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! 

Read more: 2014 World Cup guide for Americans


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.


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. 

Read more: 2014 World Cup guide for Americans


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)