Sunday 21 January 2018

Quinn insists O'Neill's road to redemption will begin in Georgia

Niall Quinn (centre) believes Martin O'Neill's path back from managerial oblivion will start in the Georgian capital this weekend. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Niall Quinn (centre) believes Martin O'Neill's path back from managerial oblivion will start in the Georgian capital this weekend. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Garry Doyle

Tbilisi may be an unconventional setting for any man to search for redemption but Niall Quinn believes Martin O'Neill's path back from managerial oblivion will start in the Georgian capital this weekend.

Once partners in a Sunderland coalition, Quinn as the club's chairman, O'Neill as its manager, they have since been divorced by circumstance - the former deciding to leave his post, the latter having no choice in the matter, sacked with just seven games left of the 2012/13 season, a decision which left him feeling hurt and Short-changed.

Yet it is because of what happened there that he has ended up here, rebuilding a team from the rubble of the last World Cup campaign, while simultaneously aiming to reconstruct his own reputation, which was left bruised by Sunderland chairman, Ellis Short's decision to fire him.

"He is hungry again," said Quinn.

"The thing about Martin is that he has this gift of motivating people and he does it with a presence, not by shouting and roaring but by the way he makes people want to take his orders to get up to the next level.

"And he does that differently to most coaches. The reality is you don't have too many people who studied to be a lawyer coaching footballers, especially today's modern players.

"I saw the way he worked at Sunderland.

"He has his team around him who put the tactics in place and who do his things his way but the extra bits he adds make him stand out, a trait he definitely inherited from Brian Clough, his way of making you feel special.

"He is doing that with Ireland now too, around the training ground and in the dressing-room.

"He is a supreme motivator of men."

Yet the man who needed motivation more than anyone else after the Sunderland experiment ended sourly was O'Neill himself.

"I have never got to the bottom of what happened (with O'Neill and Short)," says Quinn. "Martin and I went for lunch one time and we were both exasperated about how it ended.

"I said to him then that someone would benefit from his departure and thankfully Ireland has.

"Losing his job stunned him. But people in the football world, which is a village, we're not talking about millions and millions of people here, felt he was hard done by.

"And, as it transpired, Martin's reputation started to repair from the start of the following season when people saw somebody (Paolo Di Canio) in the job who didn't have the ability for it. Martin would have been alright for Sunderland.

"His reputation is fine in my eyes but in his own head he may feel he has a point to prove. I've no doubt he will do that for Ireland."

One of the first things he has to do is choose between a returning hero and a safe pair of hands for the goalkeeping position this Sunday and while Quinn can see the logic in O'Neill selecting Shay Given for the qualifier against Georgia, his preference would be to see David Forde get the nod.

"David has done nothing wrong and Shay is only just back. For me, it has to be David."


If that is a black-and-white issue for Quinn, the saga surrounding Mark Noble is less clear-cut.

A fan of the 'Granny rule', Quinn favours O'Neill's recruitment drive for second-generation Irishman. However, he is not over-excited by Noble's underwhelming assertion that he'd 'think' about declaring for Ireland.

"It was maybe a throwaway comment," said Quinn. "But it is the idea that, 'I'm not sure I will play for England so I will go and play for them instead' - that is the bit that riles me.

"With English-born players, you are not asking them to come on their holidays here each year, not asking them to go to ceilidhs, you are simply asking them to be part of the group and believe in the jersey.

"That concept was passed down from generation to generation, to Townsend, Cascarino and Houghton."

Niall Quinn was promoting Sky Sports' coverage of the Georgia-Ireland Euro 2016 qualifier which will go on air this Sunday from 4pm on Sky Sports 5

Irish Independent

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