Testing Times for Michael Quinlivan

31 July 2016; Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary takes a seconf half shot on goal that was saved by Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Galway and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Michael Quinlivan in action during their emphatic win over Galway in the All Ireland Quarter-final

It has been an interesting summer for Tipperary’s Michael Quinlivan, who has been one of the key men for the Premier footballers in their surprise run to the All-Ireland SFC semi-finals.

The Clonnel man has kicked a 2-16 in four championship outings for Tipperary, including 1-13 in July to help him claim the GAA/GPA Opel Footballer of the Month award, but the 23-year-old account has also been busy off the field, playing a hands-on role for the players’ association in the development of their proposals to revamp the All-Ireland SFC..

Michael sat down with GaelicPlayers.com to chat about his role in the proposals, the recent partnership deal between the GAA and the GPA and how it impacts on players and Tipp’s championship run…

Q: You were involved with the GPA’s working group to develop proposals to revamp the SFC.

A: When the first [GPA] draft came out it got hammered. At the end of the day, it was only a first draft for consideration and people maybe read into it a bit much. I came back with a small bit of a change that linked the provincial championships into it, I emailed it into the GPA for them to have a look at it and Dessie [Farrell] asked me to get involved.

It was an interesting time and I enjoyed it. It definitely opened my eyes to the fact that change has to happen and all the players want it to happen. That’s the thing that dawned on me the most – it isn’t just one or two commentators that are saying it – the players would all like to be playing more games and it would be a step forward.

Q: Did you get involved off your own bat? Did you get in touch with the GPA?

A: Well, no, the draft was sent out and said ‘if you have any comments or want to contribute…’  I was on the train down to Thurles to training, I was chatting to Mully [Brian Mulvihill] about it and he said ‘why don’t you write in and say it?’ So I did. I didn’t think anything would come of it, but that was how my involvement started anyway.

Q: The proposals – in particular the introduction of the quarter-final group-stage format – were well received by some and immediately criticised by others – what have you made to the reaction?

A: It’s progressive from the GAA and maybe it’s something that a lot of people didn’t see coming. There is no silver bullet, there’s nothing that’s going to fix everything. The way we look at Championship reform should be to write down a list of the things that are wrong and try to right as many of them as we can.

If you were to look at it currently, it would be the plight of the club player, the championship season being too long or just the season being too long in general. If we could rectify a lot of those issues then that would be the way to look at a Championship proposal.

Q: Some people, including Tipp selector Tommy Toomey, have expressed concerns about how the proposed structure would impact on the likes of Tipperary and whether it would impact on a county panel that might not be as strong as a Dublin or Kerry – do you think those concerns are valid?

A: I suppose it would probably change the game in terms of the last eight and how good the depth of your squad is, but who knows? It’s difficult to say. Obviously you’d have to play more Division 1 teams or teams that you would expect to get to a quarter-final stage. But then again, this year we played Cork who were in Division 1 and two Division 2 teams and we beat the three of them. Who knows? Depth might be an issue, but we’re confident in the level of our squad that they [substitutes] are good enough to step in.

We haven’t had a handy draw at the All-Ireland stages this year, so that’s no different. And lot of people were giving out about the fact that Kerry played Clare and Tipperary in Munster, but at the end of the day they had to play teams that reached the quarter-finals and one that reached a semi-final. Maybe we validated that [Kerry’s route] more than the names suggest to a lot of people for who they had to play.

***

Michael works in Dublin and commutes to Tipperary for training. After studying teaching he made a career change when moving into accountancy and he faces an anxious couple of weeks in more ways than one. Mayo lie in wait for the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday week following their one-point quarter-final win over Tyrone, but exam results are also in the post…

Q: So you’re working at the moment, not studying?

A: I’m working in PWC in Dublin city. I work in accountancy – I’m in audit – so I’m in their funds department.

I get my exam results on Friday so I’m getting a bit nervous as the day comes closer, but hopefully they go okay because I don’t really want to have to go back studying for October now! It’ll be grand, hopefully.

I did teaching and to change over to accountancy maybe wasn’t the easiest move. I studied in Mary I, did three years, finished the course but knew it wasn’t for me. I knew it wasn’t for me kind of halfway through, but I felt I was as well having the degree behind me rather than drop out and go and start first year in something else when I could be in third year and nearly finished.

So I kept at it and then did a Master’s in Cork in Business Information Systems and one of my modules was accountancy. I finally figured out that that’s where I wanted to go! Thankfully now I’m on the road.

Q: How involved with the GPA have you been up until now?

A:  I got involved with the player development programme about halfway through my third year in college studying teaching. I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do and I met with Fergal Hartley and we kind of made a plan of action over what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I found that really, really helpful.

The thing is that, for players a lot of stuff is there for them, but they just have to go and make the phone call, and the thing I’ve learnt is that when you do make that phone call, people are definitely willing to help you. There is a lot of help out there if you’re willing to ask for it.

***

The GAA and GPA last month announced a new agreement, which will run from 2017-19, worth €6.2m per year which will benefit players in many areas. This includes reimbursement of certain expenses and an increase in funding for Player Development Programmes among other areas…

Q: What do you make of the new deal between the GPA and the GAA?

A: There was some superb work done on the GPA’s behalf by the lads who were on the negotiating team. It’s a monumental step that will benefit all of the players – current, past and maybe future as well – so it was a step forward. It’s excellent, I think.

Q: The cut of commercial revenue was a standout aspect (the GAA will provide €2.5m or 15pc of net central Commercial Revenue, which will go towards welfare/development services for players)…

A:  The commercial revenue is a huge thing. I was listening to an interview on radio with Donal O’Neill, one of the founders of the GPA, and he was saying commercial revenue is the golden egg because you live and die by how popular your product is. To get a percentage of that is a huge step forward.

Q: Another area that gained a lot of attention was the increase in mileage – was that a big step for you or what other aspects were particularly important for you?

A: A lot of players are under a lot of pressure, you know? To get just get a small increase for the mileage is good, but I think one of the big standout ones for me was the benevolent players fund, which is for the players who need operations after they finish up playing. I think that’s definitely very progressive because there’s a lot of lads who get to the end of their careers and they’re struggling a small bit and can’t afford to go and get an operation. I think that fund is very, very good.

Q: Critics will highlight the commercial cut in particular, and suggest it’s creating or exacerbating what’s been called a two-tier system – what do you make of that criticism or those concerns?

A:  Those concerns have always been there ever since the GPA started, but it’s no big issue. Those funds are needed to further the development of players. I know if you were to talk to any club players around the country, I don’t think they’d begrudge any of the county players – because of the time and the commitment that they put in- that they get looked after.

It will take strain off players and they’ll be more able to express themselves better on the field, which is the thing that people want to see most.

At the end of the day, players go back to their clubs and they bring those things back with them.

***

Tipperary take on Mayo on Sunday week (August 12) in the last four of the All-Ireland and Liam Kearns’ side will again be underdogs coming up against one of football’s traditional powers. Michael and his team-mates have already upset the odds against Cork, Derry and Galway, however, and the 23-year-old insists there is room for improvement despite personally contributing 1-4 during their comprehensive nine-point quarter-final win last month…

Q: For how well you’ve performed this season, has it felt different? Do you feel you’re performing particularly well?

A: I don’t know. We’ve been knocking at the last 12 for a couple of years. This year is our third time in the last 12 in five seasons and we lost to [eventual semi-finalists] Tyrone last year. We always felt that the level was in us, we just never really broke through the glass ceiling.

Our performances have gone up a notch in the quarter-final and they’re going to have to go up a serious notch again the next day, but again we’re happy in the way that we’re playing. Thankfully a lot of people are very happy to watch us play the game as well. Having people talk about saving football might have been a bit dramatic, but it’s a nice plaudit to get as a team.

Q: You’ve been named Opel Footballer of the Month for July – it’s nice to get a personal accolade?

A:  Yeah, when you look at the two lads that were in the running for it as well – Gary Brennan has been colossal all year for Clare, Paddy McBrearty (Donegal) had the best individual of the championship against Cork, he was absolutely unbelievable. If you take that into account, and there’s another 15-16 lads from Tipperary that you could definitely put into that list as well, it’s very humbling. For it to be voted by the players, it does mean a lot.

Q: Do you feel any personal sense of momentum that you feel nearly indestructible when you’re on a run?

A: You don’t tend to look back… I think it’s the age-old thing that if you lose, you end up learning a lot more because you tend to be a lot more critical on yourself than you would be when you’re winning. I didn’t have my shooting boots on the last day, I butchered a lot of chances, so that’s something I have to look at myself, definitely. I’m sure there’s other aspects that will be highlighted for me as well.

Q: Most of us are looking at you thinking you’re playing fantastically well, but you don’t look at it that way?

A: No, there’s more… I don’t think you can ever get to the stage of thinking that you’ve played the perfect game because then you’ll stop doing better. Once you get to that perfect game stage, you’re screwed because you’re resting on your laurels.

Q: A big semi-final against Mayo coming up – you’re obviously looking forward to it?

A: Look, at the start of the year if you were to say that Tipperary and Mayo would be in an All-Ireland semi-final, there’s a lot of people around the country that would have been laughing and say ‘what are you on about?’

For us to be involved in it is obviously a huge milestone for this team, but at the same time we won’t be looking at it like that. We’re just looking forward to the challenge and hopefully we can put in a big performance.

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