By PJ Cunningham
Sometimes you only get the full value of a person’s input into a role or an organisation when he or she is no longer there.
Niall Quinn transformed Sunderland when he returned there in the noughties to become the Wearsiders’ Chairman. At the time of his arrivial The Black Cats were in the second tier and looking like a spent force.
Years earlier, when Quinn left the club as a player, he vowed he would one day return and lead it to greater things.
He was as good as his word. By getting an Irish group of millionaires together, he bought the club and had it back in the Premier League as a renewed force when the Celtic Tiger hit.
It meant a new owner from the US, Ellis Short, came in and while it never became a public spat, it was clear that Niall was happy to move on in 2011 when it became apparent that his own vision for the club would not be met under the American’s watch.
Since he left, the candystripes of the North East have gone down the Divisions and now languish in League One, where they have been stuck since 2018.
In his time at Sunderland, the Dubliner showed remarkable ability to put club first as was instanced in burying the hatchet of Saipan 2002 so that Roy Keane could come in as manager.
As could be seen from the time he gave all the money from his testimonial games away to hospitals in Sunderland and Ireland.
The good news from Irish football and the FAI’s point of view is that he has taken on the role of interim Deputy CEO at Abbotstown in a bid to clean up the mess left in the wake of the John Delaney reign there.
I got in touch with Niall last week to wish him well in this new role.
Joking that he might be mad to do so he added seriously: “Look, there is a huge amount of work to be done to get it right. The main thing from my point of view is that there is an opportunity for meaningful change now.”
Gary Owen (Interim Chief Executive) and Roy Barrett (Chairman) had already come on board and with Gerry McAnaney being voted in as President of the FAI at the weekend and two non-executive directors Liz Doyle and Catherine Guy now also on board, there is the wherewithal for the new brooms to sweep clean the era of chicanery and lack of transparency that was all too evident in recent times.
While the restructuring is important, the football strands will look to Quinn for reassurance that they will be looked after.
The League of Ireland has been the orphan in the family for decades and while the former Arsenal, Man City and Sunderland striker has no direct experience with that level of football, he knows what is needed to run football clubs and can be guaranteed to be a sympathetic ear to allcomers.
Arguably what is most pleasing about all the latest appointments is that financial reward doesn’t enter any of the new people’s reasoning for getting involved.
That will be music to the ears of not just the footballing supporters but to UEFA, the Minister for Sport and the banks, all of whom will be happier in announcing a new refinancing package to keep the Association out of examinship in the next week or so.
That €18 million will keep the show on the road as well as guaranteeing job within the FAI.
Quinn wants to get to work straight away and his message is that he will do everything in his power to make things better very quickly.
You could hardly have a better guy in your corner when it comes to getting instant credibility about guaranteeing a new direction.
He promised to help the LOI clubs and he made it clear that he would push for an All Ireland soccer league, if that’s what clubs wanted. “We are there to assist them,” he asserted.
He emphasised that he is driven by the possibility of creating a “vibrant FAI.”
Even more importantly he said he mightn’t be in the FAI when it is in full bloom – a clear sign that he sees this is a job of work to do before moving on rather than just doing a job for life.