From The Durham Times: Niall Quinn, Fittingly, Goes Out On A High

ACCRA, GHANA - JANUARY 24: Niall Quinn Director of International Development Sunderland AFC attends the launch of 'Invest in Africa' on January 24, 2012 in Accra, Ghana. (Photo by Neil Thomas /Getty Images)

Hello y'all, it's about time we did another Durham Times type thingy... Oh yeah, a column, they were kind enough to offer us our own column. We definitely did not bribe them or anything.

Anyway, here we are, and it's been quite the action packed week for Sunderland, so prepare to read some of our thoughts on it. This article of course first appeared in the actual Durham Times newspaper on Friday. you can get a copy of that from any decent newsagents in the area for just 50p. Go on, buy one, help keep local press around.

Failing that, take a visit to their website (click here) on a Friday and you're sure to see it. Or if you want just wait until the weekend and we'll replicate it here. Which is exactly what follows...

Sunderland's remarkable season took another step in the right direction this past weekend. Arsenal, conquerors at the Stadium of Light a week earlier, returned from their debacle in Milan looking to add to their league success with triumph in the FA Cup.

It wasn't to be for Arsene Wenger's men. Where the week previously Sunderland had been devoid of ideas and looking fatigued, this time Martin O'Neill's side were on top form - the visiting Gunners never looked like taking anything from the game.

A 2-0 victory set up a quarter-final tie for the Black Cats, with Sunday's draw - Everton, away - leaving many Wearsiders optimistic about a repeat of the famed 1973 campaign.

FA Cup fever was not, however, the talk of the town this week.

As day broke on Monday morning, so did some epochal news. Niall Quinn, a man who has held more positions at Sunderland AFC than perhaps any other - striker, goalkeeper, manager, chairman, and then finally a spell developing the club's international profile - announced his intentions to leave with immediate effect.

Unlike many departures in football, this one was laden with goodwill. The lofty Irishman, who arrived as a club record signing back in the hazy, Roker Park days of 1996, has devoted over a quarter of his life to the red and whites.

That he leaves with legendary status forever cemented on Wearside is all the more surprising given his ropey start to life as a Sunderland man. Just over a month into his career in the north-east, Quinn suffered a knee injury that would keep him out of action for six months.

It derailed the season of Peter Reid's men. With their record signing a perennial occupant of the treatment room, and noone else stepping up on the field to fill the goalscoring void, Sunderland's first season in the Premier League saw them relegated.

Quinn, still struggling for fitness, scored the opening goal at the new Stadium of Light - but Reid's men continued to struggle. The expensive Irishman soon found himself in the firing line; for a long time, it seemed that Niall Quinn's Sunderland career would be a mere footnote in the club's history.

And then, something clicked. Alongside Kevin Phillips, Quinn struck up one of the most fearsome striking partnerships the Black Cats have ever possessed. Their goals took the club (at the second attempt) out of the old First Division and up to two seventh-placed finishes in the top league.

Quinn's departure from the game in 2002 seemed to bring the curtain down on his Sunderland involvement. His refrain, though, that Sunderland "got under my skin", seemed strangely prophetic even back then.

So it proved. With the club in a state of disarray unmatched in modern times, it was Quinn who came to his adopted home's rescue. Following the ignominy of a 15-point season and yet another relegation, it was he who drummed up the support (and funds) of the mysterious Drumaville consortium - in doing so, he saved Sunderland from possible ruin.

The rest, as they say, is history. From Roy Keane, through Ricky Sbragia and Steve Bruce, to Martin O'Neill, Quinn and his managers have overseen continual progress both on and off the field at the Stadium of Light. The eventual drying up of the Drumaville cash was met proactively by Quinn - his success in recruiting billionaire Ellis Short was testament to his skills of persuasion and passion for the club.

So now, with Sunderland on firm footing once more, he has decided the time has come for him to take his leave.

It is a wise decision from an astute footballing man. Too long in many walks of life, but especially in sport, do men go on longer than they should. The result is almost always a deflating finale; few men go out on top.

Quinn, in this respect, is different. He leaves after five and a half years at the club's helm and, though there have been undoubted bumpy times, Sunderland are far richer for his presence. The anecdotes of just why he will forever remain a red and white hero are too numerous to mention here - though a certain fleet of taxis from Cardiff certainly springs to mind.

The club will now look to move forward yet further, with that aforementioned FA Cup quarter-final firmly fixed in their sights. With the side in the form of the lives under Martin O'Neill, anything seems possible now - what a difference when contrasted with July 2006, when Quinn returned to Wearside to find Sunderland in turmoil.

There is talk of renaming the South Stand at the Stadium of Light, soon to become the new designated home end, after the departing Irishman.

It is hard to think of a more fitting tribute to a figure who will be forever remembered as the man who saved Sunderland AFC.

CHRIS WEATHERSPOON

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