‘A beautiful son, my best friend’: Father leads tributes to Tipperary hurling star Dillon Quirke

Clonoulty village comes to standstill in memory of ‘a perfect gentleman’ who collapsed during match

Tipperary hurling star Dillon Quirke died last Friday “doing what he loved”, his funeral Mass has heard.

Quirke (24) who catapulted through the hurling ranks from underage to the Tipperary senior hurling team, died after he collapsed while captaining Clonoulty-Rossmore against Kilruane MacDonaghs, during a county senior hurling championship match at Semple Stadium, Thurles.

The village of Clonoulty came to a standstill on Tuesday as his remains were first driven by hearse from his home to his local GAA pitch before his coffin was shouldered almost 2km to St John the Baptist Church, as it passed hundreds of silent mourners who lined the route.

Members of the Tipperary County Board, along with president of the GAA Larry McCarthy, led the cortege to the church where local hurling and camogie players, as well as Quirke’s Tipperary team-mates, formed guards of honour.

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In a loving tribute to his only son, Quirke’s heartbroken father Dan Quirke said: “Dillon was a beautiful son, my best friend, our hero. He came into this world a fighter, born premature following a road accident, and he left it a champion and a true legend.”

Quirke’s sister Shannon read a poem which championed her brother’s hurling skills and remembered him as a “fighter in the skies” defender, who was also “deadly in attack”.

In a tribute to his nephew, Clonoulty-Rossmore chairman Andrew Fryday told mourners: “Dillon was going so well in that match last Friday night, he was a leading player ... leading from the front, showing his ability and his skills.”

Becoming emotional, Mr Fryday added: “Then a nightmare struck and we all know what happened. It was a disaster for us to see him leave Semple Stadium in the way he left, but while he was in there, lads, he left it the way he wanted to leave it — he left it as the shining star that he was.”

Mr Fryday thanked the wider “GAA family”, their neighbours and friends, and their hurling rivals Kilruane MacDonaghs, for their “dignity and support” since last Friday night.

“It hasn’t been easy since then. And I suppose if the truth be known, we are all one big happy family in the GAA. Yes, we go out [on the pitch] on days and cut each other asunder but when it comes to it all and the chips are down we are all behind each other lads and we stand up together and we have seen that here massively, so thank you.”

Mr Fryday also paid special thanks to last Friday’s match referee Michael Kennedy, the “magnificent staff at Semple Stadium”, their club’s team physio Ciara Gleeson, HSE paramedics, the Order of Malta, gardaí and staff at Clonmel hospital, who all tried valiantly to save Quirke’s life.

Mr Fryday said Dillon was destined for hurling greatness and noted a long list of his nephew’s hurling achievements.

“Last Friday evening, Dillon made a triumphant exit from his life, doing what he loved, with his team-mates, and the great friends he loved so much, and in front of the people, he cherished most — his family.

“He was such a lovely, lovely fella, a perfect gentleman. I suppose he was what any mother or father would like to have had as a son; and if you go through his hurling career he is probably what any manager or any trainer of a team would like to have as a leader and as an inspiration to others around him.

“What an inspiring hero he was to us, both on and off the field. Dillon, until we meet again, go gently into the good night and shine brightly.”

Symbols of Mr Quirke’s sporting life including his trademark red helmet, and his Tipperary and club jerseys, as well as a photograph of him with his friends, music concert tickets, and an apron he wore in his job in a deli, were all laid beside his coffin at the altar.

Fr Tom Hearne, parish priest at Clonoulty Rossmore, said the parish had been “stunned” by the death, noting Quirke had achieved “perfection in so short a time”.

He told mourners, who filled the church and stood in their hundreds outside, that since news broke of Quirke’s death “it really feels that our parish community here has almost become frozen in time”.

Fr Hearne added: “Life is fragile, life is definitely precious, it is something that we should value. We really should live it to the full, just as Dillon did.”

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins was represented at the funeral by Comdt Deirdre Newell and Taoiseach Micheál Martin was represented by Comdt Claire Mortimer.

Quirke is survived by his parents Dan and Hazel, and sisters Shannon and Kellie. After the Mass, he was buried at the adjoining Clonoulty cemetery.