GROWING up in Blackpool was a great experience for the former Delanys player and coach Conor Quinlan, as he reflected on his path into the GAA.
Delanys, a club steeped in tradition, was named after brothers Jeremiah and Cornelius Delaney who were killed by British forces at their home in Dublin Hill on the night of December 11-12, 1920 (the night of the Burning of Cork).
For Conor, son of the late Donal (Duckser) and Nuala, it was an early start as he began playing as a five-year-old with his beloved club that has seen him move into coaching in recent years.
“The Delanys base was Dublin Hill, but we had players from Blackpool and the surrounding areas as we were a small club in comparison to the Glen who could attract the cream of players,” said Quinlan.
Although it was only in recent years that Delanys had a road entrance put in on the entrance to their outstanding facility at Kilbarry, Conor believes that was not the sole reason for the club kicking on.
“I think when players got married, they moved out of the area and naturally when they had families their kids would play with their local club and, in truth, that is the natural thing to do.
“When we eventually got up to senior hurling after winning the 2002 Intermediate Hurling Championship after a replay, the conveyor belt had stopped and we hadn’t the players coming through to maintain a presence in the senior ranks.”
Looking back, Quinlan believes if structures were put in place, it might have saved their decline.
“Look — hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I do believe that if we had the foresight to put coaching structures in place with the talented hurlers we had as many just left the club when they finished their playing careers and we lost a lot of hurling and football brains.”
When Conor reached the age of 28, he decided that he wanted to get involved on that side of the sport, and he duly operated as a player-coach for a few years.
The real coaching test for Conor was when Brian Ahern asked him to coach the club U14 football side, but they were narrowly defeated by a Castlehaven side in the county final with the West Cork side having Damien Cahalane and Brian Hurley in their side.
Delanys had certainly gone into a lull on the football side, and in 2014 Quinlan agreed to take over the reins with the Junior A football side in the Seandún division.
It was evident Quinlan’s knowledge and tactics were working the oracle, as he managed the club to win the 2015 Junior A Seandún Division Championship after a lapse of 38 years.
“The one thing I have learned over the years — if you haven’t got the players, you are wasting your time as a manager, no matter what tactics you employ. And credit to the lads, they bought into the plan.”
The Dublin Hill side also won the 2017 and 2018 titles, but a year later Conor felt that he had brought the side as far as he could, and decided they needed a fresh voice.
“My brother Gavin and I worked hard, but look, sometimes the same voice in a dressing room can go stale, and I felt the lads needed a change.”
Looking at the Seandún division, Quinlan is worried that clubs will struggle in the coming years, as numbers are dropping.
“My opinion is that we haven’t got the numbers playing and some clubs may need to amalgamate in the coming years, as they could simply go out of business,” he said.
After working with Paddy O’Shea of St Vincent’s with Seandún in the Cork Senior Football Championship that saw them defeat Beara before losing to UCC, Conor became good friends with his fellow northsider.
In 2020, Paddy was brought into the Cork senior ladies football coaching staff. He soon asked Conor to join him.
“We were mainly working on defence, and although we made strides, I think we can do better next season,” he said.
“And credit to manager Ephie Fitzgerald — he is a great man to work with, as his loyalty to the players is incredible.”
The recent defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland final was disappointing, but Quinlan believes the team are good enough to bounce back.
A full-time publican in Blackpool along with business partner Gary Firmo, he also takes in many games of basketball in the Neptune Stadium.
Married to Jaclyn Conor, with two children, Katie and Bobby, Quinlan believes family life is crucial.
“My daughter Katie plays basketball with Glanmire and football with Delanys, and my son Bobby is with Neptune and I get a great kick watching them enjoying playing their sports, and having a loyal and hardworking wife behind you is always a huge bonus for any man,” he said.
His passion for sport is evident, and the loyal Delanys clubman has plenty more to offer in the coming years.