Niall Quinn knows what it is to suffer Roy Keane’s wrath.
Once labelled Mother Teresa by the Republic of Ireland assistant manager, relations between the pair were sundered rather than strained on the back of the Saipan debacle in 2002 and yet the pair would come to work together just four years later.
It was Quinn who initiated the rapprochement, his suggestion that Keane succeed him as manager at Sunderland in the autumn of 2006 receiving an enthusiastic response from the club’s Drumaville owners and precipitating a thaw that few had foreseen.
Quinn, who stuck to his role of club chairman thereafter, relived the scene yesterday.
He painted a picture of how Keane walked into the room at their first meeting and demanded that the various backers give himself and Quinn a few minutes. And how the hand of friendship was offered instantly and the commitment made to bin the past and build a future together.
So, Quinn doesn’t doubt that it is well within the Mayfield man’s compass to negotiate a reconciliation with Harry Arter and, if still needs be, Jonathan Walters before Ireland reconvene for their Nations League games with Denmark and Wales next month.
Absolutely. We can all make assumptions because we all read the papers and read the headlines but all I can do is tell people about my time with him, if it’s of help or not. With one second, we wiped out four years and we had a brilliant 18 to 20 months as part of the same set-up and wanting to achieve the same goals.
“In many ways he was at his best after that. He had that period of time — okay, as a player he had an incredibly brilliant career — but in his venture into management, coaching etc, and where he finds himself now, that period of time over 18 months to two years maybe after we had that meeting I saw the best (in him) in very difficult circumstances.”
Quinn, as a teammate with Ireland and through his role in the boardroom at Sunderland, saw first-hand how Keane’s “incredible personality” could rub off on those around him and make those wearing the same jersey feel 10-feet tall.
And he frequented enough dressing rooms during a 20-year professional career in England to know that harsh words and verbal spats much worse than those suggested by Stephen Ward in his leaked WhatsApp message were as common as ankle sprains and bad after shave.
The crux of the problem with Keane and this spat, he feels, was that it was allowed fester over the span of a long, hot summer. But he knows that one snap of O’Neill’s assistant having the banter with Arter and Walters at training next month would reframe everything for the better.
Declan Rice reporting back for duty after his recent international furlough would be another timely shot in the arm for the squad’s collective morale but Quinn isn’t opting to dwell in the depths of depression over the national side’s recent travails, regardless of the 18-year old’s eventual decision. Buoyed by the side’s fighting spirit in Poland last Tuesday, he was particularly taken by the performance of Aiden O’Brien up front and by the raw emotion the 24-year old Millwall striker displayed in a TV interview after his goalscoring debut.
You’ve no idea how much confidence Aiden O’Brien will have now, coming back to his club,” said Quinn. “And he’s got to set his sights now on a top move and on playing regularly for Ireland. He is entitled to think like that now. In fact, he’s wrong if he doesn’t.
“He held the ball up brilliantly the other night. We shouldn’t just dwell on his goal ... his work-rate and his hunger, his ability to bring other people into play in difficult circumstances with that big (Kamil) Glik or whatever his name was hanging out of him the whole time.
“He held the ball up, laid it off and got his free-kicks and he’s only just been baptised in it. He’s got to believe and we’ve all got to encourage him to grow and challenge and make Martin O’Neill keep picking him, and then nick a goal here and there, and then suddenly you’re off and running.
“Then he’ll look back and think, ‘Jeepers, when I think back on that trip, there was a furore about Roy Keane and now here I am, five goals later, and I’ve got a career for myself and my agent tells me that a Premier League club are coming in for me’.”