REPUBLIC OF IRELAND legend Niall Quinn has revealed it took himself and Roy Keane no more than “a couple of minutes” to put their Saipan bust-up behind them and join forces at Sunderland.
Quinn and Keane, two of the country’s most celebrated footballers, infamously clashed in the Pacific row which saw Keane walk out on his international team-mates on the eve of the 2002 World Cup.
The two did not meet again until four years later when Quinn, then involved in a bid to take over the Black Cats, approached Keane in the hope of mending their relationship and bringing the Corkman on board as the club’s new manager.
“Saipan happened and I could get on with life very easily afterwards,” Quinn says, speaking on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne which airs on RTÉ 1 at 10.30pm tonight.
“Four years later, I approached Roy. I got permission from the Drumaville Consortium who were interested in taking over at Sunderland.
“I gave my list of three people who I thought should manage it and the third name I put down was Roy Keane. They all started laughing and thought I was making a joke at one of these meetings.
I suppose what I saw was [that] he was box office — still is — and I knew that our club was in such a poor way that this was the perfect fit. He was the one man who I felt could get that going really quickly.
When they finally came face-to-face, Quinn and Keane quickly put their past differences aside and agreed to work together.
“Roy agreed to come over and speak which would have been the first time we would have met since Saipan. He said, ‘Look, before we start, Niall and I have a couple things to speak about. Would you mind if we sort ourselves out?’
“It was great. We went in and had a couple of minutes in a room and we came out as a unity that had forgotten, in effect, or were going to leave behind everything that happened to do the right thing on this project.
He wouldn’t pull out of a challenge as a footballer, so he wouldn’t pull out of a challenge as a manager.
With Quinn as club chairman and Keane as manager, Sunderland clinched the Championship title and won promotion back to the Premier League at their first attempt in 2006/2007.
But as Drumaville prepared to sell up to American Ellis Short in late 2008, Keane walked away following a string of bad results in Sunderland’s second season back in the top flight. His impact spread far beyond the Stadium of Light during his time in charge, Quinn says.
He did an amazing job. He didn’t just lift a football club. He lifted a city and Sunderland felt good about itself for the first time in a long time.
We won the Championship and life just couldn’t have got better for either of us, I think, in terms of what we were trying to do.”