Niall Quinn: My GAA return was tense – ‘P*ss off, you pr*ck. You wouldn’t take a penalty against Spain’

Quinny's GAA comeback wasn't plain sailing!

Niall Quinn Republic of Ireland Sunderland

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Niall Quinn may be best known for his footballing exploits, but Ireland legend actually has plenty more strings to his bow and turned down the opportunity to pursue career in Aussie Rules youngster. He also had to give up a chance to play hurling for the Dublin intercounty team.

The former Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland frontman eventually called time on his ‘soccer’ playing days in 2002, but couldn’t resist one last crack at GAA after moving back to Kildare.

Speaking on the latest episode of Paddy Power’s From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, Quinn recounted how he ended up playing for Eadestown – eventually winning a Junior C county title in 2008 – and the frosty reception he received from opponents and team-mates alike.

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We were a GAA family, and my dad hurled for Tipperary before he emigrated to England at a young age. He came back and hurled for Dublin for a bit, and he brought us – dragged us, girls and all – to matches all over the country. If there was a club hurling match in Wexford, we were dragged down to see it as youngsters. We were brought up in that way.

Hurling was my first sport. I was playing on the under-12 team when I was about six at Robert Emmets, my local club. The soccer came along later – the ban (on GAA members participating in sports seen as being British in origin) was in until 1971 – but I was born in ’66 and it still was in force, in a way, in our house.

My mother said, “Look, a man called here to see if you would play in the soccer leagues? We’ll let you go up, but don’t tell your dad.” It was that kind of existence. That’s how staunch we were, but once my dad found out he didn’t care. He was delighted to see me playing really, although it took me a couple of years to tell him.

I managed to do both. I played all sports, and kind of got good at two or three of them and eventually then I had the choice. I could go to Australia to play Aussie rules, I could go to Arsenal to play football, or I could stay in Dublin to try and hurl with the Dublin team, and work my way through employment in Dublin. Obviously, as a young lad the bright lights of London and Arsenal grabbed the most attention.

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I always thought about coming home and hurling, or maybe playing out League of Ireland but nobody had actually asked me! I moved back to Kildare after I retired, and we went up to mass shortly after coming home. It was Easter Sunday and Father Breen said, “Would you ever come down to see the GAA lads on Tuesday night? They’ve got a match. They’d love to see you.”

He told me they were the Junior B side – if he’d said they were Junior C, I’m not so sure I’d have gone – but I said “yeah, sure, I’ll go.” I turning up then on the Tuesday night with my son Mikey, they were double parking the whole way up that road up to Eadestown. Eventually we got up to the top, and saw a lovely man on the gate – Pat Doyle – with a plastic bucket. I said to him “I’m playing actually”, and he said, “You won’t be playing if you don’t put €5 in here.”

So, that was my welcome. A big crowd had turned out, as Father Breen had called all the newspapers and radios and announced that I was coming and that they could see me playing Gaelic for a fiver.

When I went into the dressing room – you must remember this wasn’t long after the 2002 World Cup and Saipan – half the lads in my own team were Roy Keane fans and I could tell straight away they weren’t impressed at all. So, it was a little bit tricky.

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In the end, they put me on the subs’ bench, but it wasn’t a bench – it was a ditch. With 10 minutes to go they brought me on, and I scored a point and we won. But, it was a story that got legs.

There was again a bit of a crowd at the next match I played. We played against Sallins and I got three penalties and scored all of them. On the third one – I’ll never forget it – their umpire threw the white flag down at me and went, “Get up you diving b**tard, and feck off back to England.”

So, a row started and I didn’t want to be fighting – I was only having a bit of craic. The whole thing quietened down and we walked off the pitch. That’s when I went over to the Sallins goalkeeper, who was a young lad, and I said, “Jesus hard luck there. I’d say you’d have loved to have saved one of those penalties.”

In beautiful Sallins brogue he answered, “P*ss off, you pr*ck. You wouldn’t take one against Spain.” That was my welcome home!

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