Nickie Quaid taking the family name to new heights with Limerick

Making light work of match-defining moments has become a trademark

It was apt that Nickie Quaid should win his first All Star award when the GAA night was devoid of its usual razzmatazz and formal wear. You imagine that the stripped down ceremony suited him just fine. The honour meant just as much.

In his decade keeping goal for Limerick, the Effin man has been conspicuously understated. "A super goalie," full back Dan Morrissey surmised last week. "He's just so calm behind you, he communicates so well so there are never any issues and you can always rely on him to be there. He's just Mr Consistency really. And it was a seamless transition going back to play full back in front of him."

On the day that Limerick met Cork in the Munster semi-final, Denis O’Donovan watched the game with a few friends. When Cork got a penalty as they were leading by five points, conversation turned to Quaid. He was from their club: they’d watched him hurl and shot-stop since he was a youngster.

“A few of us said that if he hit it within range of Nickie, he would get it. Unless he buried it in the corner out of reach, he wouldn’t beat Nickie if it was within its radius. It was a huge moment. Cork would have gone eight points up if he had got it.”


John Kiely acknowledged the magnitude of the moment afterwards. Making light work of match-defining moments has become a trademark of Quaid’s. Every All-Ireland winning team has a what-if moment. Limerick’s arrived in the 72nd minute of the 2018 semi-final against Cork: the teams locked at 1-26 and Limerick very much trying to discover how to break into the magic kingdom of a final.

Cork broke and stitched together a move which culminated in Séamus Harnedy with the ball in front of goal and just Quaid to beat. As he started his back-swing, a goal seemed inevitable. Even when you know what happened, a goal still seems inevitable. Between Harnedy releasing the ball and connecting with his swing, Quaid somehow dived and neatly flicked the ball out of the shooter’s sightlines. The game hurtled to extra-time. It was a reprieve. The moment was such a visual treat and trick that it travelled: Sports Illustrated’s Dan Gartland wrote a celebratory piece two days later which contained the sub-heading: ‘Even if you don’t know what hurling is this play will make your jaw drop.’

Outfield player

It certainly did across Cork. That lone play shifted, in a split second, what looked like a certain Cork victory into a sensational period of extra time and, eventually, the pathway to Limerick’s All-Ireland success. By then, Quaid had been Limerick’s first choice goalkeeper for eight years, having come originally come into the squad as an outfield player. He is one of the survivors of the chaotic season when many senior hurlers, unhappy with the direction of the squad under Justin McCarthy, essentially boycotted the campaign. McCarthy came equipped with a glittering hurling CV and pedigree. For players like Quaid, called up for the first time in 2010, it was a difficult environment. He made his championship debut at half-forward against Cork. The following year, he played centre-back for Effin during their historic run to a Munster Intermediate championship.

“Awh, he was everything,” says O’Donovan.

“He was playing centre back and a bit like goalkeeping nowadays in that he was so good to read the game. A lot of teams were pucking the ball long and he would come down with a lot of those. He had it in his hands. And this low flighted pass to the half forwards or corner forwards. When we won the Munster final he was man of the match. I would say he hit more ball than anyone that day. He dominated.”

But by then, his fate as full-time goalkeeper was already well advanced. Ciarán Carey coached Quaid at under-21 level and started using him in goal. When Dónal O’Grady, the former Cork All-Ireland winning hurler and manager, took over Limerick in 2011, he selected Quaid in goal. For all his importance to Effin as an outfield player, none of it surprised O’Donovan.

“No. He was a natural goalkeeper. I remember having debates about this. I always said: no. Nickie is a goalie.”

The family pedigree maybe influenced the decision. There has been a Quaid between the Limerick posts for so long that it just sounds wrong. Joe Quaid kept goal from Limerick from 1992 to 2002. And before that, Nickie's father Tommy - a first cousin of Joe's - was Limerick's first choice goalkeeper from 1976 to 1993: a phenomenal run. When Tommy Quaid died tragically in October 1998 at just 41, following a work accident, Eamon Cregan was managing Limerick. He paid a memorable tribute to his former team-mate when speaking with Seán Moran on these pages.

“My first memory is of Tommy coming on instead of Paul Kennedy who was injured for a league quarter final against Kilkenny in the spring of 1976. His selection came out of the blue but he played very well and we knew we had an up and coming keeper. He was an excellent hurler and played outfield for his club Feoghanagh and if you wanted to beat them, you had to stop him scoring. I remember when we (Claughan) were playing them in a championship match the fella marking him came off saying, ‘I never want to go through that again’.

“Tommy was forever young in goal. He never went stale because playing outfield for his club kept him fresh. Goalkeepers are a breed apart. If they make a mistake, everyone remembers it and their confidence has to be superior.”

Denis O’Donovan also hurled with Tommy Quaid. He remembers the last time they met: Quaid had scored around 1-3 from play in a championship match and was heading to play a game of badminton that evening. Denis dropped him off at the hall. Quaid kept a few deer near where the hall was and they had a chat about it.

Quaid had returned to play with Effin in his later years because, O’Donovan was told, he wanted his children to see him play with the club. Nickie was just nine when the tragedy occurred. Curiously, Tommy Quaid was a coach and selector with the Limerick Intermediate team in 1998. John Kiely was the team’s corner back. Nickie and his brother Tommy were mascots on the day of the final against Kilkenny. They are there in the team photograph: a snapshot of featuring two people who become central to shaping Limerick’s future at senior level.

“Tommy was a great goalkeeper and I have always rated Nickie as a superb goalie,” says O’Donovan. “He catches high ball under the cross bar the way you or I would catch low hanging fruit from an apple tree. He makes the difficult look easy. He has a tremendous eye for the ball and a great pair of hands. His father was the same.”

Hurling rivalry

Heart on sleeve: they are hugely proud of him. Effin falls under the radar of the Cork-Limerick border communities where generations of tooing-and-froing and work and marriages has been sustained by hurling rivalry. For a long time, the trades and barbs involved Cork glee. The past few years have been different. Previous Effin hurlers had to leave to find their way to the games brightest lights. Éamonn Rea is from the parish and won an All-Ireland with Tipp in ‘73. Conor O’Donovan - Denis’s brother - also won All-Irelands with Tipp in ‘89 and ‘91. “Nickie is the only sitting player with Effin on the match programme.”

Quaid contributes hugely to the club in a low-key, vital way. When the club needed a fund raising idea, he organised a boxing night: it put the heart crossways in the officials but it was a huge success. It was Nickie who urged them to build a ball wall: from that came a full indoor alley and an astro-turf pitch. “He doesn’t like the limelight as such. But ask him to do anything and he is there.”

His credentials are immaculate. Just two years into his senior career, he was nominated for a goalkeeping All-Star. He was an early choice for captain, too, succeeding Donal O’Grady in 2015. His presence in the Limerick goals extends the Quaid family involvement with the senior team to a staggering seven decades. Twin brothers Jim Quaid (Joe’s father) and Jack Quaid (Tommy’s father, Nickie’s grandfather) were members of the 1950s teams coached by Mick Mackey and were still involved with in the 1960s. Tommy’s long reign as custodian was brought the focus to the Effin household. But a Quaid playing for a third All-Ireland in four years? Nickie has taken the Quaid name into new country.