THE invitation to spend an hour or so in the presence of Jack Charlton purely to reminisce about the summer of 1990 was just too good to turn down.

Now, those of you with access to my private life will know that 1990 was a very special year.

After all, that was the year Ireland got to the World Cup finals for the first time ever. And I got married for the first time ever.

Naturally the two are inter-connected. I managed to skip the obligatory pre-marriage course because I was away at the World Cup.

When I did sit down for a little chat with the local parish priest all he wanted to talk about Schillaci and Donadoni and the goal that broke all our hearts in Rome's Olympic Stadium.

Thanks to the Italian World Cup, or more precisely to a little bout of food poisoning picked up in the Turkish city of Izmir en route to Italy, I was also a mere shadow of my normal self when I did get carried that August.

In fact, looking back at the wedding album, as I did the other day for some strange reason, I was more Bernard Dunne than George Foreman in weight terms on that fateful day. And, trust me, I am normally more of a George Foreman grill man if you know what I mean.

As you can see 1990 has always been a special time for me. My long-suffering wife even reckons that a smile comes across my face every time anyone mentions Jack Charlton, the Green Army and that summer of love.

For the past few months I have been smiling regularly thanks to the Carlsberg "Gaffer Falls" advert featuring Jack, Mick McCarthy and Johnny Giles that has been running across our television networks.

All of the above explains just why the invitation to talk football and relive past glories with Jack was just too good to decline last Thursday.

Initially we were meant to talk for about 10 minutes, but I was the last in the long queue for Jack's attention that day and I was one of the few present who was actually around when Jack met the Pope and the Italians, the Romanians, the Dutch, the Egyptians and the English that June over 18 years ago.

In fact the two young lads in before me, from UCD student's paper, weren't old enough to remember 1990.

One of them told Jack he was actually conceived during Euro '88, when Ray Houghton also scored, while the other young man was only two when Kevin Sheedy put the ball in the England net in Cagliari.

As always Jack was in great form, even though he's off the drink at the moment and declined the offer of a pint of Guinness in McDaid's due to the sudden occurrence of gout in his big toe, a development that has him somewhat worried.

Some things haven't changed, however. He's still forgetful, still good value for a lost name, struggled to recall Kevin Moran's real name and still has some forthright views on the current hot topics of Irish football.

Jack, for example, would tell Stephen Ireland to eff off and wouldn't criticize Giovanni Trapattoni for leaving Andy Reid out of his team.

He reckons the FAI's biggest mistake ever was getting rid of Mick McCarthy, which he still blames totally on the current Sunderland manager - you know who - and doesn't miss management 13 years after he gave up on us and we have up on him after Anfield and a Euro playoff defeat to Holland.

Big Jack had much to say on many topics, including the government's current treatment of his fellow old age pensioners, but Jack's analysis of the squad currently engaged in World Cup battle for Ireland was the most interesting debate of the night. And the most worrying.

To put it in a nutshell, Jack believes we expect too much of the national team at a time when the depth of talent available to Trapattoni is nowhere near as good as it was in his day.

"What do you expect of managers when you are a country the size of Ireland with so few players?" stated Jack in reply when asked to evaluate the current state of play and Irish player.

"It is a very, very difficult job and more so when you consider that football isn't even the national sport. There are all sorts of other sports taking the players, but look what people expect.

"It is a shame because I believe we could do with three or four more quality players. Having looked at the team recently, there are some pretty average players in there. When I was manager I had top quality players who played in the top sides.

"Irish players went to England in their dozens then, now they don't. My lads learnt their business and moved up to the top clubs and you could have an Irish team dominated by championship players.

"That's a big difference, but the expectations on the manager are the same."

As the man who set those expectations in stone from 1988 to 1994, it is wise to listen to what Jack Charlton has to say.

His body may be aging but his mind is as sharp as the picture on his latest DVD release.

When Jack Charlton says it is time to worry then trust me, it is time to worry. A full 18 years on and he is still telling the truth -- even if he does think I haven't aged! Much - by the way.

Player Power Troubles

THE growing threat of player power has got to be a worrying development in Irish sport, particularly within the GAA world.

It is a trend in soccer as well but mostly individual, with the likes of Stephen Ireland already ruling himself out of the international scene and Bolton's Joey O'Brien now threatening to follow suit.

Soccer teams will always get by without the head throwers. Giovanni Trapattoni has coped just fine without young Ireland and he has yet to pick O'Brien at all so he's unlikely to miss him.

Recent developments within the GAA are more worrying, simply because the players now seem to think they have a divine right to call the tunes collectively.

As things stand the Donegal footballers are up in arms over the appointment of a new manager and have accused their county board of gross ineptitude.

Down south several Cork hurlers have already said they will retire immediately because they are unhappy that Gerard McCarthy has been left in charge for another two years.

The ousted Wexford hurling boss John Meyler is adamant that the players drove him out of his job, and former manager Justin McCarthy would have something similar to say across the county border in Waterford.

It is fair to say that players were treated shabbily in the past within the GAA, but right now the boot appears to be on the other foot.

That has to be a worry for the Croke Park hierarchy. How the various county boards respond to the bare faced cheek of some of their players will offer some entertaining fare over the winter months.

The closed season is normally a quiet time in the life of the GAA, but already I have a feeling that this year will be quite different. It should be fascinating.


PLAYING for Celtic can never be easy at the best of times; playing for Celtic against Manchester United must be particularly daunting. Young Cavan striker Cillian Sheridan got his chance as a substitute at Old Trafford last week, then scored on his full debut against Hibs on Saturday. Now he wants to start against United at Parkhead next week. Much more of this progress and Sheridan will be knocking on the Ireland door. Good luck to him.


A GROUP of Sunderland fans came close to attacking Newcastle's Irish goalkeeper Shay Given after their derby day win at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Just 24 hours later the former Tyrone footballer Noel McGinn was involved in a stupid attack on a player from a rival club at the end of the county final. Both acts of stupidity deserve to be punished -- preferably with lifelong bans.