KATRINA Brennan: Have you changed over the years, Peter?
“Indeed I have, thankfully” he laughs. “I’m not as hot-headed as I used to be. We all change, I know I’m very different to what I was as a young lad and I certainly would be calmer because I would’ve been hot headed enough, on and off the football field.”
On the field, Peter won four championships with Teemore Shamrocks and in 1969 he had the great honour of captaining his club to their first Senior Championship since 1935, beating Irvinestown in the final. He recalls his acceptance speech that day.
“I assumed that every captain spoke in Irish when they were accepting the trophy and that’s why I spoke in Irish. I didn’t realise that it hadn’t happened in Fermanagh for years,” he laughs.
Following the ‘69 win, he went on to win three more championships in 1971, ‘74 and ‘75.
His younger brother Sean played alongside him during the latter of those years and he was an important ‘cog in the wheel’.
“We wouldn’t have won it without him. He was playing full-forward and he was a natural leader on the team. Sean was a very big part of Teemore’s successes in those years.”
And it’s reflecting on those glorious days that makes Peter so steadfast in his belief that the GAA should not be a two-tier organisation.
“When I started playing for Teemore in the ’50s we were a very poor club and I remember us winning a Junior Championship and being delighted. We still head the table in terms of championships won but in the late 50s we were walking on air about winning the Junior Championship, so I strongly believe that every team that’s in a competition should have the opportunity of winning whatever the top trophy is.”
Peter doesn’t foresee Teemore remaining at the top of the championship role of honour though. Population is tipping the scales in GAA, says the former President.
“We (Teemore) have one of the smallest population bases to select a team from within the county, probably Aghadrumsee and Coa have smaller.
“We’re still top of the table in terms of championship wins but I don’t see that continuing. I think population is going to be hugely important in success of sport and in club terms, that’ll be the bigger clubs in Fermanagh and in national terms that’ll be the bigger population counties going forward.
“Counties with a population of less than 60 thousand are not going to be winning All-Irelands” he claims.
Addressing one of the most problematic issues in the GAA, Peter says, “I don’t like the reality that Dublin is so dominant. I don’t have a problem and I’ve said many times that Dublin is essential to the future of the GAA and I’m on record saying that on numerous times but they’ve become too dominant and I’m concerned that will have a negative effect.
“When you look at it, there were never more than half a dozen teams that were capable of winning an All-Ireland final over the last 30 or 40 years but there’s not half a dozen at the present time, there’s Dublin and maybe Kerry and that’s about it.”
But what is the solution to stop the mighty Dubs totally dominating for years to come?
“You could have two teams in Dublin, North Dublin and South Dublin, East Dublin and West Dublin, you could split Dublin,” suggests Peter.
“Clearly that wouldn’t go down well in Dublin but that would be a way of reducing Dublin’s strength.
“The problem at the present time is, if you split Dublin and there were two teams in Dublin they’d be the two teams that would be playing in the All-Ireland final at the present time.”
While Fermanagh footballers have exceeded expectations on several occasions and come close on others, the one disappointment that all Gaels in the county share is that the Ulster Championship evades them.
“I’ve spent a lot of years wishing for it and it hasn’t arrived yet and there were a couple of times when we came close and we had a chance of winning one of those and we didn’t take it.”
He reflects on the 2008 Ulster final when Fermanagh had a real chance against Armagh.
“I remember sitting watching that game thinking somebody needs to step up and take control of this game because this game can be won by either side, and unfortunately for us it was Paul McGrane who stepped up, and Paul McGrane’s performance over the last 20 minutes of that game was one of the best I ever saw.
“He (McGrane) took that Ulster championship out of Fermanagh’s mouth because Fermanagh could’ve had it won by that stage.”
Fellow Shamrocks man Barry Owens played his part in the 2008 campaign, scoring a goal against Derry in the semi-final to seal the Erne county’s place in their first final since 1982.
Peter says Owens is one of the three best Fermanagh footballers he ever saw play the game, describing him as an “exceptional footballer”. The other two standout players for him are PT Treacy and Peter McGinnity.
Family and football have been the two most dominant parts of Peter Quinn’s life.
He has five children, Oisín, Peter, Miriam, Claire and Niamh, whom he is very proud of and five grandchildren that he dotes on. But it is a Tyrone woman that has played the most significant role in his life.
“The biggest influence on my life was Mary. I married a nurse and she’s five years younger than me but we’ve had a great marriage and she’s been a great wife and we’ve had a great family too.
“I’ve been very lucky. My wife and myself have hardly ever had a row.”
Casting his mind back to their first encounter, he says, “I was teaching in Queen’s and we met in her house, there was a number of nurses had a house and I met her in that house.
“We were doing a line for about six months and she announced that she was going to America. This had been planned long before she met me.
“She went off to America and she spent six months in America then came back and I was working in Manchester and she got a job in Manchester. The nurses home was about 400 yards from where my apartment was. We met most evenings and after that we got married.”
In 1995 Peter and Mary’s life changed irrevocably. Their second oldest child, Miriam, who was 19 at the time, was involved in a car accident which left her with permanent brain damage.
As Peter reflects upon what he describes as the “the worst day of my life”, you can still hear the pain and anguish in his voice. “It has hurt us a lot and still hurts us. The other side of it is, the young lad who was ultimately responsible for the accident, he was killed and that was worse.
“I remember going to the wake and we didn’t know at that stage if Miriam would survive or not, but I remember thinking, I don’t want to be in their shoes, that’s for sure.
“Three hospitals told us she couldn’t live the next day,” he recalls.
“She was exceptionally bright and had a fantastic career ahead of her. She was the brightest, probably had the highest IQ in the family and it was all taken from her in less than 30 seconds. It was terrible.
“She was a fantastic athlete, she represented Northern Ireland in swimming and water polo and represented Ulster in athletics. She played for Fermanagh in ladies football and for Queen’s in ladies football and was the Queen’s Player of the Year that year.”
But most important of all, Peter is proud of how Miriam has dealt with what life has thrown at her.
“She’s made the best of it and I’d have to say I’m very proud of her because realistically, she could have just taken it and did nothing with her life and in fairness she went off and made use of her life.”
Through the very painful and difficult days after Miriam’s accident Peter says his faith played a big part.
“I’d more faith then than I have now, at times like that faith is very important.”
But religion doesn’t have the same significance for him now.
“I do more praying direct than going to mass anyway. I’m not big into religion. I’ve no criticism of religion and I’ve plenty of friends who are priests.
“My wife is very religious. I can’t compete with her.”
So does 77-year-old Peter Quinn- father, grandfather, former Teemore captain, 30th GAA president have any regrets?
“I don’t really. I mean there were times when I annoyed people including the media and you regret annoying them.
“But at the end of the day, c’est la vie, and if they took umbrage at it, well then they’re entitled to do that and I just go on with my life.”