Why Stephen Quinn is urging Hull City to forget all about play-off talk
STEPHEN Quinn has a fresh face that belies his 26 years but inside the creative midfield mind are the scars of a painful history.
Not once but twice has Quinn witnessed promotion bids he has helped construct unravel inside the final weeks of a season.
In the 2008-09 campaign he was part of a Sheffield United side that missed out on automatic promotion to the Premier League on the final day of the campaign. Three weeks later he would then see dreams of the top flight shattered again with a Championship play-off final defeat to Burnley.
Sheffield United's demise into League One set another promotion in motion last season but the same fate befell Quinn once again. It was Sheffield Wednesday who pipped their Steel City neighbours to automatic promotion nine months ago before a second Yorkshire rival Huddersfield Town compounded the misery with a heart-breaking 8-7 penalty shoot-out win at Wembley.
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A first season at Hull City promises another anxious finale for Quinn.
Within touching distance of the Championship's top two as they travel to Brighton for the televised fixture, Steve Bruce's men continue to covet a place back in the Premier League as they enter the final bend of the campaign.
Only Robert Koren (twice), Abdoulaye Faye and Andy Dawson can tell tales of promotion to the top flight, but Quinn believes his own experience ensures he is battle-hardened for the trials ahead.
"I've had a couple of near misses on promotion," he said. "I've lost two play-off finals so I know exactly how it feels. It's gut-wrenching.
"Whether it's good or bad, you take a lot of experience from those times.
"At Sheffield United last year we found out it's never over until it's over and we know here that we'll have to battle every step of the way.
"The main motto after losing two play-offs is not to get carried away. It's horrible when you fall short so there's no point building yourself up."
Quinn is hardly a lone voice. Bruce has been drumming the exact same message into his unfancied side since the leaves were falling in Autumn.
Quinn calls this the "nitty gritty" of the season. Greater anxieties are sure to come in April and with 15 points up for grabs in the next 15 days, City can ill-afford February daydreams.
"If you start thinking about it, that's when it can be a problem," said the Dublin-born midfielder.
"I don't think you can start worrying about this early on. I know it's February and people are starting to think about what might happen but the more you think about it, the more it'll affect you or upset your run.
"The less we think about it, the better we'll be. We've got good pros in here and a great staff too so there'll be no one getting carried away."
Quinn, more than most, is unwilling to accept the play-offs. A third-place finish offers no guarantees.
"I'd much prefer to go automatic than the play-off route," he said.
"The void between success and failure is so marginal it's untrue. We'd all rather settle for an automatic promotion but we'll deal with whatever gets thrown at us."
If team-mates such as James Chester, Robbie Brady and Corry Evans enter the final 12 weeks of the season eyeing a rich prize they are yet to sample, Quinn is aiming to end a six-year journey back to the Premier League.
As a 19-year-old he made 15 appearances in the top flight during Sheffield United's ill-fated adventure under Neil Warnock.
As Carlos Tevez engineered West Ham's great escape, Quinn was a starter when a final day defeat to Wigan condemned the Blades back to the Championship. Quinn thought he would be back in no time but the wait has been uncomfortably drawn out.
"It would mean everything to get back there," he said. "I had a taste of it before when I was 19 and I thought that was it, I thought I'd made it.
"At the time I didn't realise just how difficult it was to get back there once you come down.
"It really is the promised land. It's where all the top players are and where all the exposure is. Who wouldn't want to be there?"
There are happy memories from his one and only season in the top flight, but Quinn shudders at the image of his teenage self.
His game was headstrong and unrefined. So much so, Premier League fixtures would often pass him by. A far greater player is knocking on the top-flight door and Quinn admits his form with the Tigers has never been better.
He said: "I've got my head screwed on a bit more now. I went out back then and I would run around like a school kid. I've got 300 games under my belt and I've learned an awful lot by coming across so many different players and managers.
"I would say it's as well as I've ever played this season, it's certainly the most enjoyable.
"I'm at a good age coming up to 27 and I know what I want and how to play the game. How the side wants to play suits me perfectly so the jigsaw fits."
The latest piece in the puzzle is former Blades team-mate Ahmed Fathi. Signed on loan from Al Ahly along with striker Gedo, the Egyptian is back in Yorkshire for a second crack at the English game.
Much like himself, Quinn believes Fathi will be unrecognisable to his dog days in 2007 at Bramall Lane and believes City head to Brighton this evening with everything slotting into place after the January window.
Quinn added: "I was telling the boys this week that I played alongside him in the Premier League. He got a few games here but then went back to Egypt. He's had a great career winning the African Cup of Nations so he'll be a great addition to us.
"January has made us stronger, no question. The likes of David Stockdale and Elmo coming back has been vital and now we'll look to keep it up."