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Football: I'M READY TO ANSWER MICK'S CALL; Quinn is happy to play his part.

Byline: Michael SCULLY

IN or out tomorrow, Niall Quinn will be happy just to be involved.

There's no doubt about it: Quinny's career, at this level at least, is winding down.

At 34, big Niall is putting in a lot more effort than he used to, just so he can be of service on occasions such as this.

Quinn always has Italia '90 and that goal against the Dutch in the finals to look back on. What he wants now is to help the younger lads in the Irish squad experience the same thing in Japan and Korea next summer.

His time is numbered, and he knows it. Quinn responded magnificently in the past to overcome two cruciate ligament injuries, but the back problem that has plagued him of late is having a detrimental effect on him.

At this level, that's especially the case, and in recent times he has admitted that he's only hanging on in there for Ireland because his experience, his presence, can help.

But there's more to it than that Until Mick McCarthy can find a suitable replacement for the man who has scored 20 goals for his country in 84 appearances, Quinny will be still be required to turn up, to wear a back brace in training, to receive some physio before and after training - and lead the line for Ireland.

Found

Maybe now, however, a suitable replacement has been found in the form of Damien Duff, who scored against Croatia and has looked very, very good in anattacking position.

Quinn knows that McCarthy is toying with the idea of leaving him on the bench and playing Duff and Robbie Keane for Ireland's biggest game in a long time.

But then, there's also the possibility that Keane, who has been off-colour since the tail-end of last season, will start on the bench.

Whatever happens, Quinn is ready to accept his fate.

"If Mick plays the two of them I can understand where he's coming from," commented Quinn.

"I am one of Mick's biggest fans. I said to him a year ago, when I thought about retiring after Turkey, was that maybe I owe him another shot at it.

"I don't want to being selfish. If I come on for the last half hour and then I'm happy with that."

And Quinn joked: "Mick stuck by me - he's one person in the FAI who wished me well in my retirement four years ago so it tells you how hard it must have been trying to stick by me!

"So I want to repay that. I would love to see Mick McCarthy make it a major finals as a manager - and it would be great to beat Holland this time."

Quinn has always been Robbie Keane's greatest fan, always expressed genuine delight in the fact that he has been around to play alongside the Leeds striker.

The Sunderland veteran admits that Keane had suffered a dip in form - but that he is now over his Italian adventure and is ready to sparkle again.

Although he wasn't at his best against Croatia, Quinn reckons Keane's renaissance as an international is just around the corner.

"I know he doesn't admit it, doesn't like saying it but I think the Italian experience promised so much and fell flat on him," he said.

"He's over that now. He's with a great club who did well last year, he scored goals for fun in the summer, and the old bubbly Robbie is back.

"He's trained well, looks sharper and I think he's ready now to go on and get back to doing what he does best."

And then there's Duff. Quinn reckons the Blackburn wing-wizard is playing as well as he ever has.

"Duffer is flying, you can make a case for every pro footballer being a good player but he's a guy on top of his form right now," he enthused.

"At this moment he could not be playing better, I would say he's going to pose a huge threat to the Dutch."

Two into three doesn't go, and Quinn has a hunch that he could be the one who doesn't fit in to this particular equation.

Content

He missed the Croatia game but noted how content McCarthy was with the performance of his front two, who have built a great understanding since first appearing together on underage international sides.

"I think Mick saw it as a great opportunity going into the game like this," he said.

"I spoke to Mick briefly and wants me to be right for whatever he does, if he does go with the two lads I'm ready to come on.

"He doesn't have to question me, I'm here to give everything for him. And if that's the way he goes I will be the first person to support that decision."

Nevertheless, you still the get the impression that it's a game he'd love to be centrally involved in.

Yes, he admits it's definitely a game he would pay in to see. But Quinn won't have to do that for some time to come, such is the impact he has on this Irish squad.

"We've never had a game like this at home, we've always been away in the second leg of a play-off or else it's been a neutral game - like we had against the Dutch at Anfield," he adds.

"So we've never had this type of killer game in the group at home. I just feel that everyone envolved is so desperate to do this for each other."

CAPTION(S):

WORLD AT HIS FEET: Quinn celebrates his Italia '90 goal against Holland
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN LTD
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 31, 2001
Words:937
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