Quinn is a name that’s synonymous with the last time Ireland played England at Wembley, Niall being the hero of the night in 1991 when his superbly taken goal ensured a share of the points in one of the most celebrated games of the Jack Charlton era.
So it seems appropriate, on the occasion of Ireland’s return to English football’s spiritual home 22 years later, that the famous surname should surface once again in the visitors’ squad. And making its appearance even more special for Hull City’s Stephen Quinn — a player who last featured in an Irish squad all of six years ago — is that he was an unexpected late addition, only getting word of his call-up when the rest of the players had already begun training in London at the weekend and it became clear that Paul Green would have to withdraw through injury.
“I was back in Dublin, sitting with my family having Sunday lunch, when the phone call came,” says Stephen. “I didn’t know if it was a wind-up or not because I did not think that I was close. But the call did come and I don’t think I even finished my dinner. I was ready to go, I left my Sunday lunch and went back home to get my passport so I could fly over first thing Monday morning. It’s not sunk in yet because it all happened so fast, I’m still trying to get my bearings.”
Unlike so many other players at the end of a long season, Quinn hadn’t skipped off to foreign climes but then, as he explains, he had good reason to stay close to home, even if the possibility of an Irish call-up hadn’t featured in his thinking at all.
“Well, I was not part of the squad for the last six years,” he points out, “so I would not say that I was leaving this month free just in case. But my partner Vanessa is pregnant so we decided to take the car over on the boat to Dublin and spend some time there. Obviously she cannot fly as she is expecting in a few weeks. This is our first baby so it’s going to be an unbelievable year, please God. It has been already. Vanessa knows that this means everything to me after working hard to get back in again six years since the last call up.”
Steve Staunton gave Quinn his first senior call-up 2007 but he didn’t get to don the green shirt on that occasion and, at 27, he’s still awaiting his first cap.
“It was disappointing that it did not happen for me in 2007 but this has kept me driven in my career,” he says. “I did not want to think that this was the total of my international career.”
Helping him keep the faith was the example and advice of older brother and former international Alan.
“He’s good pals with Robbie Keane and Richie Dunne and he told me all the stories and has a few caps under his belt,” says Stephen. “Alan was a good inspiration because I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He kept me going and told me that my chance would come. It kept me focused as I did not want my career to finish without having another crack at it.”
At one memorable point early in that career, Stephen found himself one of three Quinn brothers at the same club.
“It was bizarre what happened,” he laughs. “When I went on trial to Sheffield United, my brother Alan was at Sheffield Wednesday and he was just coming out of contract. When I went to United, they wanted to sign me. Then my little brother Keith [now with Longford Town] went over when my dad asked if they could take him also. Then they wanted to sign both of us. Then Alan arrived! It was great that we were all there together.”
Alan moved on to Ipswich Town in 2008 but Stephen spent seven years at Bramall Lane before his decision to move to Hull City gave a whole new momentum to his club — and now international — career.
“I just needed a new challenge, a new chapter,” he says. “Steve Bruce had come in at Hull and he gave me that chance. I have enjoyed every minute I have played this season. And we succeeded in achieving what we set out to do, getting promoted in a very difficult league.”
Now, to cap off a memorable football year for the player, there’s the huge bonus of an international call-up to go along with promotion to the Premier League. It also means that there are now four Hull players in the Irish squad, Quinn finally getting the chance to travel with his team-mates rather than being the one waving them off.
“There is no question that there was no happier man than me to see Paul McShane, Robbie Brady and David Meyler getting called up for their country,” he says. “I play with them week in, week out and there was no envy whatsoever. They are my mates and will probably be my mates for ever after what we have been through this season.
“But at the same time it was a bit disheartening that the boys were getting picked and I’m thinking, ‘Am I good enough to make this step, is it not going to happen?’ It was disheartening but I never gave up hope, and the manager at Hull just kept telling me that if I kept doing what I was doing then I would get a look in. Now it has come and it’s a bit of a shock.”
One of a family of 15 children from Clondalkin, Quinn is only sad that his parents, John and Alice, who passed away in recent years, are not around to share in the joy of his second chance at getting capped for his country.
“After all the hard years of work by my family bringing me to games, the call-up is great,” he says. “My parents brought me up so well and they were my inspiration, no-one else really. When my dad passed away a few years ago I recalled that he was the one when I was younger who said to always enjoy my football.
“I never really knew what he meant when he said it and I often wondered how could he say that when there is so much pressure on you playing at the top level? But since he has passed away I have come to realise that you have to enjoy your football otherwise the pressure gets to you and you cannot play well.
“So this is for them and for my whole family who are proud of me who kept it going. They are looking at me getting into the Premier League and watching me closely. I am just trying to keep this going in memory of my mam and dad, and that’s the main thing. They brought us up to be good kids and I just wanted to make them proud. I just wish they could be here to see this.
“I have a few brothers and sisters coming over for the game. I’m massively proud to be Irish and it’s the ultimate honour to play for your country. And it would be the high point of my career if I did play, especially against England.
“Going up with Hull City was a fantastic experience and now this tops off a great season for me. I could not be happier.”
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