Ireland hadn’t qualified for Euro ‘96 in England after losing a playoff to the Netherlands at Anfield in November 1995, a game which brought to an end the reign of the legendary Jack Charlton. Instead, they headed across the Atlantic as the European representatives in the annual invitational US Cup tournament.
But, the day before their first match against the United States in the solidly green city of Boston, it was the future of 29-year-old centre-forward Niall Quinn that was making the headlines.
Quinn’s position at Manchester City had been in doubt for a while, and Uwe Rosler’s arrival in 1995 led to contract negotiations with Sporting Lisbon that fell through at the last minute. Despite the uncertainty, the Dubliner went on to play 32 games and scored eight goals for City as they were relegated from the Premiership in 1995/96 – yet he was still deemed surplus to requirements.
Sunderland’s boss Peter Reid had played with and managed Quinn at Maine Road and was keen for him to join him at Roker Park as he prepared his squad for our first season in the new top flight.
A club-record bid of £1.5 million had been tabled, but we’d been told that we would have to increase the money on offer if we were to secure his services. Indeed, Rosler was being touted for a transfer as an alternative as City looked to cut their cloth to meet the financial limitations of the Football League.
However, the Irish press reported that the two biggest sides in Istanbul - Galatasaray and Fenerbache - were both interested in bringing Quinny to the shores of the Bosphorus.
Galatasaray had been managed by Graham Souness, who had brought players such as Dean Saunders and former Sunderland defender Barry Venison over to sample the unique delights of the burgeoning Turkish league.
Thankfully for us, the move to Istanbul didn’t materialise as Souness was recruited to take over at Southampton, and Man City eventually relented in their attempt to get a few more quid from Bob Murray’s notoriously tight wallet.
The connections with Sunderland AFC in US Cup the match on 9th June are hard to ignore. In the dugout for the Republic of Ireland was Mick McCarthy, who would take charge of the Lads five months after his six-year stint in charge of his national team came to an end in 2002.
McCarthy played youngster Shay Given in goal after he passed a late fitness test, retaining his place ahead of veteran Pat Bonner – the Blackburn Rovers ‘keeper had starred for Sunderland in the months before as we won promotion to the top flight, and was being heavily linked with a move back to Roker.
At the back, they had future Black Cat captain Gary Breen alongside Kenny Cunningham, with David Connolly - who would be a favourite at the Stadium of Light under fellow Irishman Roy Keane - partnering Big Niall up top.
It was Connolly who scored the opening goal of the game on 57 minutes at the Foxboro Stadium, finishing neatly after being played through expertly by Quinn. But the lead only lasted a minute as former Real Betis midfielder Tab Ramos equalised for the hosts with a spectacular 30-yard strike that eluded Given. The winner was scored by future another Sunderland star, Claudio Reyna, who nipped in front of Given to poke the ball home on 76 minutes.
Sunderland’s connection with both the Irish Republic and the United States has remained strong throughout our history, with significant fanbases existing in both countries and regularly making the journey to the Stadium of Light, and a whole host of players coming to join them - from Charlie Hurley to Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch and Allison Cowling.
Enjoy the uniquely American commentary in the YouTube video below.