Rugby legend calls time on glittering career

Eamonn Wynne

Eamonn Wynne

Alan Quinlan admits to mixed feelings as he prepares to retire from professional rugby at the end of the current season.

“It will be hard to let go of it. But the time is right to go and I want to bow out on my own terms. I can look back on my career with fond memories and great joy, and I’m proud to have played professional rugby for almost 15 years”, he told The Nationalist this week.

Alan, son of Mary and John Quinlan from Barronstown, Tipperary, confirmed the news of his retirement last week.

One of Tipperary’s most decorated sportsmen, the Clanwilliam clubman has played 211 competitive games for Munster since making his debut in November 1996. He was part of the Heineken Cup winning teams in 2006 and 2008 and also won the Magners League, Celtic League and Celtic Cup with the province.

He travelled to three World Cups and won 27 international caps. The highlight of his Irish career was scoring a vital try against Argentina in the 2003 tournament in Australia.

Alan, who will be 37 in July, said he could count himself lucky to have had the opportunity to play for Munster for so long. He had a few ups and downs along the way but he had great success, travelling the world and winning honours.

“I enjoyed every minute of my time with Munster and Ireland”, said the veteran flanker, whose season has been disrupted since he dislocated an elbow against Connacht last December.

Rugby had only turned professional for two years when he signed his first contract in 1997. At that stage nobody thought that Munster would go on to become so successful, but he paid tribute to former coach (and current Irish coach) Declan Kidney for instilling great belief in the players.

He said they were also very fortunate with the core group of players involved with Munster during the last number of years. “Things got better year after year, you could see the ambition to do well among the players and staff. Thankfully we went and conquered Europe and achieved the ultimate goal of winning the Heineken Cup in 2006, after a few disappointments”.

He looks back with fondness on some great days with Munster in Thomond Park (“an amazing opportunity”) and at grounds across Europe.

Alan has a tinge of regret that he didn’t win more international caps, especially as some of his contemporaries have been capped between 70 and 100 times for Ireland, although at the same time he considers himself fortunate to have played 27 times for his country.

“There’s a lot of pressure being a professional rugby player, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices. But by and large it has been a hugely positive experience and I’m proud of having lasted this long in the game”, he says.

The major disappointment in his career was missing out on the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa through suspension. “It was a massive thing to be picked in the first place. But it (the suspension) happened and I had to deal with it. Playing with the Lions would have been the highest level but I can take comfort in the fact that I was selected for the squad”.

Alan is grateful to all the coaches with whom he has worked throughout his career. He says he also received great support and encouragement from his family, the Clanwilliam club, the people of Tipperary and the rugby clubs in the county.

He says that when he hangs up his boots he will “gather my thoughts, take a few deep breaths and assess where I’m at”. He’s open to options and hopes to do some media work, and possibly become involved in coaching at some stage, as well as becoming a Munster supporter.

In a tribute, Munster coach Tony McGahan said “Alan Quinlan has been an integral part of the success of Munster Rugby for the past 15 years.  His longevity in what is a highly attritional profession is a tribute to his dedication, application and durability.  Alan was a players player whose impact in big games and ability to turn a negative situation into a positive action made him a great player to have on your side and a crowd favourite.

“His decision to call it a day at the end of this season of course evokes a sense of poignancy for all of us who have worked with him, but it’s balanced by the knowledge that he can look back on a great career with pride at what he’s achieved. He leaves us with our thanks and very best wishes for the future.”