Anyone who knows anything about Irish football will appreciate what a great servant Niall Quinn has been to the international game. He also had a remarkable career in the English Premier League during his stints at Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland, although things could have been very different for him.
In fact, at the age of just 15 it looked like his footballing career might have been over before it had even started. His early promise had earned him a trial at Fulham FC but he failed to impress the then manager, Malcolm McDonald who told him, in no uncertain terms, that never in a million years would he make it as a professional footballer. He took McDonald at his word and returned to Ireland, concentrating on Gaelic football and hurling instead.
But he hadn’t thrown his football boots away and luck was on his side when he was selected to play in a schools’ final which had an Arsenal scout in the crowd. He had actually come to see one of the players on the opposing team but instead witnessed Quinn play the match of his life.Embed from Getty Images
A couple of years later Quinn had established his place in the first team at Highbury and it was with not a little satisfaction that he had taken over McDonald’s number 9 shirt. In his very first match as centre-forward in the team he scored, a feat he repeated in his debut for his next club, Manchester City. He played for Arsenal for seven seasons in all from 1983 until 1990 but the arrival of Alan Smith in 1987 meant that he spent the last few years struggling to secure a regular first-team place.
Moving to City for a transfer fee of £800,000 it was there that he had one of the most remarkable games of not just his but virtually any footballer’s career. It was so incredible that it’s impossible to imagine what odds one would theoretically have been given on it if Space Casino betting on football had been available at the time. In a critical match which saw Derby County facing demotion, Quinn not only scored the first goal of the match, he also had to step in as goalkeeper following the sending off of Tony Coton and saved a Derby penalty, consigning them to a 2-1 defeat.
After Manchester, next stop was Sunderland where Quinn enjoyed one of the best goal-scoring partnerships in Premier League history in which he and Kevin Philips shared 194 goals between them from the 97/98 and 02/03 seasons. With stats like this, it’s surprising he isn’t higher than twelfth position in an Irish Times assessment of the country’s top 25 players in the Premiership.
Then there’s his international career to consider. With a total of 92 caps, he played a leading role in Italia 90 and, if only his early header against Italy had been more powerful or better directed, it could have changed the whole course of the match – but it wasn’t for the lack of trying.
A move into football administration followed as he helped to rebuild Sunderland returning them to the top flight. Now he takes that business acumen into his new role trying to spearheading reform in the Football Association of Ireland. At 6’ 4”, Quinn stood out on the pitch. Now he will hoping to cement his place as a true giant of Irish football in every way.