VETERAN Republic of Ireland international Niall Quinn - labelled "irreplaceable" by Sunderland boss Peter Reid - admitted: "I'm playing in a dream world and it's absolutely fabulous."

The 34-year-old Dubliner, Man of the Match in the 2-0 home win over Everton which hoisted the Wearsiders into sixth place in the Premiership, knows he is in the twilight of his career.

But he is determined to enjoy his last couple of seasons - and he stressed that he has no intention of moving away from Sunderland.

He said: "I can't see myself playing for anyone else. When my playing career stops, it stops here."

Quinn has surprised everyone, not least himself, with the form he has shown in the Premiership alongside England striker Kevin Phillips, now back in the goal seam with consecutive strikes to bring his tally to seven this season.

The 6ft 4in Quinn is still a handful for top-flight defences and until recently he was the most fouled player in the Premiership.

He enthused: "I am really happy with my game and the last six weeks in particular have gone very well - we've had a good little run."

But Quinn admits that he had doubts about returning to the top flight last season after Sunderland's record-breaking run to the First Division championship.

"Last year was a worry for me because I didn't know if the Premiership would be too much for me after I'd been out for a while and I was getting on a bit," he admitted.

"The confidence I got last year seems to have followed through and it is a great league to play in.

"The crowd was great against Everton and it was live on television - it is fabulous and everything you dream about.

"OK I am in my mid-30s but I still wake up halfway through the night thinking I've scored a goal and it just gets better and better."

Quinn looks back on his career at Sunderland and remembers he could hardly have had a worse start following his club record £1.2m transfer from Manchester City in August 1996.

"I was a month off my 30th birthday and I did my cruciate ligament after seven games. I certainly didn't think I would be playing on live television four years later," he said.

"The club has taken off since then. There has been an incredible turn around.

"Things have gone extremely well for us and the solid foundations are there.

"I have a role to play in helping the lads both on and off the pitch and I really think that behind the scenes people should get more credit.

"The fans here have done something for me which I thought was over when I did my cruciate.

"They have taken to me and getting out and playing football at the Stadium of Light is just incredible - your worries just go. I'm in a dream world and it's absolutely fabulous."

Quinn is delighted to see his strike partner, Phillips, back on song again after a difficult start to the campaign following his glorious 30-goal haul last season, which earned him the European Golden Slipper award.

He believes that the disappointment of not playing for England in Euro 2000 affected Phillips' club performances.

Quinn said: "I thought he looked a little bit down and he wasn't the sparky bubbly lad he was doing the interviews a year ago, when he was on the verge of the England team.

"He was genuinely shattered by what happened to him with England. He honestly thought being the Golden Boot winner, the Premiership's best player and listening to Kevin Keegan saying we didn't have enough home-grown talentt all pointed to him being given his chance.

"I think he really put it in during the summer training with England - he tried everything and it hurt him. It was a natural reaction that he wasn't quite firing on all cylinders in the first few games.

"But now he's got the bit between his teeth and it is going to happen for him.

"We all saw the way he played against Manchester United and Everton. He is flying about the place and he is looking like his old self.

"We all suffer from dips in form for various reasons."

Quinn is looking forward to continuing his partnership with Phillips for as long as possible. But he won't have to be told when it is time to hang up his boots.

He said: "I will know if I am not putting it in and if I am not producing and not doing the things I can do.

"I can get away with a little bit because I don't run about too much anyway. But if I lose any other strengths of my game then I will have to get on with the next stage of my life."

l Sunderland have had a £1.5m bid rejected by Brann Bergen for 23-year-old Norwegian international Thorstein Helstad, who is valued by his club at £2.25m.