Reflecting on the storied careers of Irish soccer greats, Green Giants is a feature that will be written by SWAI members, tapping into their knowledge, experience and interaction with some of the best players to pull on a Republic of Ireland jersey.
This latest profile is on former striker Niall Quinn.
By Neil O’Riordan (Irish Sun)
Literally and figuratively, Niall Quinn is a giant of Irish football. At 6ft 4in, Quinn was head and shoulders above his team-mates in an international career for the Republic of Ireland, which began in 1986 and ended in 2002.
In between, he played at two World Cups and a European Championships. Were it not for the fact he missed USA ’94 with a knee injury, he would have been the only player to feature in the first four major finals at which Ireland competed.
His absence in the States, coupled with the fact Tony Cascarino was not fully fit, meant manager Jack Charlton had to completely change his team’s approach, a measure of his importance to the side. That was also underlined by his contribution at the two World Cups at which he did appear.
In 1990, he scored what was admittedly an ugly goal when he capitalised on Hans Van Breukelen’s inability to deal with a Danny Van Aerle back pass. The aesthetics – or lack thereof – hardly mattered as the goal secured a point against Netherlands which was sufficient for Ireland to progress to the knockout stages.
He had started that game, after Cascarino had been in the team when Ireland played England and Egypt, and did enough against the Dutch to keep his place against Romania and Italy. A dozen years later, he was back in the role of substitute but, at the age of 35, and with Robbie Keane and Damien Duff linking up to good effect in attack, he had no quibble with that.
Even so, when those pair could not conjure up an opening between them, it was Quinn who was summoned from the bench and he fulfilled the role of an impact substitute brilliantly. Against both Germany and Spain, Ireland trailed going into the closing stages and, in both instances, Quinn was involved in the equaliser.
In the group game in Ibaraki, he nodded Steve Finnan’s long ball into the path of Keane who did the rest. In the final minute of the last-16 clash, Ireland were awarded their second penalty of the game – Ian Harte had missed the first – when Fernando Hierro wrestled with Quinn. Keane converted. That sent the game into extra-time and the penalty shootout which Ireland lost, ending Quinn’s international career with the striker hanging up his boots for Sunderland in October of that year.
That was his seventh season at the Black Cats, the same number he had spent with his two previous clubs, Arsenal and Manchester City. At Highbury, he was largely a bit-part player, his best season being the 1986-87 campaign in which he netted eight times in 35 league appearances and also won the League Cup. That was his only major honour with the Gunners as he did not play frequently enough when they won the title in the 1988-89 season.
In March 1990, he moved to City for £800,000, scoring on his debut against Chelsea. The following season, he scored 20 league goals something which even Keane – who smashed his international record – could not manage in the English top flight. It was the first of three times he hit double figures in league goals in the top division, the last being in the 1999-2000 campaign with Sunderland as his prolific partnership with Kevin Phillips proved almost as potent in the Premiership as it had been in the league below.
Having started his career as something of a nuisance, his play had become more nuanced in its latter days, his first touch had improved considerably since his days as a raw teenager. Back then, Quinn – who had played for Dublin in the 1983 All-Ireland minor hurling final – had ignored the advice of his parents to finish his Leaving Cert to sign for Arsenal. He may not have completed his education but, after what he himself admits were fairly wild days at Arsenal, he soon matured into a more responsible and self-aware footballer.
The first man to score at the Stadium of Light, against City, in 1997, his relationship with the club did not end when he hung up his boots. First, he brought in the Drumaville Consortium to take over the club who made Quinn the chairman. Then, after a brief and unsuccessful spell as manager, he succeeded in bringing in Roy Keane. Under any circumstances, it would have been a coup but the fact that the pair had fallen out so spectacularly in Saipan before the 2002 World Cup made it all the more remarkable.
Since cutting his ties with Sunderland in February 2012, he has been a regular presence on Sky Sports but it is unlikely Irish football has seen the last of Quinn.
A career which saw him score 21 times in 92 appearances for Ireland and 163 goals in 551 club games, coupled with his boardroom experience, would appear to make him an obvious candidate to become the FAI’s chief executive at some point in the future.