Niall Quinn: Jack Charlton called me a headless chicken for years – but it worked!

Quinny received some tough love during his time in the Republic of Ireland squad

Jack Charlton Niall Quinn Republic of Ireland


Niall Quinn enjoyed a remarkable international career that saw him represent the Republic of Ireland at two World Cups (only missing out on a third due to injury), and the legendary frontman eventually hung up his boots with a total of 21 goals in 92 appearances for his country.

However, life wasn’t always easy for Quinny under iconic manager Jack Charlton and the former Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland striker was surprisingly often picked on for his excessive movement in training.

Speaking to Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh on the latest episode of our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, Quinn recalls how some stern instructions from Big Jack behind the scenes eventually had the desired impact on his game.

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He’d stop in the middle of training and he’d go “what are you doing? You’re running around like a headless chicken, just stand still.”

I was taught to go for the ball, and I was working on my touch and I wanted to show off to him that I had a good touch.

He went “but you’re not here for your touch. Get to the far post, hold your ground.”

One day, when I dropped back in to be a fifth midfielder – so I had to make a line of five. Now they do it today in a more military fashion, and it’s all pretty good but in our day it was unheard of – and I was going, hang on a second, we’ve got the ball, we’re going forward, and I have to run back into midfield in case we lose it?

He went “yeah, and if you don’t like it, go and play for some other country.”


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I remember John Aldridge one time saying, publicly “anybody who plays up front for Ireland is going to turn their legs into tree stumps running that much.” I remember Jack got the hump about it, bringing it up in a team meeting, and his answer to it was “John, now you’ve got to do it twice as much or I won’t pick you again.” So, that was Jack’s way.

He was very rough and tumble about it, but he was also so adamant that it was going to be his way or the highway, and the way he changed how Ireland played our football from Eoin Hand’s time… John Giles originally, to Eoin Hand’s time, then to this new era that he brought in which was really focused on making sure that teams didn’t overrun us, and that we stayed in the game, and that if we got bits and pieces on it, we would be competitive.

It was primitive when we had the ball, because we were very much a long-ball team.

Off the ball we were doing everything that Jurgen Klopp is asking his Liverpool players to do now.

The No 10 of the international teams in those days used to always run the show against us, and there was always too much space, and they would always have a great game against Ireland.

So, we just cut that out and made sure that with the work rate we had between one of the front players dropping back, having five in midfield, that that No 10 always had a wall in front of him, so he hadn’t got by and got through us.

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That was sort of ingrained into my mind, but his way of doing it was quite funny really when you look back. “Oi, you headless chicken, run back here, you’re running the wrong way.”

He’d shout and scream at me, and it took a while, and I think he said himself in an interview one time “Niall wasn’t listening for a few years, but once he started listening and got the hang of it, he became a bit of a player.”

So, he took all the credit for that, you know?

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