Kurt McQuilkin finds the lure of Leinster too hard to resist
Former Leinster captain couldn’t resist the invitation to rejoin the province’s coaching team
Kurt McQuilkin: “Coaching a club that you really care about, you know? We had a good amount of success at the time and, yeah, it just ingrained something in me.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Last stop Bray. We’ll eventually get to Te Kuiti, the sheep-shearing capital of the world, but Bray is where we start as it’s home to Kurt McQuilkin.
That’s because his wife Barbara is from there. As are his daughters, Ella and Lilly. “We met when I was first playing for Leinster, ” he said, sitting snugly in an office on the UCD campus last week.
Snug because this is where he belongs. For now anyway. It took some dark days to remind him.
There’s a story to be told. It’s about Pinetree’s best mate. And Bective Rangers. Lansdowne, Leinster and just for the heck of it five Irish caps too. Some will know McQuilkin’s tale, some might need reminding.
“My Dad Noel was coaching Bective Rangers in the early 1990s, I was playing in Newcastle and I’d done my knee in.”
Over he came for Christmas. Noel knew better than anyone that Kurt could carry straight over the gainline.
“’Do you fancy playing a game at some stage, once the knee comes right?’” asked Noel.
“I said I wouldn’t mind and it kicked on from there.”
It wasn’t long before he was poached by Lansdowne.
“Irish rugby has been very good to me, not only in my playing days but as a coach. I see myself as an Irish-educated coach, I came through the system here with Stephen Aboud and the likes of that and I’m very, very grateful for what they did for me coaching-wise.”
Career pathKing Country
“I was a fat stock buyer so I would go around to the farmers to look at the stock ready to be slaughtered. I got moved up to North Auckland, played 30 or 40 games for them and then back to King Country. My dad got King Country up to the first division and, yeah, after that, I wanted to do a bit of touring about.”
So he left Colin Meads territory.
“Him and my old man are the best of mates so, yeah, he’d be up there having a beer with my old man, having dinner and both are still pretty big influences on the Country province and aren’t too slow in giving their opinion on matches and critiquing things, so ‘Pinetree’ was a big influence.”
McQuilkin was overseeing defence when Leinster won their first European title in 2009 but rugby got him back to King Country as head coach.
“In 2010, I decided that having families in two countries, you want to give each set of parents a bit of time with their grand kids. Myself and Barbara felt that it was time we gave our kids an opportunity to experience a bit of a lifestyle in New Zealand. We have a house in Lake Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand, we built it in 2003 and we thought now was a good time to get them back school-wise and for them to hook up with their cousins and family in New Zealand. We thought we’d give it a bash.
“I left on pretty good terms with Leinster who understood my reasons, it wasn’t an easy decision but that was the time to do it for your family.”
Asking him about returning to Ireland reveals just how deep the emotional ties are to this part of the world.
He takes a moment.
“I sat down with Barbara and I said that, if the opportunity ever arose...We sat down and she said: ‘What made you happy in your working career?’ It was easy, Leinster kept coming up. It just kept coming up.
And she said, ‘right, if the opportunity ever arose again, would you jump at it?’ I said, ‘without a doubt’.
“I was pretty lucky to get a call from Mick Dawson a couple of months back, saying ‘we’re in a bit of a bind, can you come back and help us out in pre-season’, so I nearly took his arm off.
“He said it was for two months, I would have come back for two weeks if the truth be known and it was just mad how it happened. It’s like it was meant to be.
“I was also coaching the New Zealand Heartland XV and was enjoying my time.”
“New Zealand has a 24-hour rugby channel so I was always watching Leinster in the early hours of the morning, roaring at the TV. I kept in touch with Jono Gibbes and those sort of lads.
“So, when this opportunity arose, I thought ‘What the hell, you’ve got to do it’ you know? It’s not often you get a second chance at a club like Leinster.”
The man fits here. “I guess that being a player and being lucky enough to have captained the side, that’s ingrained into your DNA. Then, to have the opportunity to coach and to be involved during that period from 2007-10, that had a massive effect on me as a coach with regards to the professional side of the game.
“Coaching a club that you really care about, you know? We had a good amount of success at the time and, yeah, it just ingrained something in me. It’s in my DNA, like Leo, like Girv, Fogs.
“It’s good, because we have a group of coaches that challenge each other, which is what you want. Everyone has an opinion and we’re allowed to add that opinion to the pot . . . We all have our own views, but it’s a collective view. We all see the game in much the same way.
“The ‘Leinster way’ has been mentioned, we’ve been brought up in that way and we see the game from a certain angle. The academy system is, I think, up there with any and not only in Ireland, but all around with regard with the product that they’re bringing through.
“I look at (Garry) Ringrose, Cian Kelleher, these backs who have a lot of potential and look to have a bit of class about them too. These guys will get a shot in the next seven or eight weeks and they have the potential to grab that and run with it.
“I’m not saying these guys are going to hit those heights, but it has the same potential. It really does.”