The John Horgan column: Big Jack landed in Ireland and made us believe in dreams

The John Horgan column: Big Jack landed in Ireland and made us believe in dreams

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton looks thoughtful as he stands with his players prior to extra-time in the FIFA World Cup match between the Republic of Ireland and Romania. Picture: Getty Images

IT WAS the time of our lives, a time that we dreamed of things that never were and said why not.

1990 was a year in our sporting lives that will stand the test of time, Cork’s glorious double winning achievement and Italia 90.

The latter flashed before our eyes last weekend with the passing of Jack Charlton.

The former Leeds United and England great, the no nonsense defender who was an impenetrable rock alongside the equally revered Bobby Moore when the latter lifted the then Jules Rimet trophy in 1966.

Little did we know in our young lives on that July Saturday at Wembley that one of that great English team would some 26 years later become an Irish icon. Jack Charlton might have divided opinions about the type of football he encouraged when he became the Irish boss but, at the same time, he united our country like never before and maybe never again.

A Geordie from the North of England, he became as much Irish as the Irish themselves during those unforgettable years when the Republic qualified for three major tournaments.

Reflecting on that now, it was an incredible achievement. He did have at his disposal some players that were high profile in the English League but moulding them together and getting them to play the way he wanted took fair doing.

The tactics that he employed were alien to some of them but they embraced his philosophy and beliefs and the results were staggering.

Italia 90 was best summed up by the greatest sportswriter of them all, the one and only Con Houlihan and his now immortal words, ‘I missed Italia 90 because I was in Italy at the World Cup’ still resonate to this day, now 30 years later.

Because of what he was, a World Cup winner with England, Charlton was loved in that country but he was a candidate for canonisation here.

The English were not slow to tell us that some of our players were not Irish at all and maybe their heritage was not.

But when they put on that green jersey they were prepared to die for it, some of them maybe just above average players who rose to trojan heights.

Mark Lawrenson, one of the stars of the Charlton years summed it all up perfectly on Monday’s Irish Times what the big man was to them.

“We had absolute respect for him. The players hung on his every word, they really did. Total respect.

“He was a decent down to earth man, extremely approachable and a genial man but, above all, he was a good man.’’

Charlton obviously had great faith in himself and the tactics that he employed. It was a case of up and at them and, by god, was it successful.

In those hugely successful days in Germany in ’88, Italy in ’90 and the USA in ’94 the country just ground to a standstill.

Italia 90 was just a case of those Charlton managed players holding the country in the palm of their hand.

Of course, one day stands out above them all, that Monday afternoon in Genoa and the never to be forgotten penalty shootout.

Everyone remembers vividly where they were that day when the last eight of the World Cup was reached.

David O’Leary’s winning penalty against Romania was a moment in time that transcended everything.

I watched the game in the Commons Bar and it was sheer bedlam, the night that followed too, the unthinkable, the unbelievable had happened. Ireland were now included in the list of the best eight teams in the world.

Maybe what happened on that Monday afternoon had an input into the equally brilliant achievement of the Cork hurlers and footballers not that long afterwards.

Every sporting code took on a new dimension that day, players and teams believed that anything was possible after this.

Big Jack instilled into players across the sporting landscape a belief in themselves that anything was achievable.

He made them believe, he made us believe too. Six of the great England team of ’66 are gone now, Gordon Banks, Ray Wilson, Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Alan Ball and now big Jack himself.

From the great Leeds team that he played in, many have been called to their reward too, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Bobby Collins.

That’s the way life is, it’s not forever but memories are.

Jack Charlton gave us a thousand of them. We’ll probably never see anything like those days again, we may never see a county winning the double again.

Yes, that year of 1990 was extra special and here on Leeside we had the best of it.

Big Jack made a huge contribution to it and his passing now severs a link with a past that enriched all our lives.

That’s what sport is all about.

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