in the final. It's in my nature to say sorry.

Over the years with both Munster and Ireland, the boys are always slagging me that I say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." If I bumped off you in gym training, I'd probably come up to you and tell you 10 times, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry about that." Usually the response is delivered with a laugh: "Never worry, Quinny, don't worry about it."

So, saying sorry to Leo wasn't unusual.

I just told him, "Jesus, if I grabbed you in any awkward way there, that was unintended. Sorry about that and best of luck in the final." Leo didn't even remember what I was going on about. He made no reference to it.

Later, after I was cited, Leo wrote in his letter to the ERC Hearing that his reaction on the pitch was because my hand went across his face and that no player likes that in a game.

He didn't think I put my fingers in his eyes or touched his eyes.

Leo was brilliant about it and he's a tough guy, he's a tough player. He's taken plenty of swats and boots and kicks down through the years, he's a good player and I respect him. So, his reaction on the pitch didn't surprise me and I respected him a lot for how he acted and how he spoke afterwards.

It was good that he wasn't putting the boot in or telling the media that it had been deliberate or malicious. For me, personally, there was some comfort in what he said and how he acted -- he didn't point the finger.

But that didn't surprise me -- I'd have done the same thing. For me, what happens on the field should stay on the field. I've always shaken hands after the game, no matter what went on.

*****

I wouldn't say I'm over the Lions. I don't think I'll ever be over it. I think back over the last year a lot and wonder about how it might have been, of how it could have been...

*****

It was an unbelievably tense moment, like being back at school and waiting for your exam results -- you feel your entire world rests on the next few moments.

But then it happened. The chairman read out his findings and delivered his verdict. They believed it wasn't intentional, which was great, but I'd still be sanctioned. They imposed the minimum sanction, but that was still a 12-week ban starting from the day of the match.

That was it, my Lions dream was over. Sixty seconds was all it took for the chairman of the panel to tear my world apart with his ruling, but there was nothing to be done, just get out of there as quickly as possible and start dealing with it.

Ruth was there and, together, we walked outside into the glare of the TV cameras and the hue and cry of the press corps.

I'd known all along that the majority of the press weren't on my side -- I'd read some of the coverage in the newspapers soon after the match and a lot of it was very hard to take.

There were pieces written by people who I thought I knew better, but who highlighted the incident in a way which was completely at odds with how it had actually happened. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I hadn't intentionally tried to do what some commentators were suggesting, but it was still a shock to pick up a national newspaper and see their accusations.

The Lions aspect made my case high-profile and, I suppose, some of them were being paid to give an opinion but it was still hard to accept.

I was angry that, in the eyes of some media commentators, I was guilty before I had a chance to prove myself innocent. I didn't believe my case was trial by media but I did think that there was a lot of pressure placed on the people making the decisions.

The Saturday following the verdict, I went to Ibiza with Ruth and AJ. It was great for us to get out of the media spotlight for a few days and spend some time with our son.

Red Blooded: The Alan Quinlan Story
Publisher: Irish Sports Publishing
Price: €19.99
Release Date: November 18

Irish Independent

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