A SWASHBUCKLING performer from a golden era of hurling John Quirke will be best remembered for his huge contribution to Cork’s historic four-in-a-row from 1941 to 1944.
On more than one occasion when their bid for glory looked doomed Quirke popped up to land vital scores to turn the tide.
Quirke was an outstanding player but it all began for him in 1911 in Milltown, Kerry, where he was born into a farming family, however his father moved as steward to the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock when John was just 10 months old.
All the youngsters in the area played hurling and Quirke began practicing his hurling skills on the local roads and fields in Blackrock.
It was through his friendship with Mick McCarthy — who made his name as an outstanding soccer goalkeeper with Blackrock Rovers, Shamrock Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday, and Ireland — that Quirke started hurling.
McCarthy introduced Quirke to some Blackrock mentors in 1929 and he made his debut as a sub against Carrigtwohill in the Cork Senior hurling championship later that year.
He proved an instant hit with the Rockies selectors and was on the team that defeated St Finbarr’s in the county final.
John helped Blackrock win the Cork Senior championship in 1930 and ’31 which ironically was to be their last championship win for 25 years.
In 1941 Quirke was a seasoned inter-county player having played with the Rebels for almost 10 years.
Quirke was centre-forward in a truly superb Cork team that swept to Munster and All-Ireland glory as they demolished Dublin 5-11 to 0-6 in a game that gave John his first All-Ireland Senior medal.
Cork met Dublin again in the 1941 All-Ireland final and with the Dubs looking to be getting the upper hand Quirke got two quick points from the 40 and placed Beckett in for a goal as the Rebels ran out 2-14 to 3-4 winners.
The Cork side boasted a star-studded line up including players of the calibre of Billy Murphy, Batt Thornhill, Alan Lotty, Din Joe Buckley, Jim Young Jack Lynch, Fr Cottrell, Christy Ring, and Micka Brennan to mention but a few.
Antrim were the surprise package in the 1943 final as the northern county who had surprisingly and sensationally claimed the scalp of Kilkenny en route to this decider.
There was no fairytale to the Antrim challenge in the final as Cork turned on the style to easily account for the northerners 5-16 to 0-4.
After the final Quirke remarked to the waiting media: “We did the bulk of the scoring in the first half and rightly eased off as the second half progressed as I have never believed in humiliating the opposition.”
It was a comment of a gentleman and sportsman.
Cork completed their historic four-in-a-row in 1944 after a couple of close encounters with Limerick.
The Rebels looked to be coasting in the first game, but Limerick rallied in style and it took a late goal from Quirke that ensured the Rebels would get a second bite of the cherry.
In the replay, Limerick looked to be in pole position with a five-point advantage in the closing minutes.
A couple of Quirke points began the Cork revival as the legendary Christy Ring billowed the back of the net with the winning goal.
The Limerick Leader GAA writer of the time John P Power paid lavish compliments to three of the players on the field in that memorable final-Timmy Ryan and Mick Mackey of Limerick whilst singling out the contribution of Cork’s John Quirke.
Going back over 10 years Power described how a slim young man from Cork consistently hurled Tipperary forwards off their feet and was the unsung hero of this Cork four-in-a-row team.
It is well documented that Quirke’s display rescued Cork on July 16, 1944, with another stunning display that inspired the Rebels to a memorable win as he proved the doubters totally wrong who were predicting he had gone past his best.
In truth, Quirke was one of the best players Cork had produced over a 10-year period at the top level with his sister, Dolly Leahy, also winning an All-Ireland Senior camogie medal.
John Quirke passed away unexpectedly in August 1983 at the age of 72 but his memories will live on among hurling fans.