In the first of a look back on historic moments in Irish football, Philip Quinn recalls the night when the Republic of Ireland qualified for their first ever World Cup tournament.
Flashback by Philip Quinn (Irish Daily Mail)
What is the one event in Irish football that sticks out for you?
Qualifying for the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy following a 2-0 win over Malta in Valetta. It was a privilege to be there, notebook and pencil in hand. In those pre-laptop days, copy was phoned back to the Evening Herald in Dublin after the game.
Why was it so significant?
It was the first time that the Republic of Ireland qualified for the World Cup finals and it made up for the harrowing injustice of the 1982 campaign, where skullduggery robbed Eoin Hand’s team of a place at the tournament in Spain.
Who were the major people involved and what impact did they have?
As manager, Jack Charlton’s word was gospel. His tactics, while criticised, were hugely effective and the team he sculpted from granite was hard to beat.
In the finals, Paul McGrath was immense as the midfield anchor, so much so that he was voted onto the Team of the Tournament. Mick McCarthy was a steely enforcer inspired by the armband on his bicep.
Is there a particular moment from that event that stands out?
The day that qualification was secured a plane, bulging with Irish fans, flew low over the pitch before kick-off. Because of the fog, many fans didn’t arrive until after the game, but they still partied long into the night when they touched down.
Was it an event that caught the attention of the Irish public?
Absolutely, as the country was immediately gripped by World Cup fever. We only became fully aware of the utter madness of it all when we returned from the finals in Italy and saw the legions of well-wishers – it was comparable to the reception for Pope John-Paul’s visit to Dublin in 1979.
What was the knock-on effect from it?
Ireland became a recognised force in world and European football, while the sport became the most popular on the island, reaching every corner and crevice. From Ballyferriter to Blacksod Bay, kids were wearing Irish replica jerseys. By the summer of 1993, we were the sixth highest country in the new FIFA world rankings.
Looking back on it, is there anything that still surprises you about it?
Such was the high quality of the Irish players operating at the top level of English and Scottish football at the time, the wonder of it all was that it took so long to happen. Ireland had been knocking on the door of major tournaments for 10 years and having qualified for Euro ’88, the self-belief in the ranks was immeasurable.
And did anything interesting happen in later years to those involved?
Seven months later, it all kicked off in Italy, from Sardinia to Sicily, to Genoa and Rome. For the management and players, it was the tournament of a lifetime, as they reached the quarter-finals. For the journalists, it was a huge challenge trying to convey what was happening on the Italian job. For the fans, it was about raiding the Credit Unions for loans and riding the wave of euphoria.
Curiously, many of the squad from Italia ’90 are still on the coal-face of the sport, either as managers or coaches (Packie Bonner, Chris Hughton, Mick McCarthy, John Sheridan and Kevin Sheedy); in the media (Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend, Ronnie Whelan, Alan McLoughlin, Bernie Slaven, Tony Cascarino, Niall Quinn and John Aldridge); or as agents (Kevin Moran). They were a great crew to work with.
*Image courtesy of Sportsfile