How Niall Quinn made his most vital match
Footballer Niall Quinn was turned down by Gillian at first, but they did get to team up, writes Andrea Smith
WHEN the former Irish international football star and now Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn first met his beautiful wife Gillian in 1990, he wasn't deterred by the fact that there was a five-year age gap between them.
"Gillian was far more mature than I was," he says. "I was just a kid really. She was 18 going on 30, and I was 23, still waiting for my 18th."
When they met, Gillian was working as a model, taking part in a photocall for Ballygowan at Dalymount Park. The Irish team were training there for Italia '90, and she noticed that Niall kept kicking the ball over in her direction. She ignored him, which resulted in a bit of teasing from his teammates and made him even more determined to get her attention.
After the World Cup, Niall and David O'Leary were dispatched to the RDS for the Motor Show, as Opel was sponsoring the Irish team. Gillian and another model were also working on the stand that day, and the four of them had great fun.
"I thought Gillian was strikingly beautiful, but I liked the fact that she didn't really give a sh**e what I did," says Niall. "Any attempt I made to boast or push what I did was met with 'whatever'."
Niall invited Gillian to a match the following week, but she refused, telling him that she'd already been asked out for dinner that night. While she wasn't giving in too easily, she did like the tall, genial footballer. "Having worked in bars and nightclubs, I was sick of men who were full of crap," she says. "When I met Niall, I thought that he was someone who did have something to brag about, but he didn't show off. He was very humble and shy and friendly and affable."
Niall was living in England, as he had signed a professional contract with Arsenal on his 17th birthday. Originally from Perrystown in Dublin, he has three older sisters and was mad about sports from an early age.
Gillian Roe, as she was called before she got married, has three well-known older sisters, Valerie, Patricia and Bernie, and a younger brother Philip. She left school at 15, because she says she was "crap at it", did an acting course and started modelling.
At first, she combined her modelling career with working in coffee shops and nightclubs, and then, just as she started becoming in high demand for TV ads, she moved to England to be with Niall.
"He snatched me just when I had potential," she laughs. "We lived in sin, but luckily for our souls and our mothers, Niall proposed two weeks after I arrived, so that made it all legit. Niall has a very positive energy and he's optimistic, generous, kind and good company. The worst thing about him is his untidiness, because the house is pristine while he's away, and as soon as he comes home, it's a bomb site."
They were married in 1992, when Gillian was 20. She pretty much stopped modelling then, as Niall was away so much and they would never have seen one another. They have a daughter, Aisling, 16, who is also a model, and a son Michael, 13.
The family came back to live in Ireland in 2003, although Niall has returned to work in England now as chairman of Sunderland AFC. It means that he's away a lot, but at least Gillian has a support system around her.
When Niall turned 40, four years ago, he had various health niggles, and Gillian arranged for him to have a full health MOT with the Mater Private Hospital. While there were one or two little things that he could adjust and keep an eye on, he didn't have a prostate problem.
However, Gillian and Niall became involved in the hospital's campaign for prostate-cancer awareness on learning that one-in-12 males will contract the disease and one-in-34 will die from it.
They strongly feel that men older than 40 should get themselves checked out, as often the condition shows no symptoms in its earliest stages. The other good thing, the affable Niall points out, is that the Mater Private has pioneered a very successful treatment option of implanting little, radioactive seeds in various points in the prostate.
"When I realised that the deaths are mostly down to embarrassment and ignorance about the disease and its treatment, I felt I had to come out and support the campaign," he says. "Early detection and treatment makes a huge difference, and it just involves a simple blood test at your doctor's. I was the typical male who wouldn't have got myself checked out, and I'm not too proud of this, but I know that if Gillian hadn't arranged the MOT, I wouldn't have done it."
Gillian has now developed a new career of her own, presenting a weekly show on the internet-based Kildare TV (www.kildare.tv) and teaching Pilates. She and Aisling are also both modelling with the 1st Option agency.
Niall says that she is a better judge of character than he is, and will see through somebody at a first meeting, even if he doesn't. "Like that Michael Lynn guy," he says. "He wanted me to invest in his properties, but Gillian just said no straight away. And six months later, he was a fugitive.
"Gillian tries to be fierce at times, but there's a real softness behind it. I love going to Cheltenham and on golf trips with my mates when I have time off, which can cause a bit of a problem for her as she is left doing things on her own. But when I get home, there's a big cuddle and everything's fine, and I think she puts up with a lot, because she understands that's what I am."
And for Gillian's worst point, Niall has no hesitation in pointing out that his lovely wife is not a morning person. "She's a disaster in the mornings, and I mean there's flames coming out," he laughs.
"The kids know not to even go there with her until at least 11 o'clock, and then preferably when she has had a few cups of coffee in her."
The Mater Private Hospital has launched a website -- www.whatyoudontknow.ie -- to give information, advice and treatment options on prostate cancer