Belfast Telegraph

Former Northern Ireland star Jimmy Quinn: Win meant the world to us

Now Jimmy wants more joy in Romania

By Steven Beacom

Jimmy Quinn has just returned to his home in Crewe after his latest shift as a HGV driver.

If he is tired, he doesn't show it, cracking jokes and telling tales about the good old days with Northern Ireland.

Just as he did when scoring hundreds of goals in the English League, Quinn, now 54, hits the target with his funny stories... like the time while sitting on the bench, during an international, straight faced he kept telling a young Michael O'Neill that Billy Bingham wanted him to warm up even though the legendary manager, standing watching the game, had not uttered a word.

"After seeing Mike warming up a few times Billy told him in his own inimitable style to sit down and wait until he was told much to the amusement of the other lads," recalled Quinn, a huge favourite with the Northern Ireland fans.

"Mike took it well. He was a good guy and is doing a great job as manager. We always had fun when we joined up for internationals and gave our all every time for Northern Ireland."

Rarely more so than in 1985 in Romania, where the current side will tonight aim to continue their sensational start to the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Quinn was the goalscoring hero almost three decades ago as Bingham's men earned a famous 1-0 victory in Bucharest taking them to the verge of the 1986 World Cup finals. The trip to Mexico was confirmed with an equally celebrated performance at Wembley when Northern Ireland claimed the point required in a 0-0 draw with England.

"I remember the Romania match very well," says Quinn, who played for a host of clubs including Swindon, Blackburn, Leicester and West Ham and didn't hang up his shooting boots until his mid-40s.

"They hadn't been beaten at home for years and had a good side with Gheorghe Hagi their main man.

"We had to defend for long periods and I think only got over the halfway line twice and I managed to score on one of those occasions in the first half. It was Sammy McIlroy who played me in. I didn't connect that well but the ball ended up in the net which was all that mattered.

"It was wave after wave of attack from them and thankfully Pat Jennings was on form. He pulled off a number of great saves, Jimmy Nicholl cleared a few off the line and we managed to hang on.

"When I scored in Romania I didn't realise the significance of it, but looking back now it was great to have hit such an important goal."

That day in Bucharest saw the late, great Alan McDonald win his first cap. Quinny and Big Mac would become good pals and eventually work together as manager and assistant boss at Swindon.

"We joined the Northern Ireland squad around the same time and left at the same time. In Romania that was his first match and he was a colossus at the back. It was so sad when he passed away a few years ago. Such a huge loss," says Quinn, his voice lowering in respect.

"He was a great man and a great player with a fantastic touch.

"Alan was part of a really strong side back then. We had top players like Norman Whiteside and Sammy McIlroy and unsung heroes like Mal Donaghy who was a rock for us. Dave McCreery and Nigel Worthington never let us down either."

When Northern Ireland got to Mexico misfortune struck Quinn, who was Bingham's first choice striker.

"Going to Mexico I was 26 and flying. Billy had said to me that I would be playing in the first game against Algeria, but then I got injured which was horrible because I was desperate to play in the World Cup," says Quinn.

"I had played in the qualifying matches and scored a few goals in the campaign and we were going to play Algeria and then Spain and Brazil. Who wouldn't want to do that? It was hard to take."

Quinn, capped 46 times for his country scoring 12 goals, hopes such ill fortune will not befall any of the current Northern Ireland players if they make it to the Euro 2016 finals in France.

Victory in Romania would see O'Neill's side almost there.

Asked how the class of 2014 can repeat the heroics of 1985, Quinn replies: "They will have to defend well for long periods over there. When Romania are attacking I'm sure Michael has told the players don't be thinking 'oh no, here they are come again'. They should be saying 'this team won't get past us'. That's the mentality we had under Billy Bingham and it worked.

"When we get possession we should try to create danger and perhaps sneak one ourselves. I'm sure there will be a time when we get a chance to score.

"I believe we can qualify. Momentum is everything in football and at the moment we've got it. The team is playing with confidence and players like Kyle Lafferty are really raising their game. His goal in Greece was outstanding."

Former Reading and Swindon boss Quinn, who has been out of football since last year, says he would love to go to France if Northern Ireland make it. He might bring his son Alexander with him. Failing that look out for the talented six-year-old in the future.

"He's the double of me and kicks with both feet. He may have been born in England, but if he is good enough there is one only country he will be playing for," insists Quinn, loyal to the cause as ever.

Belfast Telegraph