The World Cup is upon us once again and the Boys in Green will have to watch from afar, but first up Cathal Dervan looks at the A to Z of Ireland’s adventures on football’s greatest stage down through the years.
A is for John ALDRIDGE, the striker who scored the goals that got us to the 1990 World Cup finals on that famous night in Malta and the substitute who caused a stir on the sideline in Orlando as he tried to get onto the pitch during the game against Mexico. The ensuing row between Jack Charlton and the linesman and fourth official was something special and the language was choice.
B is for Packie BONNER, the Celtic goalkeeper who will be forever remembered for the penalty save from Daniel Timofte that sent Ireland into the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup and ensured physio Mick Byrne fulfilled his lifetime ambition and received an audience with the Pope.
C is for Jack CHARLTON, himself a World Cup winner with England away back in 1966. Jack got Ireland to not one but two World Cups and helped to inspire the Celtic Tiger by proving to the Irish people that we can actually compete on the international stage.
D is for DAVID O’Leary, the Arsenal defender whose exile from Jack Charlton’s squad for so many years was all forgotten about on that day in Genoa when he scored the decisive penalty in a shoot-out with Romania. Big Dave went on to manage Leeds and Aston Villa and can dine out on that penalty for the rest of his life.
E is for EGYPT, which employed a blanket defense in the group stages on a scoreless night to forget in Palermo in the 1990 finals. At least Eamon Dunphy showed his true colors back on RTE when he said he was ashamed to be Irish after the performance – a comment which didn’t go down too well with Jack’s Army or the man himself!
F is for FRANCE and that cheating Frog Thierry Henry whose handball in Paris denied Giovanni Trapattoni and his team a real shot at the 2010 World Cup finals. Henry is now earning the Yankee dollar in New York but will always be a cheat in these eyes.
G is for GARY Breen, the center-back who inspired one of the greatest terrace chants of all time from the Irish fans when they sang of their dreams of a team of Gary Breens as they made their way across Japan and South Korea in 2002. He’s also scored as many goals – one – as a certain Lionel Messi at World Cup finals by the way!
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H is for the one and only Ray HOUGHTON, who made my day with a goal against England at the 1988 Euros then made my life with that goal from nowhere against Italy at Giants Stadium in 1994. It stunned the Italians and it stunned Razor, who didn’t even think he would start the match. He did and the rest is history.
I is for the INTERNATIONAL Stadium in Yokohama where Damien Duff scored the best goal of his Ireland career and celebrated with a beautiful little bow to the Japanese fans that lit up the night in Ireland’s 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia that sent them to South Korea for phase two and a game with Spain.
J is for JASON McAteer, who scored the goal of his life in the 2001 qualifier against Holland at Lansdowne Road, the goal that sent Ireland into the playoffs in Iran and the Dutch out of the competition. Incredibly Louis Van Gaal, the new Manchester United manager, ended up with four strikers on the pitch that night in an effort to snatch a draw. He failed.
K is for Robbie KEANE, who played a blinder at the 2002 World Cup finals and scored the goal that saved Ireland’s tournament against Germany in the final seconds of the action in Ibaraki. It also silenced those who claim he doesn’t score big goals against big teams.
L is for Gary LINEKER and his very public admission that he had problems of the bowel nature during the 1-1 draw with Ireland in the opening group game of the 1990 tournament. Maybe that’s why the Irish defenders stayed off him for much of the second half!
M is for Mick McCARTHY, who led Ireland at the 1990 World Cup, worked as a radio analyst in ’94, and brought Ireland to the 2002 finals in Japan and Korea which will be remembered more for the fact that he kicked his captain out before making it to the last 16 and a penalty shoot-out defeat to Spain.
N is for NORWAY and an absolute bore of a scoreless draw at Giants Stadium in New Jersey back in ’94 that nearly sent almost 80,000 people to sleep. At least the result was enough to get Ireland into the second phase of the competition.
O is for ORLANDO, where Steve Staunton nearly fried to death and FIFA made Ireland play not one but two World Cup games in the ridiculous heat back in 1994. It’s hardly surprising that we lost both matches at the Orange Bowl, one to Mexico and one to the Dutch, who seem to enjoy life as Ireland’s party poopers from time to time.