Sunday 20 January 2019

'The people's game in this country is football' - Niall Quinn responds to Neil Francis' rugby comments

Niall Quinn. Photo: Getty Images
Niall Quinn. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

His plan for a new direction in Irish football is partially influenced by how rugby have managed their product so Niall Quinn does not mean to cause offence.

But he was a bit taken aback by a recent Neil Francis column in the Sunday Independent which declared that Jonathan Sexton's drop goal in Paris last year was Ireland's greatest sporting moment.

"I was actually there for it and it was excellent," said Quinn. "And I saw Neil's column - 'Greater than 1990, the country stopped in its tracks.'

"Did they stop in Ballyfermot? Did they stop in Crumlin? Did they stop in Finglas? Did they stop in the North Wall? I don't think so. The people's game when it goes well for our country is our industry - it's our football."

It's this line of thinking - and the participation figures to go with it - that will form the emotional basis of Quinn's argument as he tries to put together a proposal to bring to government to drive investment in the League of Ireland.

He wants funding for each club to develop their own academy with an educational perspective seriously factored into it - a proper one in comparison to what's on offer in England.

"I was the chairman of a Premier League club (Sunderland) who possibly got awards for the education syllabus we put in place for our players," he said. "And they were tourism certificates, lifesaving certificates. Not that they were worthless, but you could go to a swimming pool and get a badge. There was no way it was going to put them into employment."

The Dubliner's argument is that investing in football will help individuals that are otherwise exported to England at a young age with nothing to fall back on.

And it can also lead to greater days for the national side which will benefit the country as a whole.

Ironically enough, one of his plans would be trying to attract overseas-born players to live in Ireland that could become eligible to wear the green jersey - an avenue that the IRFU have successfully explored.

"We have got to give ourselves a great shot at getting back to those (Italia '90) days. What does being at the Euros mean to the country?

"What does being at a World Cup mean to the country? I'd have our sport above rugby all day long for potential grants. But rugby is so good, they have some great people who have done a great job.

"I'd never give out about them; they've been excellent and they should give us something to aspire to, even though it's a different set of circumstances.

"We should have more forward thinking on it. And if the government open the door a little bit, I'd love to see a little bit of momentum to go in there. It's time now that football got a fair deal."

Since Quinn started speaking in broad terms about a plan he would like to put together, he has been contacted by a number of parties who are interested in turning hypothetical discussions into something more substantive.

He has reached out to individual figures within the League of Ireland, yet concedes they are tied up in their own short-term focus. That's why his plan is to draft a proposal and get state backing which can then be presented to the FAI and the league clubs as an option for the road ahead.

Questions "All I'm in a position to do is ask questions and move things together and, if it goes into the right area, let the sides come together and see how it goes," said Quinn, who stressed that he would have no interest in getting involved in a role with the FAI - he sees this as an independent plan.

He has spoken with Red Strike, an Irish-driven sports agency that has expanded into the business of creating academies.

"They've put in academies now for teams in Vietnam and South Africa. It's almost like a pop-up academy. It covers all the bases and they're trying very hard to bring this into this country," continued Quinn, who was speaking at a Virgin Media press briefing.

"There is a will for change. I've had some good long conversations with interested parties and if something is to happen, we have to start it from the bottom up. There are people in positions in this country who want to see good things done."

Irish Independent

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