GAA Football

Former Tyrone defender PJ Quinn recalls the pressures of inter-county role

Former Tyrone defender PJ Quinn has opened up about the pressure of inter-county football.
Pic: Seamus Loughran
Kevin Kelly

As a tight marking, athletic and no nonsense defender PJ Quinn enjoyed many good days in the Tyrone jersey. Included among his honours was an All Ireland minor medal in 2004, a senior medal four years later as well as three Ulster senior titles.

However despite this success the one battle that he couldn't win was when injury cut short his playing career. The self employed tiler by trade found that the rigours of the job combined with the demands of modern County day football took their toll on his physical and mental health.

Things came to a head when in 2012 after a conversation with his wife he found himself seeking help from Mickey Harte as well as former Red Hand full back Chris Lawn who was manager of his club Moortown.

"When you are in that Inter County bubble it's tough to try and keep serving a lot of masters and at that stage I had a lot of work contracts on and I was made Captain of the Moortown senior team that year and it got to the stage that I was starting to resent football," said PJ.

"I was living life in the fast lane trying to please everybody and I just remember one day coming home to the wife and just breaking down and crying. She asked me what was wrong and I just told her that I couldn't live in the fast lane anymore and I had to do something quick. I made the decision to step away from County football, work was always my priority and I knew that something had to give.

There is a lot of awareness now about depression and mental illness, and back then I didn't know if that is what I had, I just knew that I couldn't continue to live the life that I was living as I was serving everybody and doing nothing well.

There is something wrong when you hated every time that you were getting into the car to go to training and actually putting on a brave face and it was showing in my performances.

I rang Mickey and said that I had to meet him. We were to have a weights session in Garvaghey the next night and Mickey said no problem sure I will see you up at the weights session.

When I came home from work the next evening I just rang Mickey and told him that I needed to see him before the weights session because I had that much built up inside me I couldn't face my teammates up there and laugh and joke at anything.

I drove to Mickey's house as nervous as anything and he took me into his living room and asked was everything okay and just at that I broke down crying uncontrollably.

He thought that there was something seriously wrong and he put his arms around me and tried to console me and finally he got me brought round after ten minutes and I just told him that I had to step back.

This is probably the first time that I have talked about it since then and its hitting home a wee bit but maybe by me talking about it it could help someone else out there."

Quinn was always seen as a tough competitor on the field, a player who Harte looked upon to carry out specific man marking duties during his career, but the toughest opponent now wasn't actually on the field of play but his struggles off it.

"I told Mickey that I was stepping away from football altogether as I couldn't cope with it, the demands," he stated.

"I was working hard during the day, I was doing weight training and training with the Club and the County, doing everything. It's tough when you are in that bubble as you keep trying to strive and try to excel and be the best that you can be but something finally gives and my body had taken a wrecking and it was giving way on me. I could no longer take what I was going through.

Mickey was the man that got me settled down and told me to just go back and do what you had been doing good. He said to step away from the County bubble altogether.

He said that the door will never be closed on you and go back and play club football and enjoy it with no pressure. I'm delighted that Mickey talked me around to doing that because I was going to be playing with the friends that I grew up with, those lads probably don't even know about this, this will be the first time that they hear this.

I then went straight to Chris Lawn's house and it was the same situation with him. He said he would take the pressure off me being Captain and everything and just turn up to training when you can and get yourself sorted.

I said naw, that I wasn't an Inter County player anymore. I felt like a club player and felt like there was a weight lifted off my shoulders. I went on that year and I feel it was perhaps my best year for the club. I was totally focussed on them, I remained Captain and we lifted the Intermediate league title.

I got a Teamtalk Club Allstar that year and that night at the Award ceremony was the first time I had seen Mickey since then and when I was going up to receive the award we sort of eye balled each other and both of us smiled and we just knew that the right decision was made at that time."

PJ did return to Inter County football the following year playing his part as Tyrone reached the division one National league final where they lost narrowly to Dublin, the Moortown man entrusted with the task of marking an up and coming Paul Mannion.

At that stage though the combination of work, heavy training and the demands on a modern day County footballer meant he was struggling to stay fully fit. A first round Ulster championship defeat away to Donegal signalled the end of his Inter County playing career.

"Donegal beat us in the first round of Ulster that year and I was marking Paddy McBrearty and I was took off at halftime," he said.

"I think that was the final straw, I knew my performances weren't great and I was beating myself up too much, the glass was only half full."

Despite only being in his mid thirties, PJ will go undergo the first of two hip replacements at the end of this week. He keeps busy though, and having managed his club's senior team since his retirement he now focuses on the fortunes of the Moortown U6 girls were he helps with the coaching.

His tiling business continues to grow and he is now the proprietor of his own shop in Moortown where he supplies tiles to the trade and the public. He reflects on the decision that he made almost a decade ago and has no regrets.

"I'm sort of glad that I made that decision and got myself on the right track again by going into the slow lane," he added.

"That is what I would advise any other player to do if they felt the same. We are all men and we are afraid to go to a manager and say that you had a rough day today, I don't want to do this, but nowadays there is that much awareness of it, if there are young lads out there in the same position, go to the manager and step into the slow lane for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, I would highly recommend it."

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