It has been nearly four years since Longford midfielder Michael Quinn was delisted by the Essendon Football Club, and despite the fact that his stay in Melbourne was short lived; Quinn looks back on his time at Windy Hill with fond memories.
Quinn, 25, played eight games and scored two goals in three seasons with the Essendon Bombers between 2009 and 2011.
Although his first team opportunities were often limited with The Dons, he still holds the record for being the quickest GAA convert to make his debut in the AFL, making his first grade debut just five months after signing with the club.
Quinn headed out to Melbourne in August 2008 after impressing at a Carlton FC trial in Limerick just two months earlier, with then Essendon manager Matthew Knights sufficiently impressed by his skills, athleticism and attitude to sign him to the club’s rookie list that November.
Former Dublin defender and Melbourne ruckman, Jim Stynes, labelled Quinn’s round two debut against Fremantle as ”phenomenal”, but the Killoe native himself admits that it took him a while to adjust to the training and the physical demands of the AFL prior to his debut.
”It probably took a little while to get used to it from the training side of things,” he said.
”Just getting up and going training at nine o’clock most mornings and then coming home at five or six in the evening, you’re just wrecked and that’s kind of you done for the day from pre-season training.
”Eating, looking after yourself and getting enough sleep I suppose was a huge difference, especially the way it is now, where you could be coming home from training here playing Gaelic football and not getting home until eleven, half eleven or twelve o’clock travelling back to Dublin from training and then you’re expected to get up and go again when you haven’t really recovered properly.”
Since returning from the AFL, Quinn has re-immersed himself back into the Longford county setup, and while he claims that the styles of training are quite similar between Gaelic football and the AFL, it’s the mindset and capabilities of being a professional athlete that’s the biggest difference between the two sports.
”[The training] it has come full circle now and it is fairly similar, but the biggest thing was that when you are a professional you’re recovering, eating and sleeping right and you’re able to train that bit more.
”Even after games on a Sunday you’d still train hard the next day. Monday could be a recovery pool session, but you might also get in some five, ten or fifteen minute runs to make sure the legs aren’t taking over and to flush out the system.
”Instead of sitting around for a day or two, it’s back on the horse straight away to get ready for the next game, where here you could be waiting three or four weeks for an inter-county game.”
The wait between inter-county games has been a divisive issue within the GAA this year, with many smaller footballing counties unsure as to when their next game may be, such is the structure of the provincial and All-Ireland championships.
In the case of Longford this summer, a Leinster quarter-final hammering at the hands of Dublin meant a three week wait until their next game, a first round championship qualifier against Carlow.
The AFL presents no such delays with each team playing on a weekly basis and Quinn feels that the workload can often be quite overwhelming for new players entering the system.
”I took it in my stride and enjoyed it, but I suppose I was a bit naïve heading out. I was going out and being cautious about everything, but I think that that naivety helped me over the first couple of years and let me go out and learn a little bit more.
”Your body gets used to training week in, week out, which I think is one of the big struggles for a lot of Irish lads, but even young Australians too. When they come into the system the amount of work, distance covered and training that you’re doing, a lot of guys bodies aren’t really cut out for it,” he explains.
”That’s when injuries start, and if you’re not really looking after yourself, that’s when it can become difficult to put games back to back.”
One of the biggest initial difficulties for Irish players going over to the AFL is mastering the technique of kicking a Sherrin, the AFL’s oval shaped ball, but Quinn admits to no real trouble with this, and in fact believes that while Irish players may struggle physically, they do naturally bring more flair to the game with the Gaelic football skill-set naturally translating well into the AFL.
”Probably with a lot of guys starting off in the half-back line it kind of suits Irish guys. You can see the play develop in front of you and you can kind of come onto it late, which I think is very similar to Gaelic were you’re coming onto the ball late with almost rugby-esque timing your runs.
”I suppose with the ball, I had probably played so much and got a lot of time on the ball in at training and through extra work, but also linked in with the naivety that you were just going out and almost playing your own Gaelic football game, but playing with a different shaped ball.
”As the years went on, probably towards my third year, I started to get caught up in the structures and the tactics and where the ball should go and what you should do instead of playing sort of off-the-cuff. I think that that bit of flair from Irish guys from when they go out there is what makes them different and unique.”
Quinn’s AFL career was not as long or as successful as compatriots Pearce Hanley or Tadhg Kennelly’s, but was eventful with the Longford half-back winning the club’s VFL affiliate side Bendigo Bombers Best and Fairest award for the 2010 season.
Quinn has been back in Gaelic football for a couple of seasons now and helped Longford win the Division 3 League title in 2012.
Like many Gaelic footballers around the country, Quinn has become disenchanted with the support networks and near professional operations that the bigger counties are running, but believes that progressive thinking and forward planning are the best options in combating the effectiveness of the GAA’s powerhouses.
While Longford may not be winning any All-Ireland championships anytime soon, progressing through the league and eventually aiming for a Leinster championship is a viable way of improving as a county, and for Quinn and company, that’s all that matters.