He’s a “big kid” who strives to push proactive wellbeing messages through rugby league and other avenues across Queensland.
And few other than McQuilty Quirke, known to most as Coco, have endured the real-world challenges that prove how important it is to have the right support around you.
The Cooktown-born, Bowen-raised QRL North Wellbeing Operations Manager was once a combat medic in the Australian Army, serving in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Nursing Service Cross and rising to the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 2017 after 18 years of service.
Quirke has his fellow soldiers to thank for making sure he lives to tell the tale, reviving him multiple times as he awaited emergency evacuation after he was thrown 30m from his vehicle when it struck a 50kg improvised explosive device and anti-tank mines.
In the aftermath he was left with a shattered femur, two shattered vertebrae and a traumatic brain injury among copious broken bones but miraculously recovered and defied doctors’ doubts he would ever walk again.
Quirke talks about his experience for the benefit of others and his own mental health so it doesn’t gather “negative momentum”.
And part of the catharsis will be toasting his fallen mates on Anzac Day in Townsville.
After leaving the military he completed a sports science qualification, a perfect accompaniment for working in rugby league with people all ages and backgrounds from Sarina to the Torres Strait to ensure they have the tools to looking after theirs and others’ wellbeing.
“I see the QRL really building a very good, robust wellbeing package that we can deliver anywhere in Queensland,” Quirke said.
“The best part about working about rugby league is just being around the kids and seeing how happy they get just playing with their friends and we could certainly learn a lot from those kids if we watched them play.
“They play the game for the love of the game and just to be around friends and there’s a lot of lessons we can learn and even take that into a corporate scenario.
“I’m a big kid too. My wife always tell me I’m a big kid, so kicking a footy around with them is some of the best times I’ve had.”
Quirke says the role so far has taken him to more of north Queensland than he’s ever seen and is looking forward to reaching as many people in the area, especially in the numerous Indigenous communities and islands in the Torres Strait.
It’s not just to support rugby league activities with wellbeing messages, he’s eager to keep learning about the unique cultures that shape the way of life of all peoples in north Queensland.