Pizza, points, piss-taking: The world according to Fermanagh’s Seán Quigley

‘I’m not saying the Dublin players aren’t enjoying it. But it just wouldn’t be for me’

“God knows, this group of players might never set foot in Croke Park again for an All-Ireland quarter-final. If people want to slate us for enjoying it, that’s just not being realistic,” says Seán Quigley. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Presseye/Inpho

“God knows, this group of players might never set foot in Croke Park again for an All-Ireland quarter-final. If people want to slate us for enjoying it, that’s just not being realistic,” says Seán Quigley. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Presseye/Inpho

 

“C’mere, if Bernard Brogan walked in there, he wouldn’t get two free pizzas, would he?”

And away we go. The first thing you need to know about Seán Quigley is that he laughs a lot. Probably the last thing you need to know, too. He laughs at himself, at football, at footballers, at everything. Sometimes Gaelic football feels like it’s dressed up in a funeral suit; Quigley is the flower in the top pocket that squirts water in your eye.

It takes a lot of work to take yourself this unseriously. He did a Q&A in the match programme for one of the Ulster Championship games last summer and when asked to nominate Fermanagh’s worst trainer he offered: “Probably myself, to be fair.” And naturally enough, he went with pizza as his pre-match meal of choice.

The pizza story has followed him around since the summer of 2014 but when you give him the chance to set it straight, he doubles down instead. Sitting at home the night before a qualifier against Laois, he got a call from a friend of his just finished his shift working in the local pub in Roslea, just inside the Border. Fancy heading into Monaghan for a pizza?

“Pizza D’Or in Monaghan town is a great spot,” says Quigley. “So we went in and I got a pizza but I actually stopped halfway through it. I said, ‘Jesus, I can’t be eating a full pizza the night before a game.’ I should have been in my bed anyway. It was two o’clock in the morning.

Chicken and pasta

“The Laois full back was a nice lad and we were just chatting away as the game went on about the different things we do for preparation and whatnot. I was asking him about what they ate before a game and that and he said the usual chicken and pasta in the hotel or whatever. Then he asked me and I was telling him all the same oul’ bullshit.

“But then I started laughing and I said, ‘Here, to be totally honest about it, I ate a half a pizza last night about two o’clock in the morning. Then I got up for a drink of water about four o’clock and I ate the other half.’ He burst out laughing. I’d say he thought I was taking the piss. But I was totally serious.”

For most sportspeople, this would be the point at which to drop in a casual mention of the fact that he scored 2-8 in the Laois game and was man of the match. Not Quigley. For an epilogue, he chooses instead to laugh that the next time he landed in to Pizza D’Or after the story came out, they sent him home with not one but two free pizzas. Hence the Bernard Brogan line.

“Look, I am not fussy at all about my diet. I think it’s not hard to tell that at times. Now, I don’t eat complete rubbish before matches. Don’t be thinking that. People would have their own ideas about me and that’s fair enough.

“At the end of the day, I’m not walking around the house eating a piece of lettuce. I don’t keep a lump of celery in the car. I’m not into stuff like that. When I go home this evening, my mother will probably have cooked dinner and whatever it is, I’m going to eat it. I’m not going to ask her how many calories are in it or what’s the protein content. I’m not that sort of a fella.”

These, of course, sound like the ramblings of a madman. Or at the very least, enough for Quigley to qualify as a subversive. No GAA player has publicly admitted to living on mammy’s cooking since the early ’80s. Next he’ll be saying he actually enjoys the game.

“Ah yeah, I love it! But sure I enjoyed it when we were in Ruislip getting beaten by London in 2011! At the end of the day, the opportunity to put on the Fermanagh jersey is all I wanted. At that stage, I probably didn’t even know how low an ebb it was because it was my first season.

“But I enjoyed it as much in Division Four playing Kilkenny away down in the arsehole of nowhere as I will going out to play Donegal on Sunday. It’s just a game of football to me. At the end of the day, you just need to enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it, you won’t play well and it’s just going to be a chore.”

Quigley landed into a Fermanagh set-up in 2011 that was going nowhere. He and few of his schoolmates from St Michael’s Enniskillen were co-opted after playing in the MacRory Cup, filling out a squad that had been decimated by older players walking away. They finished fifth in Division Four, lost by 10 points to Derry in Ulster – “It could have been 30” – and crashed out to London.

Less than four years later, however, Quigley was the top scorer across all four divisions in the Allianz League. He would have been the championship’s leading scorer too only for some jobsworth somewhere robbing him of the goal against Dublin where he barged Stephen Cluxton across the goal-line. Had he kept it, he’d have finished two points ahead of Cillian O’Connor.

Almighty bird

He was nominated for an All Star and was probably the seventh forward on the list come the night itself. All the while, he had himself a ball.

“I was down watching Dublin win the All-Ireland in September and to me it looked like just another day at the office for them. My God of almighty, when Fermanagh eventually win their first Ulster title, there’ll be people who will go missing for months. They will celebrate that hard.

“Obviously, they’re elite athletes, the Dublin players. And fair play to them. All credit to them for doing it and they’re the best team in the country by a million miles, in my opinion. But for me, if I was doing that, I would get fed up of it very easily. I’m not saying the Dublin players aren’t enjoying it – maybe they are. But it just wouldn’t be for me.”

Why not? Surely you’d achieve more in your career?

“Look, at the end of the day, I’m not getting paid to go and play football. I work five, six days a week, I go to my football and I go home. There’s days I leave the house at seven in the morning and it could be 11 at night by the time I’m home, between work and football.

“It’s a huge commitment, even at club level now. Most clubs are doing strength and conditioning and all that – in my opinion it’s getting a wee bit out of hand. Like, I don’t know if you’d know it to look at me but strength and conditioning wouldn’t be something I’d be mad into. But I’ve seen boys train who are ripped and they’re pumping out of the jersey but when they go to solo the football, they’re like a robot and they can’t move.”

Spooked by the scenes

Whatever else he is, Quigley’s no robot. At the end of the Dublin game, Quigley and his team-mates bathed in the applause and adoration that came down from the stands from the Fermanagh supporters. Jim McGuinness wrote in these pages the following Wednesday that he was spooked by the scenes of joy at what was realistically a pretty bad beating. Quigley wasn’t long having a pop.

“I wouldn’t say I had a bit of a go at him, I was just stating facts. People don’t see the very limited resources we have up here but he’s a very intelligent man and he’s just next door so he should know the story. We have 18 clubs, that’s it. On Sunday, we’re going up to play Donegal. We should not be even on the same field as them with the resources we have and the numbers we have. I don’t think people realise that.

“Donegal’s a massive county compared to Fermanagh and it’s a disappointing when people slate us like that. We played an All-Ireland quarter-final last year and we got promoted to Division Two. I know we didn’t win anything but that is a massive, massive year for Fermanagh. For a county our size, it goes in peaks and troughs.

“As a cub, I went to watch Fermanagh play in 2004 in an All-Ireland semi-final. I would never have dreamt of getting back to play there. God knows, this group of players might never set foot in Croke Park again for an All-Ireland quarter-final. And if people want to slate us for enjoying it, that’s just not being realistic. You need to make hay while the sun shines.”

Scandal, as GAA player advocates the having of fun.

It’ll never catch on.

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