Loyalty in football seems to be a lost cause these days, but you’ll find it hard to find a more dedicated servant to the Irish football cause than Niall Quinn. The ex- Arsenal, Man City and Sunderland man first appeared in the senior green jersey back in 1986 and netted the first of his 21 goals for Ireland against Israel at Dalymount Park a year later.
Quinn would go on to appear at two World Cups (1990 and 2002) for the Boys in Green and only missed out on a third (in 1994) because of a serious injury. Quinn made the last of his 92 outings for Ireland against Spain in the World Cup second round as Mick McCarthy’s side came tantalisingly close to the quarter-final, only missing out because of penalties.
That wasn’t the end of Quinn’s love affair with football in Ireland though, as he came in on the administrative said as Interim Deputy CEO in a bid to steer the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) away from the rocks. The Dubliner was kind enough to recall his time within the association when he joined Paddy Power and Ruby as the special guest on our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast this week.
Quinn told the guys how he was told he was crazy to get involved with an embattled FAI at the time and he also revealed what he believes new CEO Jonathan Hill needs to make Irish football flourish again.
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“I had been quite vocal in the media about the need for change (in Irish football), and then everything unfurled quite quickly,” Quinn explained. “It (the FAI) was obviously in a very poor place and facing potential bankruptcy.”
It needed a Government bailout. But, the Government wanted some proof that things were changing.
“I was called upon and interviewed, and then it fell away for a few months. Then eventually, when Roy Barrett came in, he appointed Gary Owens, and between the two of them they got in touch with me. They asked to come in and give them a hand if they needed some help on the football side.
“I said, ‘look, it’s six months’. There’s a job to be done here in effectively changing things on the governance side – financial governance, electoral governance and on the playing side – so that we can somehow get everything back onto an even keel.”
Even though Quinn had only agreed to do half a year and refused to take a salary for the work, it became quickly apparently longer would be needed to sort out the sheer number of unresolved issues within the FAI.
“Six months was never going to do it, but what was important was that we did enough in that six months to allow for a government rescue to take place, because everybody says they gave us a bailout last January,” said the former Irish international.
“They didn’t. We had to do an awful lot before the first money came in. It was actually August by the time any came in at all after that announcement. In those six months we had a lot of work to do behind the scenes.”
Everybody I knew got in touch and said, “what are you doing? It’s madness in there, don’t go in”.
“I just felt, I’d done a lot of talking about it, so it was time to go in and see if we could help in some way. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the talent that’s in there. The other thing was that there were jobs at risk, young people who’d given up other ways of life to be in the world of football. There were 200 people – all full-time staff – and you said, ‘okay, we’ll see if we can put it together’.
“There was a big play there to try and get things right and get people to buy into it, and you can see why some people weren’t enamored with our presence there. They had put a lot of effort in over the years in football.
I fully got why some of them were put out by the fact that we were ushered in to save the day.
“That’s unhealthy in some ways, but small and minimal in terms of the overview of it all. When I look back at the six, seven months that I spent there, I knew the people that went in first were never going to be the ones to carry it on. The six months was all it was meant to be, and hopefully, you’d done enough to clear it in such a way that.”
When asked what the new CEO of the FAI Jonathan Hill needs to turn the association around, Quinn was pragmatic with his answer.
“Truthfully, if I was to answer the question, it needs more money,” Niall told Paddy and Ruby. “The new guy coming needs to bring the sides together, because there is a sort of self-interest between various elements of football in this country.”
Jonathan Hill has a huge job on his hands.
“He’s got a lot of unhappy parts of the association, and he can do a lot of talking, but without money, and without being able to make healthy all of these different parts it’s going to be very difficult.”
“But, I do think the effort has been made now to bring a governance in place that allows the baby steps for better future to come about and more confidence.”
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