P is for PLAYOFFS, and Ireland have failed in a few of them when it comes to the World Cup. It’s not all bad though as they went all the way to Tehran in 2001 and managed to see off Iran to decide the qualifying place for the 2002 finals in the Far-East in the most intimidating atmosphere any of us had ever seen.
Q is for Niall QUINN, the big striker turned television pundit who scored the equalizer against Holland in the 1990 group game that sent both sides into the next round and ensured the ball was barely touched in anger for the remaining minutes of the game.
R is for ROY Keane who is a bit like Marmite as they say, you either love him or hate him. Either way no one can deny his World Cup brilliance in the 2001 qualifier against Holland or his class at USA ’94 even if he spoiled it all with his Saipan antics.
S is for SAIPAN and the row that is still dividing Irish families to this day. Mick McCarthy, no matter what you read or hear elsewhere, did send Roy Keane home that day and he was dead right. No one player is ever more important than the team. Ever.
T is for TOTO Schillaci, the Sicilian hitman who started the 1990 World Cup on the bench and ended it as a national hero after a bagful of goals including the one that broke Irish hearts in Rome’s Olympic Stadium in the quarterfinal.
U is for U2, whose drummer Larry Mullen accompanied Ireland on their 1994 World Cup adventure and brought many of the players for a drink in Manhattan on the night they beat Italy. They ended their evening out eating chicken nuggets from McDonalds on the bonnet of Larry’s limo – as you do.
V is for "The VAN," the Roddy Doyle blockbuster based around the incredible World Cup adventures back at home as Ireland’s heroes in green battled heroically on the field in Italy in 1990. It’s a great book and a great movie with the scene as the pub watches the penalty shoot-out against Romania deserving of special mention.
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W is for Gary WADDOCK, who was named in Ireland’s squad for the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy, got all the way to Malta for the training camp and was then told on arrival at the island’s international airport that he was surplus to requirements. He took the news from Jack like a man and has never since slagged off the Irish boss.
X is for XAVI Alonso, the great Spanish and Real Madrid midfielder who famously bought an Ireland shirt when he was sent to learn English in the Meath town of Kells as a teenager.
Y is for “Come On YOU Boys in Green,” the song that has filled the air in stadiums, bar-rooms and front rooms ever since Jack Charlton dragged us to our first World Cup finals in 1990. Many’s the comeback it has inspired, not least against Germany in Ibaraki in 2002.
Z is for Walter ZENGA, the great Italian goalkeeper who kept a record five clean sheets at the 1990 finals including one against Ireland on that quarterfinal night in Rome that will never be forgotten.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)