What is the motivation to be a Longford footballer? That question may seem pejorative, until you rephrase it and ask what is the incentive to be a senior footballer from any other Leinster county bar Dublin?
Mickey Quinn knows what it’s like to be diced and sliced by football’s greatest. He was there in 2015 when Longford suffered a record 27-point defeat. He was there three years later when Dublin won by 19 points.
More happily, he was there 13 months ago when Longford inflicted a losing debut upon Dessie Farrell and his Sky Blue wannabes – albeit the best/only chance of giving Dublin a bloody nose is in the O’Byrne Cup.
Quinn opted out of last winter’s inter-county resumption after the birth of his daughter. Now the former AFL star is back, mad for road – and wondering when he’ll get to hit it.
But when the bigger picture is an unwinnable Leinster championship, how do you stay motivated?
“You set different goals and you’re realistic,” he says. “There are times when you play Dublin and you’re asked in an interview before the game, ‘Do you feel up to it?’ [And your reply is]: ‘On our day, you never know, like. If it snows and the ball bursts, there could be a chance!’
“But you have to be realistic, and I think most teams have gone with that approach. To lose by 10 points could be a good day versus Dublin. I think I heard the Westmeath manager, Jack Cooney, and he spoke really well (last November). I think they had three or four targets going into that game, and none of it to do with the final score. Whether it be their own kick-outs or breaking ball or something like that. But setting realistic targets for a year.
“A lot of years drift by in your career where you’re just floating a little bit with games like that. But personally that’s probably why I still keep going – because you have that resilience, or you have your own little targets and goals. That you want to play against the best and see where you’re at.
“Again, for me as a PE teacher, you’re learning skills and traits by playing inter-county football that you hope to pass on as a teacher or in a coaching role.”
Quinn has kept busy in lockdown, training solo, in advance of a new season that remains in a state of flux. He didn’t return last October after wife Kate gave birth to their first child.
“Just the way it all happened, with Covid and Alice arriving and with the way the club thing had panned out,” he explains, alluding to Killoe Emmet Óg’s successful objection to being thrown out of a Longford SFC that remains unfinished.
“It just put things in perspective for me. It made what would have been perceived as a very tough decision very easy. Looking back on it now, I only missed three games … a lot of lads could pick up an injury just as easily and miss the same.”
Presuming the 2021 championship survives the curse of Covid, the 31-year-old is enthused by the prospect of a belated inauguration for the Tailteann Cup, providing a shot at silverware for more than just Dublin.
“Anything that can help the likes of Longford, to try and keep younger guys interested and looking to be the best that they can be, is definitely worth pursuing,” he says. “There’s talk of the Leinster Championship being dead the last number of years … for a young teenager coming up through the ranks, it’s a lot easier to walk away when they don’t see any reward further down the line.
“The continuity from year to year is something I’ve flagged: a season ends and you could be five months before you’re back with another game with your county. And probably a lot of that is down to the county themselves.”
As it happens, Longford’s ‘back-door’ history is peppered with ambush heroics – but even this tendency to “create a big upset” one week only to be knocked out the next, had no long-term value.
“Ideally, you’d love to be able to build on something,” says Quinn, who expands: “It’s funny, we won the O’Byrne Cup last year … for years and years we kind of treated it for blooding new players and an opportunity to see where we’re at. But it was a competition where we could lift a trophy. That’s the only trophy I’ve ever lifted as part of a winning Longford team, and you’re playing nearly 10 years.
“With the Tailteann Cup, definitely, if you won something like that you could say, ‘Right, we’d a good year last year, can we mix it in the level above the following year?’”
Nine years on from the end of his AFL adventure with Essendon, Quinn admits that he still misses “the lifestyle, the getting up, going training, coming home for the evening and that’s it. In some sense the weather – although factor 50, putting on sun cream twice in the morning, a double coat, you don’t miss that!”
But he doesn’t miss the “media side of things”, citing some of the Aussie commentary over Bríd Stack’s recent injury travails and the saga of Conor McKenna’s positive-and-then-negative Covid tests last summer.
“You look at how players [like] Conor McKenna kind of got trialled by media or vilified with the whole Covid situation. It left a sour taste in his mouth. That side of things leaves you very sceptical, and it’s a side that I don’t miss,” he expands.
“But I’d love to head back, from a coaching/training point of view, and take up different ideas because there’s so much good stuff in the AFL that they’re doing and could be brought to the GAA.”