Niall Quinn: 'It was depressing, but now I am proud of Irish football'
Now that Euro qualification is secured, Niall Quinn is firmly of the view Ireland will fare better at next year’s showpiece than the disaster of 2012.
The former Ireland international isn’t just encouraged by a better equipped group of players but also the presence at the helm of two managers he recruited for Sunderland.
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane remain in the highest regard of Quinn and he’s sure the mistakes of three years ago, when Ireland completed an embarrassing tournament in Poland and Ukraine with the joint worst record in European Championship history, will be eradicated.
That includes tailoring the build-up for France by avoiding the regimental environment Giovanni Trapattoni so frustrated his players with.
“I feel the best now about Irish football since when I retired in 2002,” the 49-year-old tells Independent.ie as he launched Sky’s new state-of-the-art flagship retail store at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre today.
“It was depressing but I’m proud of Irish football because the motivation Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane has instilled in the players.
“All I’d heard in the last few years was people saying we didn’t have the players and weren't not good enough. That they’re not playing Manchester United and Liverpool anymore. Well, Martin and Roy turned that on its head.
“These players suddenly look like they can do themselves and their country proud in the tournament.
“There was a big anti-climax when we qualified for the 2012 finals. From speaking to a couple of players off-the-record about the last time, they said it was a wholly unenjoyable experience from the minute they get together.
“That was through the planning to the execution. Their on-pitch strategy didn’t work at all either. Back then, all we had were tactics and very questionable tactics at that.
“Things will be different this time, I’m certain of that. Martin and the team can build on the way they finished the campaign by beating Germany and Bosnia.
“The emphasis will be put on the motivational and self-belief side of things. Maybe we overplayed the strength of Bosnia because we looked at their ranking but they feared playing us and we dismantled them over the two legs.
“Jon Walters is the one that typifies what Martin and Roy have introduced. The hard work and belief he has leads by example. The other players are playing with his energy. Look at the job Richard Keogh did on Edin Dzeko.
“Whoever draws us next week will have to overcome that and it’s a damn better place to be than 2012.”
Although Ireland’s revival from the brink of elimination to qualifiers featured Robbie Keane only in a peripheral role, Quinn believes his former strike partner will thrive in the face of competition heading in the finals next June.
“No player is guaranteed their place now,” points out Quinn. “Rivalry at every level gets the best out of you. Shane Long has come into form, Daryl Murphy is great at holding the ball up so Robbie has to respond.
“Look at the success of Kilkenny hurling. Brian Cody has his players fighting each other on the training pitch. He never plays the same team year on year so that competitive edge is a great thing.
“With two players in every position going to the Euros, saying to each other ‘I want that place’, it can only be a good thing. That’s when you’ve got a real football team.
“Martin brought players in towards the end of the campaign that didn’t looked at place. Many of them looked better than the ones they replaced.
“It took him a while to believe in Shane Long even though I was calling for him to play earlier in the group.
“All of the players have stepped it up a notch in the two years since Martin and Roy started. We’re far better a team than when they took over.
“It’s a wonderful mix. Jack Charlton did the same thing in my day. Frank Stapleton knew he was being challenged by Tony Cascarino and then by me.
“Ask any of the players that were playing under Jack for a long time. Suddenly it was game on. Every player upped their game and it was to Ireland’s benefit. This is very similar.”
Niall Quinn was at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre to open Sky’s new state-of-the-art flagship retail store. It is one of 36 Sky Retail Stores in Ireland which provides new and existing customers advice and demonstrations of Sky products at shopping centres nationwide.