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Wednesday 17 January 2018

'Keano and I left Saipan behind after a quick chat'

Niall Quinn gave £1m to charity, has battled depression and started his own business, writes Lynne Kelleher

Irish football legend Niall Quinn has told how he famously gave away more than a million pounds from his testimonial because he didn't believe he was worth the huge pay cheque at the end of his career.

And the big-hearted Dublin star told how both his wife and his mother influenced him to make the enormous donation of more than stg£1m to three charities.

In RTE's Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne, he said it was a very tough decision to give away the seven-figure sum as he faced into retirement.

He said: "I felt I didn't deserve a testimonial because I hadn't spent my career at one club. I spoke to my wife about doing it and Gillian bought into it and it was payback because we have a lovely life.

"She's backed me 100 per cent in everything I've done and that was a tough thing to do certainly when you are coming to the end of your career.

"My mother was a huge influence on me and always will be and she always spoke about getting the balance right and that money is no good if it's not propped up with what you do with the money."

In the hugely popular RTE series, the dad of two tells for the first time how the infamous Saipan row was sorted out with a quick boardroom chat between himself and Roy Keane. He also tells how the Irish consortium, who bought the ailing Sunderland club, thought he was joking when he put Roy Keane down on a list of his top three managers after they took over the club in 2006.

"I gave my list of three people I thought should manage it and the third name I put down was Roy Keane and they all started laughing and thought I was joking. What I saw was he was box office and still is. Our club was in such a poor way that this was the perfect fit. He was the one man who I felt could get that going really quickly

"Roy agreed to come over and speak which would have been the first time we'd met since Saipan. He said: 'Before we start Niall and I have a couple of things to speak about. Would you mind if we sorted ourselves out?'

"It was great. We went in and had a couple of minutes in a room and we came out as a unit that had forgotten in effect, or was going to leave behind everything that had happened, to do the right thing on this project.

"He did an amazing job. He didn't just lift a football club, he lifted a city. And Sunderland felt good about itself for the first time in a long time. We won the championship and life just couldn't have got better."

The popular sportman said he believes things went pear-shaped for the club when the Drumaville consortium sold the club to another owner.

He said: "I found a buyer for the club and Roy and him didn't hit it off and the fizz came out of the whole thing."

In the frank interview, he also opened up about the dark depression which engulfed him when he bowed out of international soccer.

He said: "I'd be smiley and I'd be happy and everyone would think I was a great lad. And then I was getting home and Gillian was going 'what's all this about?'

"I got into a dark area there and it was probably a six-month spell where I was horrible to be around and how she put up with me during that time I don't know.

"Like any footballer will tell you, you don't prepare properly, not only financially, but in terms of everything that you're pushing yourself towards and why are you doing all this football.

"You were doing it to stay doing it and then one day it stops.

"Thankfully with Gillian's help I got myself back on track and started doing a bit of Sky TV and got my face back on the TV again and I started to get my confidence."

And he said he is still trying to come to terms with the death, last year, of his close friend, Gary Speed, who hanged himself.

He said: "The world is full of good guys, bad guys. He was the best. Everybody who met him would say he was the person that touched them, that made them feel great about themselves.

"It was an incredible low for football. But football rallied round and I think we also saw maybe there is a part of football where people do care and where people have got their priorities in order."

The former successful soccer star and club boss said he is relishing his new role back in Ireland as the CEO of Qsat, which is bringing broadband technology to the parts other providers can't, or won't reach.

He said: "It's going very, very well. We have in excess of 6,000 customers. A lot of places in rural Ireland can't get internet and they are at a serious disadvantage.

"I have to pay the bills and I had to reinvent myself. I met Dermot Desmond recently and I said to him that I didn't do my Leaving Cert and I didn't go to university and he said 'You went to the university of life. That will stand to you far more.'

"I feel real good that we have a future. A bit like my football, I'll get stuck in and I'll miss a few open goals but I'll get the odd one."

'The Meaning of Life' with Gay Byrne is on RTE One tonight at 10.30pm

Sunday Independent

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