‘He never lost that innocent boyish attitude, he never did, and that’s what made him so beautiful’
It was the start of an unforgettable few months for the then 20-year-old Clonoulty/Rossmore hurler, with a county championship win following just a couple of months later, the club’s first since 1997 which his father Dan had been part of.
In 1989, Dan had an exceptional day when a star-studded Tipperary beat an equally star-studded Offaly 4-10 to 3-11 in the All-Ireland under-21 final in front of a huge crowd in Portlaoise. Quirke scored 3-2, the three goals coming in the first half, and inspired his side in a thrilling match. Only a week earlier Tipperary won their first All-Ireland senior hurling title after a wait of 18 years.
Like his father, Dillon Quirke repeated the feat with an All-Ireland under-21 win in August, 2018 when the Liam Cahill-managed side flipped an earlier defeat in the Munster final by Cork. In October the same year the young hurler went from defender to attacker, leading the team from centre forward and scoring two points from sideline balls as they overcame Nenagh Eire Og in the county final, 0-23 to 2-13.
At a stage in the final quarter when Nenagh Eire Og looked to be gaining control, Quirke was one of the figures who influenced a Clonoulty/Rossmore revival, winning vital frees which Timmy Hammersely converted.
“The big thing for me with Dillon is that innocence he had, the true love of playing, the true love of the club,” said an understandably emotional Hammersley on Saturday. “It really came across. We trained together, we went to the gym together, we ran together, we did ball wall sessions together, along with others, there was a core group that trained really hard and Dillon was one of them.
“He always had incredible talent but his work rate brought him to the next level, his dedication to training. And he never lost that innocent boyish attitude, he never did, and that’s what made him so beautiful and even when playing with the Tipperary team he was still that happy person, a gentle soul.
“I made a decision to transfer this year to Ballyboden St Enda’s, and it’s not about me, but I felt a deep hurt that I wasn’t on the field with him yesterday as well. Because for years and years I was on the field with him. And it’s tough to grasp that.
“We can exaggerate these things when someone passes on but there is no exaggeration in this case. He was a gentle soul, a gentle giant who really did treat people very well, no matter who they were. And I think it’s because of that attitude that he was so good at sport as well.”
When the club won their last title in 1997, Dan Quirke, aged 29 at the time, was part of that campaign although injured in the run up to the final, and is married to Dillon’s mother Hazel, whose sister Olive is the wife of Declan Ryan, the former Clonoulty/Rossmore and Tipperary hurler and current manager of the Clonoulty/Rossmore hurling team.
Dan Quirke was also part of the team that won the county title in 1989, a first in 101 years, ending the longest drought in their history.
In a further connection, Hazel’s brother, Andrew Fryday is the current club chairman and was goalkeeper when they won county titles in 1989 and ’97.
Dillon Quirke was already on the way to surpassing his father’s achievement, having won an All-Ireland minor medal in 2016 and established himself as a regular on the Tipperary senior team with a consistent run of appearances this year at wing back. He made his senior debut against Limerick in January 2020, and started all four of Tipperary's Munster Hurling Championship games this season.
All hurling championship games scheduled for this weekend in Tipperary have been postponed as a mark of respect.
"Tipperary GAA extends its heartfelt and sincere sympathies to Dan, Hazel, Shannon, Kellie and the extended Quirke family. Also, to the Clonoulty Rossmore GAA Club and his teammates on the sad and tragic passing of Clonoulty Rossmore and Tipperary hurler Dillon Quirke," Tipperary GAA said in a statement.
"Dillon became ill during Friday evenings County Senior Hurling Championship game between Clonoulty Rossmore and Kilruane MacDonaghs in Semple Stadium and was taken to Tipperary University Hospital in Clonmel where he passed away.