McQuillan, Martin

April 10, 1992

Armagh's Martin McQuillan evades the challenge of Hugh Emerson Laois
Armagh's Supermac! He rises earlier than most yet he's acknowledged as a fine fielder of the ball. He's been the apple of Brian McEniff's eye this season yet Jim McCorry is about to hand him a plumb job against Down in this year's Ulster Championship. With his own vegetable run, he covers more ground than his hero Pat Spillane. The players in focus is the Orchard County's pride and joy, Martin McQuillan, writes Kevin Carney. McQuillan is a ready-made case study for would-be sports psychologists. As a deterrent to prospective ball-carriers on the half forward line, he's the original of the species. Standing at six foot and one inch and weighing in at an imposing 13 stone 7 pounds, the Saint Patrick's Armagh clubman is an intimidating figure, to say the least, as he edges his way upfield from his customary left half back berth. One can only leave it to the scientists to evaluate the thoughts which must shoot through the minds of wiry half forwards on taking up their position, shoulder to shoulder with ironman McQuillan, prior to the throw-in. How about - "don't throw in the ball ref ... please." Big as a youngster, and even bigger now, the 28 year old 'veteran' is not a physical player. However, he admits that he is well able to handle any robust play that just might come his way on any given Ulster Championship day out but it's not his trademark. He's never been in love with the pull and drag sort of game. No, romance for Martin is all about being nice to his lovely wife Jaqueline (nee McCann) and creating the extra man for his colleagues in attack. Naturally athletic and a trainers delight, St. Patricks' best known player teamed up with the rest of his team mates on the current Armagh panel recently, to determine what kind of physical shape they individually boasted. The venue was Newry Sports Centre and the appliance of science was the exercise. It was a programme geared to examine the diet requirements, etc. of the Orchard County's best. Martin enjoyed the change from the proverbial laps around the field. "It made for some interesting results," he light heartedly remembers. A first team player with St. Pat's at the age of fifteen, intermediate football in Armagh soon knocked off the rough edges of McQuillan and other similar rookies like Stephen Casey and Liam McCreesh. By the time he made his club debut, he was already performing at the inter county stage at under 16 level. Graduation from that grade was automatic. No scientific analysis was required to assess the reasons behind his natural progression through the underage ranks. Two intermediate championship medals with his beloved 'Pat's earned him recognition at under 21 level before finally making his Armagh senior debut in October 1984 in a league tie versus Tyrone. Reared at a time when the Kerry machine was gobbling up all-comers like a potato peeler, the teamwork and artistry so characteristic of Mick O'Dwyer's squad proved an inspiration to a willing student from St. Patricks' school Cullyhanna via St. Josephs' Crossmaglen. Coming from a club which sported the skills of such as Oliver Caherty and Des Mackin, Martin soon found himself playing top class Kerry-like football alongside the likes of Joe Kernan, Jim Kerr and John Corvan. Fr. Sean Hegarty became Martin's first senior county mentor and the budding partnership at first took off, but was later to turn sour a little the following year when the axe was brought down on McQuillan's head. He remembers that period in his career with no hint of bitterness whatsoever. "I just didn't make the panel. Probably because of my inexperience, probably because I wasn't good enough at the time," Martin honestly recalled. How times have changed. Inspired as an enthusiastic 13 year old by Armagh's recovery from an eleven point half time championship deficit against Cavan in 1977, Martin McQuillan has ambitions now aimed far higher than merely watching an All-Ireland final from the Canal End at Croke Park, his very perch on the day his county went under to Dublin on final day fifteen years ago. A spot on the hallowed turf itself would be closer to the location yearned for by the Drumree, County Meath-based star. A one-time noted attacker whose skill on the ball caused many a flutter behind enemy lines, Martin McQuillan has, for the last four years in particular, been recognised nationwide as one of the game's most polished defenders. So polished in fact, that he has three shiny Railway Cup medals to prove the point. A substitute on the Ulster 1988 squad, Martin went on to wear the number five jersey with distinction for his province the following year and again in '91, and of course, this year as well. The 1992 McQuillan model performed superbly for Brian McEniff's squad. For good measure, Armagh's leader of men captained his province to their recent Iarnrod Eireann win this year against Munster. Curiously, McQuillan defied the "prophet in your own country" adage. He has in fact, gained the supreme recognition among the gaelic fraternity in Armagh by being voted Player of the Year in his native county in their Centenary Year. An accolade which fits in nicely on the mantelpiece beside his 1991 Iarnrod Eireann Player of the Series award. A goalscorer in the Railway Cup final against Munster, Martin still has a penchant for going forward in search of the posts but he admits that he gets few opportunities to do so when the likes of Donegal's Barry McGowan are about. McGowan is a player admired by the Armagh ace who is pinning his hopes on a good clean contest with Down's Gary Mason and Company 'cum the red heat of championship fare. Consolidating their premier league division status will, of course, keep Armagh's pot boiling up nicely for the forthcoming Athletic Grounds showdown and like all gaels in Armagh, the big number five is looking forward to dethroning the Ulster and All-Ireland champions. "I personally am looking forward to the Down game a lot more than this time last year. Then I was just returning from being out injured for five weeks with a clot in my leg, but this time I'm injury free and like all the supporters in the county, really believe we can beat Down," a confident McQuillan insisted. Armagh have performed adequately this season without setting the world alight. Knocked out a couple of weeks ago in the McKenna cup by the self same Down, the side drew with Cork, lost to Dublin and Tyrone but beat Galway in the National League. The Armagh side have over the last few seasons added a much needed greater physical presence to their make-up than was evident heretofore. The days of Fr. Hegarty, Paddy Moriarty and Joe Kernan are just memories now for the success hungry supporters of Carricruppin, Sarsfields, Rangers etc. How does Martin feel, then, about the current strengths of the Armagh senior squad? "Our team has few weak links and there is good cover in reserve for almost all positions. We are particularly strong up through the middle. There are few players in the country who would out play Niall Smyth, Mark Grimley or Garret O'Neill. All three are great assets on this present Armagh team," explained the St. Patricks' stalwart. While pinpointing Armagh's strengths, the affable McQuillan is in no doubt either as to the nature of the Down weaknesses. "I believe we can get enough scores to win the game against what is a dodgy defence. The down team depends a lot on their big guns up front to pull them through. I think we can expose their defence enough to win out on the day," a bravely, optimistic McQuillan asserted. Bravery is the operative word when assessing the value of Martin McQuillan to any team he lines out for. It looks like playing a major part in sorting out the men from the boys at the forthcoming first round Ulster championship return bout. A big factor that day may be the enormity of the vocal support given by the partisan home crowd to their charges. It could represent the two or three scores that are destined to separate the teams at the death. It could also herald the beginning of a long championship run for McQuillan and friends, a run which could land the St. Pats' player right out in front of the Canal End; this time appropriately dressed for action! Taken from Hogan Stand magazine 10th April 1992

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