'Roy Keane has been more than just a mouthpiece' - Niall Quinn hails Corkman's role with Ireland
Niall Quinn admits he questioned the logic behind Roy Keane’s appointment as Ireland’s assistant manager - yet he can now see a path for his old friend and foe to claim the top job for himself.
As the chairman who appointed both O’Neill and Keane to the managerial hot-seat at Sunderland, Quinn was better placed than most to weigh up the personality war that may have been declared as the duo agreed to combine their considerable experience to form an Ireland managerial dream team.
O’Neill’s reputation as something of a control freak and Keane’s notoriously explosive temperament hardly seemed to be a recipe for success, yet this odd couple have combined to revive the team to levels many suspected were from a bygone era.
Not since the days when Keane and Quinn were playing alongside each other in Ireland green has the nation felt an affinity towards the national side that exists right now, as the unlikely understudy in the managerial structure deserves credit for his role in the success story.
With the fond memories of last summer’s Euro 2016 adventure now backed up by a sparkling start to 2018 World Cup qualifying, the two biggest names in Irish soccer are revelling in hard earned adulation and Quinn was quick to join the chorus of acclaim as he sat down for an exclusive interview with the Sunday World.
“I never saw Roy Keane as an assistant to anyone, I have to be honest, but it turns out that Martin was the perfect man for him to work with,” Sky Sports pundit Quinn told Independent.ie.
“Roy being brought in as Ireland assistant manager was a controversial appointment and I’m sure the FAI wondered whether it was the right thing to do.
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“Yet look at what we have now and Roy should take some of the credit for that because he has needed to understand his place in the set-up.
“There were fears at the start that Martin may struggle to find the correct pecking order for the duties between him and Roy, but that has all been pushed to one side now and they seem to work so well in tandem.
“The brand of this Irish team is enhanced by the fact that they have two great stalwarts of the game finding a way to work hand in hand in the interests of the national cause. It has been intriguing to watch.
“You have Martin giving motivation and direction and Roy contributing as only he can. It just works and the results the team are achieving confirms as much.
“Martin and Roy have got that buzz we had in my days playing with Ireland going all over again and they need to lift the team six more times in this group to produce the most incredible, unlikely result of qualifying for the World Cup as group winners.”
From Saipan to Sunderland, Quinn and Keane have shared experiences that have been the subject of novels, TV documentaries and newspaper back pages aplenty.
Keane labeled Quinn a ‘coward’ and a ‘muppet’ as he stood behind Ireland boss Mick McCarthy following the infamous fallout ahead of the 2002 World Cup, yet that was not to be the end of their association.
As Quinn handed Keane the Sunderland job four years after that Saipan fall-out, he concluded to a feud that may endured had he not reached out to hire the untested tactician.
Wonderful initial success saw Keane lead Sunderland to Premier League promotion in his first season, before a the predictably acrimonious end to his reign at the Stadium of Light further tested his bond with Quinn.
Yet the former Ireland striker does not hold back as he expresses his admiration for the work put in by Keane within O’Neill’s Ireland set-up.
“Roy Keane is box office and people want to hear what he has to say, but he has been more than just a mouthpiece who performs well in press conferences since he returned to the Ireland set-up,” continues Quinn.
“When you hear the players talking about him and without even being nudged to do so, they are happy to talk about the Keane effect inside that Ireland set-up.
“I have seen first hand what Roy can do around a set of players and people should not forget the incredible job he did at Sunderland in that first season when he got us promotion to the Premier League.
“There are different ways to manage and I only did it for a few weeks at Sunderland before we brought Roy in to take over, but I got a glimpse of what a tough job it is in my brief spell as caretaker.
“I inherited a set of players that had lost time and again over the course of that season and they needed to be convinced that they were not losers.
“Roy walked into that dressing room and lifted it in an instant. He galvanised the place. His impact was just fantastic and that is what this man can do.”
So could Quinn see a day when FAI President John Delaney is sat before the media unveiling Roy Keane as the new Ireland manager?
“Yeah, he probably will be in time, but now is not the time to speculate on that,” concludes Quinn.
“You don’t want to talk about that now because this team are right in the middle of something great. You don’t want to disrupt it by talking about that now, but of course it could happen one day.”
Keane’s historically tortured relationship with the FAI and a managerial career that ground to a halt with worrying haste appeared to have ruled him out of the running to be a contender to take over as the next Ireland manager.
Yet when Quinn is suggesting that improbable prospect is now more likely than ever, you appreciate his rehabilitation is almost complete.
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