Reliving the glory days under Charlton

Reliving the glory days under Charlton
Janice Crinnion and Karen Mellerick of Ballyvolane in Cagliari

Óle, óle óle, óle

Óle, óle óle óle, óle

We’re all part of Jackie’s Army

We’re all off to Italy

And we’ll really shake them up

When we win the World Cup

Cause Ireland are the greatest football team.

This was the chorus of the chart-topper, Put ‘em under pressure, which became the Irish fans’

anthem in July 1990. Jackie, of course, being the ‘Grumpy’ Geordie, team-mate and brother of Bobby Charlton, both heroes of England’s World Cup-winning team of 1966.
Big Jack came to power in 1986 after the resignation of Eoin Hand. The vacancy attracted a host of big name

personalities including Billy McNeill, Terry Neill, Gordon Lee, Noel Cantwell, Johnny Giles,

Pat Crerand, Liam Touhy, and Big Jack.

McNeill, then with Sheffield Utd, was refused permission by his club while the strongly fancied Giles, strangely, withdrew his application.

After protracted interviewing the field was narrowed down and, surprisingly, Giles, after encouragement from his supporters, re-entered the race.
At the very last minute it was announced that legendary Liverpool manager Bob Paisley had thrown his hat into the ring.
It was expected that the former Liverpool supremo was certain to be chosen as the new manager of the Republic of Ireland.

But as often happens, ‘there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’.

Using racing parlance, odds-on favourite Paisley raced well clear, chased by Giles and Touhy, with Big Jack struggling.

In the home straight a defiant big Jack overtook Touhy and Giles and got up to force a photo finish with the interfered with and badly hampered Paisley.

Jack was declared the winner and an immediate enquiry, which brought no alteration, was announced.

Jack treaded cautiously at first before imposing his uncultured philosophy on the team.

Ireland qualified for Euro 88 and sent the nation into a frenzy by defeating England in the first match, followed by a good draw against Russia, memorable for Ronnie Whelan’s scissors kick goal.

Ireland then unluckily just missed out on semi-final qualification when

defeated 1-0 by eventual champions Holland. Jack’s philosophy, tight marking, long clearances making opposing defences turn, though anathema to stylists and coaches, gained

the approval of the football supporters who of course following a winning team made home

internationals a sell-out and travel agents had a bonanza catering for Jack’s army.

Niall Quinn being congratulated by Ray Houghton and Ronnie Whelan after netting Ireland's equaliser against England
Niall Quinn being congratulated by Ray Houghton and Ronnie Whelan after netting Ireland's equaliser against England

The FAI who were almost broke when Jack took over began raking in the cash. There was a bit of unrest in the camp as the manager had a dislike for some of the established marquee players including Dave O’Leary, Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton (captain), and Ronnie Whelan.

Brady played deep taking the short ball from the defenders which annoyed Jack who accelerated the

star midfielder’s retirement by embarrassingly substituting him before half-time in a friendly against Germany.

O’Leary had earlier refused to travel to a tournament in Iceland so he too was sent into exile for two years.

Whelan was injured at the end of the previous season and even though fit for the finals it gave Jack the excuse to replace him with Andy Townsend.

Stapleton (team captain) was, according to the manager, a critic of everybody and he sat him on the bench for all of Italia 90.

Jack’s personality towered over the team. “If you didn’t play the way he wanted you were gone,” remarked Kevin Sheedy.

You did it his way or not at all. Mick McCarthy was Jack’s choice as captain in place of Stapleton. Mick’s philosophy built on the expediency of the hard tackle and the long early ball out of the danger area was the right man to carry out the manager’s instructions on the pitch.

Jack bowing to pressure from the media restored O’Leary to the World Cup panel and, though playing in all the friendlies, Dave became a rarely used squad player.

Ironically, despite the manager’s misgivings, the Arsenal player was later to become a national hero.

As Italia 90 drew near the players, dissatisfied with the £6,000 bonus each received from Euro 88, flexed their muscles and demanded a substantial portion of the takings.

Led by Stapleton, the players played ‘hardball’ in their battle against the FAI and Opel. Negotiations went on for weeks and were not finalised until two days before their departure to Italy when an agreement was reached guaranteeing the panel retrospective payment of £900 each for the friendlies played, plus a minimum of £400,000 or 25% of the FAI’s gross receipts from the World Cup. During the dispute the players boycotted an Opel function and threatened to repeat the action for further sponsors engagements. Charlton was embarrassed and described the players’ actions as the most uncomfortable in his managerial career.

Ireland were drawn in a qualifying group consisting of Spain, Hungary, Northern Ireland and Malta from which they emerged with an impressive record of won 5, drew 2, and losing 1.

By coincidence Ireland once more were confronted by two of the three teams they had faced in the Euro 88 finals, England and Holland. And just as in Germany, they would open their programme against the ‘auld enemy’, this time in Sardinia.

Whenever these nations meet it can never be classed as just a local derby but as another chapter in history. England, who were caught on the hop by an energised Irish side in Stuttgart, were better prepared to deal with anything that Jack’s team might throw at them in Cagliari.

In Stuttgart Bobby Robson’s plans had been thrown into turmoil by Ray Houghton’s early goal. This time it was the Irish who faced the uphill battle after Gary Lineker gave England the lead.

However, the gloom was lifted, honour saved and pride salvaged when Kevin Sheedy equalised.

When the ball hit the net the Irish nation rose to Sheedy and even lost the run of themselves; decorum went out the window and a million new soccer followers threw off inhibitions to celebrate with wild abandon.

After a night of celebrations, thousands (without match tickets) besieged travel agents hoping to fly out to join Jack’s army. As soccer mania swept the country, pubs and hotels installed large screen TVs with some publicans even installing them in the loo. Irish fans on the terraces in Palermo and in the homes and pubs of the nation were fairly confident that the team would get the three points from the “banana skin” against the under-rated Egyptians.

It turned out be a scoreless bore and far from satisfactory. Now a win

(tall order) was required against Holland who also needed all-three oints. Even so it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Irish supporters whose numbers grew by the thousands daily.

The newer recruits even chaired when the Egyptians conceded throw-ins. Not everyone was happy. Eamon Dunphy was furious, “I feel embarrassed and ashamed of that performance, and we should be”, he thundered before throwing his biro away in disgust.

Consequently, RTE’s switch boards were jammed ith complaints over Dunphy’s comments.

The controversial pundit had maintained that it was not simply good enough to go to the World Cup. He felt that we could reach the semi- final at least, and that it would take a great team to beat us.

Four days later Ireland faced Holland in their third and final game in a group which was dubbed ‘The Group of Draws’ as all the matches had ended in draws with similar scorelines. It was now win or bust, or so we thought.

Ruud Guillit gave the Dutch the lead, but Ireland, showing great character, equalised in the 71 st minute through Niall Quinn.

Shortly afterwards the panic was over when news filtered through that England were leading Egypt after which the Irish and Dutch, with nods and winks, downed tools as they fiddled their way to an agreed 1-1 draw to allow both to advance to the knock-out stage.

Three Corkmen – property developer Ken Murphy, Peter O’Donovan (Rochestown Road) and Kevin Barry (Carrigaline) – nearly came a ropper in their private plane (piloted by

Murphy) en route to Genoa for the must-win game against Romania.

A major emergency developed with the engine and they were preparing for a crash landing in the Mediterranean but, as the plane descended to 1,500 feet, a golf course was spotted in the distance.

Fortunately, better still, as the plane neared the course a runaway was spotted nearby and the experienced pilot managed to pull off a perfect landing.

A taxi was summoned and they made it to the stadium in Genoa in time for the opening chorus of Óle, Óle, Óle. Despite frenetic goal mouth action the game remained scoreless for the entire 120 minutes (extra-time inc). It was down to a penalty shoot-out and the biggest lottery the nation ever faced.

The omens weren’t good Packie Bonner in an article for ‘Ireland’s Eye’, revealed.

“We had no real penalty practice. The only one who was practising saving penalties was Niall Quinn, he used put the goalie gloves on to go between the posts, and that proved fortuitous because David O’Leary was his room-mate and was the only one practising with Quinny.

Believe it or not David had never taken a penalty competitively and neither had Ray Houghton.”

In the nervy shoot-out, Bonner guessed correctly four times but the pace of the shots proved too much for him.

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