NORTHERN IRELAND, 15 CAPS
V SLOVAKIA, BELFAST, 25 MARCH 1998
V SWITZERLAND, BELFAST, 22 APRIL 1998
V TURKEY, ISTANBUL, 5 SEPTEMBER 1998
V FINLAND, BELFAST, 10 OCTOBER 1998
V IRELAND, DUBLIN, 29 MAY 1999
V FRANCE, BELFAST, 18 AUGUST 1999
V TURKEY, BELFAST, 4 SEPTEMBER 1999
V GERMANY, DORTMUND, 8 SEPTEMBER 1999
V FINLAND, HELSINKI, 9 OCTOBER 1999
V LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG, 23 FEBRUARY 2000
V MALTA, TA’QALI, 28 MARCH 2000
V YUGOSLAVIA, BELFAST, 16 AUGUST 2000
V BULGARIA, BELFAST, 2 JUNE 2001
V CZECH REPUBLIC, TEPLICE, 6 JUNE 2001
V MALTA, TA’QALI, 6 OCTOBER 2001
For some footballers, it almost seems as if playing for your national side is a bit of a chore, especially if it means leaving the country to do so – one of the occupational hazards of international football you’d think. Suddenly picking up strains, suffering delayed shock over a two year old bereavement, some players will look for any reason to get away from playing for the national team.
For those of us who spent our childhood dreaming of playing in the World Cup Final and scoring the winner late in extra time, that’s a bizarre attitude, and one which is, thankfully, not shared by the bulk of professionals. And certainly not by one James Quinn, former footballer of this parish.
Quinn’s attitude to donning the green jersey of Northern Ireland was, rightly, to see it as the pinnacle of a career that was otherwise that of the journeyman toiler, a decent pro who forever played in the lower leagues. But 50 caps for Northern Ireland puts him in the pantheon, for only 25 players have won more caps than him. James Quinn, let it be said, won more caps for Northern Ireland than George Best. There’s a stat and a half.
It was the fact that Quinn had been cast in to the international wilderness that precipitated his shock retirement from the game altogether, just a couple of months after Albion fans last caught sight of him as part of Northampton Town’s squad when we went there for a pre-season friendly in the summer of 2007.
With commendable realism, Quinn, without a game for the Cobblers to his name that season, said, “I knew playing for Northampton wasn't good enough to earn me a place in the international team. Nigel Worthington phoned me when he took over and told me if I was playing regularly then there was still a role for me with Northern Ireland. If I can't play for Northern Ireland then I would rather quit football and become a fan and cheer the lads on to qualification. I've played 50 times for my county and that fills me with pride”.
Quinn already had ten caps to his name when Denis Smith rushed to prise him away from Blackpool back in February 1998, and he continued to play regularly for his country during his Albion tenure, turning out under a variety of coaches, including Bryan Hamilton, Lawrie McMenemy and Sammy McIlroy, playing up front with David Healy and Iain Dowie, a partnership that did not prompt use of the phrase “the beautiful game”.
Perhaps the highlight of his Northern Irish career, certainly while he was at The Hawthorns, was playing in the 1-0 win over Ireland in Dublin. All in all though, the 15 caps he won when he was here came in difficult circumstances as Quinn had the misfortune to play up front in a period when Northern Ireland scored few goals. Quinn himself knocked in two goals in those 15 games, coming in successive internationals when he was clearly on fire in the early months of 2000, Luxembourg and Malta on the receiving end of a goal each.
Photo by Laurie Rampling - www.wbapics.com
Towards the end of his Albion career, the caps began to dry up as the time he got on the field here grew less frequent under Gary Megson. A move to Willem II in the Netherlands brought him back on the international scene, allowing him to take his tally of caps to the half century, becoming something of a cult hero in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps his biggest regret was missing out on the historic 1-0 win over England in the last World Cup qualifying competition because of suspension. As the IrishFa.com put it, “Just one look at his reaction when he realised that the yellow card picked up against Austria would mean sitting out the England game would surely have challenged the hardest of hearts. Our biggest game for a generation and Quinn knew he wouldn't be there. The Green and White Army cried with him”. They’ll be crying into their Guinness now he’s gone for good.