Italia 90 flashback: We still cherish the day a nation held its breath for O’Leary

Italia 90 flashback: We still cherish the day a nation held its breath for O’Leary
Tony Cascarino, right and Andy Townsend of Republic of Ireland run to celebrate with goalkeeper Packie Bonner after the penalty shoot out. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland 0 Romania 0 (Ireland win 5-4 on penalties)

WHERE were you when David O’Leary coolly dispatched his winning penalty to send Ireland through to the World Cup quarter-finals against the hosts Italy in Rome?

Did you happen to be one of the 20,000 or so fans, whose nails were gnawed to virtually nothing, in the suffocating heat of Genoa’s Luigi Farraris Stadium?

Or was it in a pub you were, packed to the rafters with equally nervous on-lookers and peering at the tv screen through hand-covered faces?

Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It’s 30 years since the memorable scenes of an historic last-eight qualifying appearance in the globe’s biggest soccer festival and I’m sure there’s an instant recall to some of the highlights.

Packie Bonner’s smart save in diving to his right to stop substitute Daniel Timofte’s fifth Romanian spot-kick has been replayed so often now that it only feels like yesterday.

One of my abiding memories was the sight of the crestfallen Timofte being carried into the dressing room after the shoot-out, unable to make it on his own steam. It was a sad sight.

Up to Bonner’s intervention, all previous eight kicks had been successful and now the eyes of a nation rested on the 32-years-old O’Leary, who duly stroked home a brilliant effort to the left and well out of the range of keeper Lung.

Nobody lost out on the irony of the Dubliner being the scoring hero because O’Leary was so long an outcast during manager Jack Charlton’s four-and-a-half-year reign after opting to go on holidays instead of a tournament in Iceland, Charlton’s first games at the helm.

O’Leary suffered his biggest disappointment as a professional footballer, when left out of the squad which reached the finals of the European Championships for the first time in West Germany in 1988.

The hero was just as calm and collected afterwards, when discussing the remarkable happenings with waiting reporters.

“I decided I wanted to take the last penalty after the others suggested they would go before me.

“I knew exactly where I was going to put it after my very good friend Kevin Sheedy told me to pick a spot and don’t change your mind,” he said.

Bonner himself identified Timofte’s chosen route before he even placed the ball on the penalty spot.

“I looked at him walking up and I just knew he was going to hit to my right. Luckily, I managed to get to it and save it.

“There was no pressure on me at all. All the pressure was on the lads.

“Everyone of them struck their penalties well (apart from Tony Cacarino stubbing the ground) and I’m so delighted for David, who is now a hero. It couldn’t have happened to a better professional,” he said.

Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The best player on the pitch was Romanian midfielder Gheorghe Hagi, who, despite the best efforts of Paul McGrath and Andy Townsend, ran the show until fading badly during extra-time.

Sheedy got on the end of a Cascarino header from a McGrath cross but couldn’t direct the ball beyond Lung.

And then a Niall Quinn header went close after Houghton picked him out. In the second half, Bonner did well against Raducioiu and Hagi before the nerve-tingling penalties.

Sheedy, Houghton, Townsend and Cascarino obliged and then Bonner and O’Leary became the heroes.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bonner; Morris, Moran, McCarthy (c), Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy; Quinn, Aldridge. Subs: Cascarino for Aldridge injured 22, D O’Leary for Staunton 93.

Referee: J Ramiz-Wright (Brazil).

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