Island Games

This is an extract from World In Motion: The Inside Story of Italia '90 by Simon Hart and published by deCoubertin.

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Island games Part 2 – Republic of Ireland

The rain came down in Cagliari. Occasionally, so too did the ball. It was England v Republic of Ireland, the 1990 World Cup match with the least football played. Just 49 minutes, according to FIFA’s official timers.

And yet whenever he goes back to Ireland, the night of 11 June 1990 is a night that Kevin Sheedy never stops hearing about. It was, after all, the night he scored a nation’s first World Cup finals goal.

‘I was at the races in Punchestown, and there was a couple there who came up to me,’ he says, citing a trip made in 2015. ‘They lived in the same town but never went to the same places. On the night of England-Ireland, they were at the same venue watching the game, and when I scored, they hugged and kissed each other. After that, they started going out and when I met them, they were celebrating their wedding anniversary. You don’t really realise the impact off the pitch. I’ve had cats and dogs named after me, but nobody actually getting married thanks to me, so that was good.’

The goal in question had a value greater than any that his famed left foot delivered for his acclaimed Everton side of the mid-1980s. ‘I had great moments with Everton, but just to score in a World Cup and be Ireland’s first-ever goalscorer is a piece of history no one will ever take away from me,’ adds Sheedy. It cancelled out Gary Lineker’s scrambled early effort and earned the Republic of Ireland their first World Cup point.

My meeting with Sheedy takes place in a study room at Everton’s Finch Farm training ground, shortly before his departure from his role as the club’s Under-18s coach for a new challenge in Saudi Arabia. Sitting in his blue training kit, he proceeds to describe in detail his 73rd-minute strike.

‘It was a long kick from Packie Bonner, which he did a lot up to [Tony] Cascarino, and I was always good at getting second balls and reading where the ball’s going to drop. I managed to pick up the second ball, and I tried to make a pass through, and it got intercepted by Steve McMahon who’d just come on as a sub. He wasn’t up to speed with the game and tried to play a square ball to Gary Stevens, and I intercepted it with a good first touch and just hit it.

‘As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in because of all the years of doing finishing practice and scoring goals. It was a clean strike, and it was always arrowing for Peter Shilton’s bottom-left hand corner. It was a great moment.’

It was a flash of class in a mongrel match described as ‘a shameful insult to the game of football’ by the great Scottish sports writer Hugh McIlvanney. Yet for the noisy contingent in green, banging their bodhráns – the traditional goatskincovered drums that remain the Irish fans’ instrument of choice – waving their flags and out-singing the English, it was the first in a series of cherished moments.

Thanks to Sheedy’s surgical precision, the Irish World Cup story was up and running; a story, it has to be said, of some contradictions. This was a team that did not, technically, win a single game in Italy, yet received a heroes’ welcome on a scale never seen before or since. A team managed by an Englishman, Jack Charlton, and manned by a good number of players born outside of Ireland that gave the country its greatest sporting party. A team that played a defiantly uncomplicated game – primitive, their critics said – yet breathed confidence into a changing nation.

When Ireland played Italy in the quarter-final in Rome, an estimated ninety per cent of the 3.5m population were watching. There had been only 5,100 people in attendance at Lansdowne Road for a summer friendly against Mexico six years earlier. At the time of Charlton’s appointment, in February 1986, Gay Byrne, presenter of the country’s most popular chat show, state broadcaster RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, remarked, ‘I have just been handed a piece of paper here which says that Jack Charlton has been appointed manager of Ireland . . . whatever that means.’ If indifference reigned then, by 1990, the so-called Boys in Green were making a record with U2’s Larry Mullen, ‘Put ’em under pressure’, echoing Charlton’s tactical mantra.

The U2 connection was fitting. Culturally, an anything-is-possible era had dawned – from Bono and Co gracing the cover of Time magazine in 1987 (and subsequently grabbing a Grammy for The Joshua Tree) to the 1990 Oscar success of My Left Foot, the film about the Irish writer and painter Christy Brown, which earned five nominations and awards for Daniel Day-Lewis as best actor and the Dublin-born Brenda Fricker as best supporting actress.

Looking back, Kevin Moran, another Dubliner, remembers ‘an upsurge of a great Irish feeling’. The established narrative has subsequently entwined soccer success with the tale of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s economic growth which began gradually after the 1973 accession to the European Community, then accelerated in the late 1980s and through the boom years of the 1990s. ‘It hasn’t got to do with the Irish soccer team or anything like that,’ argues Moran, ‘but it was very much a part of the feel-good factor, without a shadow of a doubt, and there was a great feel-good factor all round, with how the country was going economically. The growth rate was just phenomenal. If you look at GDPs at the time, it was eight or nine per cent per year or more even, and at the same time there was this upsurge in the Irish soccer fortunes as well which everybody loved.’

Moran, a Gaelic footballer who became a Manchester United footballer and later a successful player agent, observess that Italia ’90 was special as Ireland’s first big sporting celebration on the global stage.

‘Gaelic football is our national game, but it’s not international, it’s parochial. You come to an All-Ireland final, and you’ll never see an atmosphere like it, but it’s just those two counties enjoying it. From an international point of view, we never got on to the big stage until Euro ’88. When it came, I’ve always maintained it wasn’t just soccer people, it takes over the whole country as such.’

Tony Cascarino, the striker who had made his debut in 1985 and remained in the team until 1999, suggests, ‘We were like a rock band which suddenly became big. Ireland isn’t like England. There aren’t many other stars in other industries. Because we came across from England and played our football in England, when we came to Ireland, we were treated like gods. Everywhere we went was free, every drink we had was free. I loved the excitement of being around the team, because we went from also-rans to household names. People would stop us on the streets, they’d want to chat with us, want to meet Jack. For a six-year period from ’88 up until America ’94, it was utter madness.’


For Ireland, the man behind the madness was Jack Charlton, a.k.a. Big Jack, big brother of Sir Bobby and one of England’s 1966 World Cup heroes. He did not even receive a reply from the Football Association when he applied for the job of England manager a decade earlier. Mind you, he was not the Football Association of Ireland’s first choice, either. When seeking a replacement for Eoin Hand, the FAI had turned initially to Billy McNeill, then Manchester City manager, but failed to negotiate a deal with City chairman Peter Swales for his part-time services. Then, after Charlton’s inclusion on a short list of four – alongside Bob Paisley, Johnny Giles and Liam Tuohy – he received only three votes from the FAI’s 18-man executive in the initial secret ballot to decide on their choice of manager.

In a process detailed by Paul Rowan in his fine book on the Charlton era, The Team That Jack Built, Paisley, Liverpool’s most successful manager and a last-minute addition to the list, received nine votes in that first round – one short of the required total. Yet, the manner in which FAI president Des Casey, who had close ties with Liverpool, had unexpectedly presented Paisley as an eleventhhour option prompted a backlash from committee members. Charlton, after four ballots, was the beneficiary. He had never seen Ireland play a live game of football.

By then, Irish soccer had a long history of muddling through. Until Johnny Giles’s reign as player-manager – which began in the same 1973/74 season that he won the league title with Leeds United – a selection panel would name the squad. According to Mick Meagan, who, from 1969-71, served as the first Ireland team manager, the directors of Irish club sides on the panel would push for their own players’ inclusion ‘to put them in the shop window for a transfer to England’.

Spool forward to the mid-1980s and Eoin Hand, Charlton’s predecessor, took his wife along to Moscow to cook for the squad before a match against the Soviet Union, owing to concerns about the food in their hotel. Another story from the Hand era concerns a race between Mick McCarthy and journalist John O’Shea: when the latter said he could outrun the defender, Hand accepted the bet and urged his reluctant player to take part, telling him, ‘Well, I’ve bet him fifty quid, and if you don’t race him, I’ll lose it.’ Tony Cascarino, an amused spectator that day, chuckles: ‘Mick won by an ant’s cock. It was unreal. Imagine a journalist having a race with an England player.’

In fairness to Hand, his team had lost out on a place at the 1982 World Cup in controversial fashion. In a qualifying group with Belgium, France and the Netherlands, as well as Cyprus, they finished in third place – ahead of the Dutch, but behind France on goal difference and a point short of Belgium. In their final home qualifier, they earned a pulsating 3-2 victory over the France side who would reach the Spain ’82 semi-finals. It was their last away qualifier, a month earlier, which did the damage, though – they lost to an 88th-minute Jan Ceulemans goal, having earlier seen a Frank Stapleton strike unjustly ruled out. Whatever the size of that injustice, by the last days of Hand’s reign, Ireland were sliding. Kevin Sheedy remembers, ‘He had top players like Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Mark Lawrenson, and he couldn’t really handle them; they just ruled the roost. When Jack came in, it was a real breath of fresh air. It was Jack’s way or the highway.’

Charlton’s approach was, put simply, route-one. Albeit, Sheedy insists, with a caveat. ‘In those days, Watford and Wimbledon were playing long balls but didn’t have the quality. If you’ve got the likes of Denis Irwin, Steve Staunton, Chris Hughton playing longer balls, they weren’t just fifty-fifty balls; they were balls the striker had a chance of winning, and we played in the opposition half, which was unique in international football in those days.

‘We got the ball in their half, and we closed. We had Andy Townsend, Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, myself, Cascarino, [John] Aldridge who all bought into the style of football and were winning the ball in the opposition half. With the quality we had, we were causing them problems. Everybody said it was long ball, but it was long ball with quality, which a lot of people underestimate.’

And it worked. Ireland qualified for the 1988 European Championship – their first major tournament finals – as winners of a group including Belgium, Scotland, and Bulgaria. Then, in their opening match of the finals in Stuttgart, they beat England 1-0 through a Ray Houghton header. After a 1-1 draw against the USSR, they missed out on the semi-finals only because of Dutchman Wim Kieft’s fortuitously headed goal eight minutes from the end of their third group fixture.

‘That was a defining moment for the next ten years,’ remembers goalkeeper Packie Bonner. ‘We beat England, which, for Ireland in particular, was a big country to beat. It was our first competitive game in any major competition; it got momentum going; it got the crowd, the media, everybody on our side. You couldn’t do anything wrong after that.’

Tony Cascarino says, ‘We were a really hard side to beat in ’88. Jack had a really good squad, and look at our team – all playing for top clubs. We got eliminated by Wim Kieft’s freak goal, but we matched that fantastic Dutch team all the way. Jack always said he missed one thing – he wanted a blistering-quick striker, and he felt we could have gone even further if we’d had that.

‘It’s really hard describing Jack without laughing, because he was a real maverick. I remember him doing a team talk, and he says to Liam Brady “Ian”. Ian Brady’s the mass murderer, and we’re all pissing ourselves laughing.’

If names escaped him, an intuitive understanding of his sport did not. ‘He understood world football in how African teams might play, Scandinavians, Eastern Bloc,’ Cascarino continues. ‘He’d always be very thorough in how he saw them play and was determined we didn’t change. I liked it because my instruction was simple. It was basically, “You pull on the full-backs when we’ve got it at an angle, and if the centre-half comes out and tries to pick you up, fight him because there’s a space now that my midfield runner can run into in the eighteen-yard box and get on the end of crosses.”

‘When I first played for him, I once said, “Jack, on corners, who am I picking up?” and he looked at me and said, “You pick up a big one. In my team, big ones pick up big ones, and little ones pick up little ones.” I started laughing, but we never conceded a goal from a corner.

‘Jack was very ABC – simplify everything. You knew in uncertain terms your job and if you didn’t do it, you got pulled off. John Sheridan made his debut in Spain, and he said to me, “What do I do? Jack hasn’t spoken to me.” I said, “John, just chip it into the gullies and don’t do a one-two with the centre-forward – if you do a one-two, he’ll bring you off.” He said, “Well that’s my game, I’m a short, neat, and tidy footballer.” I said, “John, don’t do it.” All John did all night was chip it in the gullies to no one. Wasted balls. Jack never said a word to him. He was delighted with him.’

Remembering another game against Spain, the 1-0 home victory in 1990 World Cup qualifying, Cascarino adds, ‘Jack said, “Don’t play through midfield” because Míchel was such a good footballer. He said, “He’ll run the show so bypass him” so all we did was keep bypassing their midfield — Míchel couldn’t get the ball, and he kept shouting, “Rugby!” We just threw the kitchen sink at them, and they hated it. Jack refused for us to play any other way. He said, “You won’t beat them, you have to play ugly.”’

Cascarino’s 88 appearances for Ireland were, for a period, a national record. Speaking to me one lunchtime in a pub by London’s Waterloo station, fresh from one of his regular radio appearances on talkSPORT, he too remembers enthusiastically the experience off the pitch under Charlton.

A stalwart of Don Revie’s storied Leeds United side – and later manager at Middlesbrough, Sheff Wednesday, and Newcastle United – Charlton instilled a strong togetherness, just as he had seen Revie do at Elland Road.

Previously, Ireland players would arrive at the team hotel for internationals and then see the Irish-born members of the group disperse to visit their families, in cars laid on by the FAI. No longer.

Cascarino grins as he recounts the routine: ‘We’d be absolutely lambasted today. We’d arrive in Dublin in the [Sunday] afternoon as a team, we’d go for a drink in Malahide, and that’d go into the early hours of the morning. We’d train in the morning, but training was always put back till Monday afternoon because the lads were in such a bad state.

‘We’d get up, have our bowl of soup, have the worst training session in the world, but Jack didn’t really care; we just got a sweat on us. Then he’d say, “Right, pictures today,” and we’d go to the pictures in Dublin. Half the players would disappear to the billiard hall or went to the pub to have a drink. This was Monday night, two days before the international. We’d then get up Tuesday, have a really light training session and play the game. That was our build-up. Kevin Sheedy would have turned up on a Zimmer frame for it.

‘I used to laugh as Kevin would turn up and go, “I’ve done my hamstring”. “Why haven’t you pulled out?” I’d ask. He’d reply, “I’m not missing the trip.” I know the England players were very envious of us, because they were imprisoned. You’d talk to them at club level, and they’d say, “You lot do what you like”. ‘England were always perceived as better than us, but they couldn’t beat us. I played at Chelsea; Dennis Wise was there, and Dennis had got a few caps, and he’d say to me, “One England cap is worth fifty Irish caps” as if playing for England is far bigger and better, and I’d say, “Yeah, but you can’t beat us, Den.” I also remember David Platt running out with his England kit on at Villa and having it on in training, the actual top. Me and big Paul McGrath were like, “Really?” England were put on a pedestal.

‘Of course, when we crossed the white line, we were very serious too, but there was an enormous amount of fun. I remember Jack saying to me, when having dinner the night before a game, “If you want a pint before dinner, have one – don’t have a fizzy drink. What are you drinking that Coke crap for?” Very old school and very off the wall.

‘In Italy, we played Trivial Pursuit, which was hilarious. Jack would have “Jack’s team”, which consisted of the staff, against the team [players]. The chaplain would be the judge and Jack would be going mental with him, effing and blinding and calling him a cheat because he’d refuse answers Jack didn’t quite get spot-on. We’d all be cracking up. Jack was so determined to win and he was really the only one who knew answers to stuff. Some of his staff weren’t the smartest. He’d be so determined to win, his face would go red with thunder, and he’d call the chaplain a “daft cunt”’

Kevin Sheedy recalls this hatred of losing erupting while playing the card game Hearts with Charlton on the bus to Ireland’s opening European Championship finals game against England in 1988. Sheedy had put down a card which jeopardised his manager’s chances of winning. ‘He was renowned for his tightness, and I hit him with the Queen of Spades, and he said, “If you don’t pick that up, you won’t be sub,” and he was deadly serious. When I got to the ground, I didn’t know till the team sheet was up that I was sub.’

Beneath the gruff demeanour, though, Cascarino saw some sensitivity in Charlton and remembers his difficulty in telling midfielder Gary Waddock he had missed the cut for the World Cup. ‘Over the years, I saw there were times you could tell he’d get upset, and his best way of dealing with it was to be as hard as nails. That’s how Jack worked. We were in Malta before Italia ’90 and he literally told Gary Waddock by the carousel, waiting for our bags, that he was going to send him back. He felt terrible about it.

‘I also remember walking through the foyer in our hotel in Sicily, and he came across and went to me, “You’re out, you’re not playing Sunday against the Dutch.” I went, “Why?” He said, “You were shit against the Egyptians, you’re out.” That was it – and I’d been our top scorer in qualifying. But Jack was incredibly sensitive, and no one saw that unless you were around him on a regular basis. We were playing cards in a room once, and a guy had a big sweep-over on the telly — we were laughing, and he just lost it. He went, “You’re fucking taking the piss, you lot. Bobby lost his hair at twenty, and fucking idiots like you lot were taking the piss out of him.” He went into an absolute meltdown. I always remember that.’


With his Italian surname and chirpy London-ness, Tony Cascarino was considered the ne plus ultra of a defining feature of the Charlton years: a recruitment system which exploited to the maximum the one-grandparent rule. In the case of the Kent-born Cascarino, he had actually travelled to Madrid to watch England play Spain at the 1982 World Cup. The next World Cup match he attended, he was playing against them. ‘If you’d said to me, “Eight years later, you’ll be playing for Ireland against Italy in the quarter-finals of a World Cup,” I just couldn’t have imagined it.’

Cascarino rippled the waters in 2000 when, in his autobiography, Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino, he declared himself ‘a fake Irishman’. He explained how he had genuinely believed his Irish maternal grandfather, Michael O’Malley, qualified him to play for Ireland; only later, after the rejection of a passport application, did he learn that O’Malley was not a blood relative. Eventually, after 64 caps, he did receive a passport.

He insists he would qualify today ‘because of the adoption law. My mum was adopted. I would do. I had a very Irish upbringing because my granddad lived with us, and he was from Mayo.’

Charlton was not the first Ireland manager to look across the Irish Sea for talent. There is an oft-told tale of Londoner Terry Mancini, on his international debut in 1973, turning to a team-mate at the end of the Irish anthem and sighing, ‘I hope ours isn’t as long.’ In the 1980s, meanwhile, the Brighton & Hove Albion and Liverpool striker Michael Robinson – a player who had once told Shoot! magazine that his professional ambition was to ‘play for England’ – arranged for his mother to get an Irish passport so he would be eligible.

However, Charlton went further than before. His starting XI against England in Cagliari included accents from London, Cornwall, Liverpool, Glasgow, mid-Wales and south Yorkshire. It became, in a sense, a triumph for the Irish diaspora. This is a theme explored by Dermot Bolger – the Irish novelist, poet, and playwright – in his one-act monologue, In High Germany, which offers a study of identity, longing, and dislocation against the backdrop of Euro ’88.

At one point, protagonist Eoin, an Irish emigrant in Germany, says, ‘I thought of my uncles and my aunts scattered across England and the USA. Of every generation shipped off like beef by the hoof. And at that moment it seemed to me that they had found a voice at last.’ And this through a game which the Gaelic Athletic Association – the governing body of the country’s traditional sports, notably Gaelic football and hurling – had actually banned its members from participating in, along with other ‘foreign’ sports like cricket, hockey and rugby. To them, soccer was the ‘garrison game’, the game played by the occupying British troops, and the ban remained in place from 1905 until 1971.

Two decades on from 1971, the cultural impact of the Ireland football team’s efforts cannot be overstated, according to Colm Tóibín, the esteemed Irish novelist, who was at Italia ’90 reporting for the Sunday Independent. ‘It was a lifting of the spirit in the place, which happened to coincide with a number of things,’ he begins. ‘What Dermot [Bolger] has written about was the whole idea of identity, of this foreign game, soccer — but also these guys with English accents playing for the Irish because they were the peoples from emigration. So, there’s a whole sense that this is Ireland going out beyond itself, and it culminated in that year with the election of Mary Robinson [as Ireland’s first female president], which really was very unexpected.

‘Very quickly [you had] that whole idea of the economy growing and the Celtic Tiger beginning, but that summer, there were a number of things being talked about – the way the fans had behaved, and the fact that a good number of the players were not actually local lads but the result of the complexity of Irish identity, which is that so many people had gone to England, and also that this was being managed by Jack Charlton who became a national hero, and that made it an easier relationship [with Britain].

‘All of those things gathered. Some of them were coming anyway but when something like that happens, with the extraordinary economic miracle of Ireland, which I suppose began around that time, you’re always looking for moments where you’re saying, “There’s a moment where I almost saw this could happen.”

‘I know someone laughed at me for saying this, but I must have been down at the front at one of those games, and I looked behind and had a sense of what it might have been like for people signing up in 1914 to join the First World War from Ireland and going out … all men, all young, all enthusiastic, all somehow crossing a line of a certain sort. I just got a glimpse of that and thought it worth recording. There were a lot of ordinary Irish people gathered together – all men, all young, all innocent, all full of hope about something.’

And most definitely not English. Tóibín remembers the thousands of Irish who arrived by ferry from Sicily, their own team’s island base, for that opening match against England in Sardinia on 11 June. ‘The narrative of the time was the English were thuggish and the Irish were gentle and sweet . . . I don’t know if you’ve come across this,’ he says wryly. ‘The only people who didn’t know about this were the Italian police. The Irish fans simply had no interest in being hooligans – they were absolutely determined that there wouldn’t be one article printed or one thing happened that would suggest they were hooligans as well. This was noticeable as even the smallest group would say, “Oh my God, we want to make clear we’re not the English.” I thought this was something journalists were making up, but actually it turned out to be true. There was a constant wave of Irish fans going up to Italian cops, smiling and waving at them, and the Italian cops got to realise the Irish were entirely different. That was part of the thing that happened on the two islands.’


The question of identity is on the agenda too in Mick McCarthy’s manager’s’ office at Ipswich Town’s training ground. ‘Quite clearly, I’m sat speaking to you in a broad Yorkshire accent, so I’m not from Ireland, am I? But my father was Irish, and I was very much aware of my – for want of a better word – Irishness from a very early age,’ says the captain of Ireland’s 1990 team, clad this lunchtime in his training-pitch attire of black club sweatshirt and Adidas bottoms.

‘I went to school, a junior school in Worsbrough Bridge, with all the Irish Catholics who went to church – the McHughs, the McQuails, the Keatings, the Morgans – all the Irish kids. My father is Irish, and I remember asking him, “Am I English or Irish?” “Half and half” was the answer, which is fair enough — the diplomatic answer, with an English mother. We were very much an Irish-Catholic family growing up in England, so when I got the shirt and pulled it on, it was a bit like, “Well, I’m suddenly not fifty-fifty any more now; I’m Irish.” It may sound twee, but that’s just how I felt.’

Roy Keane evidently felt otherwise when, during his rabid rant at McCarthy, then Ireland’s manager, at the team’s pre-finals camp on the Pacific island of Saipan – which led to the Irish captain quitting the national squad on the eve of the 2002 World Cup – he told the Yorkshireman, ‘You shouldn’t be managing my country.’

McCarthy is not here to discuss that episode. There is the briefest recollection of the fall-out (‘It was the general election and it was seventeen pages in before it got a mention in the Irish papers; it was all about Saipan and the World Cup’), but he will reflect on another identity, the footballing one, which was a big talking point too in the Charlton years.

‘I loved him as a bloke. I thought he was refreshingly honest, brutally honest, but I like that. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. He took that team over and made it into a very good team. And not [the way] everybody liked, but I love that fact. We were doing to teams what they didn’t like. We were beating teams who didn’t like being beaten by us because of the perceived way that we played. I loved the fact Jack stuck to his guns, and despite everything, he was a success.’

McCarthy, it seems fair to say, is a man cut from the same cloth as his uncompromising former manager. Take the Barnsleyite’s dry response when asked about the modern game – ‘Next year will be modern, won’t it? It’ll be more modern than this’ – yet the man who committed most fouls at Italia ’90 has his shades of grey too.

‘For all that I’m the archetypal centre-half, apparently, my favourite ones have been [Franz] Beckenbauer, Mark Lawrenson and [Franco] Baresi – so none of them in my mould,’ he reveals. ‘Beckenbauer, I loved. I had to get a manager once to tell me to stop hitting it with the outside of my foot. “If I see you pass it with the outside of your foot again, I’ll fucking kill you”’

McCarthy’s unfussy approach served him well with Charlton, given the character that the Englishman wished to stamp on his Republic of Ireland team. Certain easier-on-the-eye players fared less well. Lawrenson, the stylish Liverpool defender, faded from sight owing to the Achilles injury which eventually ended his career.

Liam Brady missed the 1988 European Championship through injury and would play no part in Italia ’90 after Charlton removed him ten minutes before half-time, and two minutes after the loss of an equalising goal, during a 1-1 friendly draw with West Germany in Dublin in September 1989. Charlton would later tell journalist Paul Rowan, ‘With Ireland, you see, they don’t give up their fuckin’ heroes easily, so you’ve really got to show ’em.’

Brady, who felt humiliated, played only once more for his country. McCarthy says, ‘I remember him taking Liam off in a game against Germany, and that put the marker down. He put Andy Townsend on and I thought at that time, “That’s a big pair of gonads, that.”’

The treatment of Brady would be just one of the arrows fired Charlton’s way by his biggest critic, Eamon Dunphy, in response to the paucity of Ireland’s play in their opening two games in Italy.

A one-time Manchester United apprentice whose club career had peaked with Millwall (a period later recounted to excellent effect in his account of his last season at The Den, Only A Game?), Dunphy was an analyst with RTÉ and a Sunday Independent columnist, and he saw Charlton’s football as a rejection of Irish soccer principles. For his part, Charlton considered Dunphy’s fierce criticisms as a betrayal, given that they came from an ex-professional.

Dunphy had already alienated McCarthy, who remembers his own reaction during the 1988 European Championship when Charlton brought Dunphy to dinner at the team’s hotel. ‘Eamon Dunphy had been giving me stick ever since I went there – I was too slow, I couldn’t turn, I couldn’t play, I wasn’t good enough. Jack invited him in for a bite to eat. I saw him walk in and I said, “What the fuck’s he doing in here?’” He [Charlton] said, “I’ve invited him” and I said, “If he’s staying here, I ain’t.” I went, and Frank Stapleton too. Going home on the plane, we were reading the paper: it was Dunphy giving out even more stick to me, and that’s when Jack turned on him as well.’

Hostilities intensified at Italia ’90. Even the Ireland players admit the opening draw with England was a match to forget, Sheedy’s goal aside. ‘We were preparing for this warm weather, and we got this pissy old night in Barnsley,’ says McCarthy.

‘I hated that game,’ adds goalkeeper Packie Bonner. He recalls how Ireland had struggled with diagonal balls aimed over McCarthy’s shoulder for Gary Lineker when the teams met in Stuttgart in 1988. The England forward’s opening goal was more of the same. ‘It was that type of diagonal ball played between myself and Mick. I couldn’t come, and he couldn’t deal with it.’

For Kevin Moran, it would have been worse but for a lucky escape. ‘I do remember an incident with [Chris] Waddle where he threw me a dummy in the box and went by me. I stuck my foot out and I caught him. I immediately jumped back and put my hands up in the air and said, “Never touched him, ref.”’

Dunphy’s response was a Sunday Independent column six days later, headlined ‘British football died of stupidity’, in which he lamented the ‘narrow minds’ of a line of coaches – starting, he argued, with Alf Ramsey and Don Revie, and leading to Charlton – who favoured functionalism over aesthetics.

‘Yes, these islands have become football’s Third World,’ he wrote, ‘an insular, unenlightened province of the international game which has elsewhere found it possible to reconcile individualism with team play.’

Dunphy was just warming up. He really got going when seated in the RTÉ studio during the ensuing goalless draw with an unambitious Egypt side. ‘Egypt was a horrible game,’ McCarthy admits. ‘We weren’t a team that would pick holes in anybody with silky, free-flowing football. We’d put it in their half and play in there, [but] Egypt sat back, and we tried everything – corners, free-kicks, long throws – and they repelled everything we could offer.’

Ireland ended that second Group F fixture ahead by 17-3 on crosses, 8-1 on corners and 6-1 on attempts on goal. Bonner had so little to do in goal that the Gazzetta dello Sport declined to award him an individual rating.

Dunphy’s response in the studio at full time – which had smoke rising from the RTÉ switchboard – was as follows: ‘I feel embarrassed and ashamed of that performance. Everyone in the country has been let down and most people won’t understand it . . . The Egyptians are terrible, terrible; the English will do a job on them. We should be ashamed of the way we went about the game. It was shameful and depressing . . . I’m thinking of men like [Johnny Giles] and Tommy Eglington, the great players we produced, the Peter Farrells, the Liam Bradys, the David O’Learys and Ronnie Whelans. This is a great football country, to go out and produce that rubbish . . .’

Overall, Dunphy mentioned O’Leary thirteen times and Whelan twelve times. Both men were Dubliners, and both technical footballers in that city’s best tradition. The latter, a 1990 league title winner with Liverpool, had broken a bone in his foot in late April and, despite returning to fitness, saw only 28 minutes’ action in Italy. For O’Leary, the total would be 26 minutes.

In the case of the latter, Charlton had considered the defender responsible for the Ian Rush goal that beat Ireland in the new manager’s first match. O’Leary then found himself excluded from the squad for a subsequent close-season tournament in Iceland. In the wake of several withdrawals – including the Liverpool trio of Jim Beglin, Lawrenson and Whelan, who attended an end-ofseason trip to Spain – Charlton called O’Leary and asked him to join the squad after all. However, the player declined, citing a family holiday already arranged. Not until 1989 would he earn another cap.

Declan Lynch, in his superb account of the Irish experience of Italia ’90, Days of Heaven, offers a supportive view of Dunphy’s stance. ‘What Jack did, with the results he achieved, was the popularisation of football in Ireland, beyond the hard core of aficionados which had always existed. And in so doing, with the primitive style which he favoured, he alienated the football men, the people who had always loved the game and kept it going.’

Charlton’s initial response to Dunphy’s words was to suggest he was as relevant as a fly on a window. Yet, when Dunphy flew in for his next press conference and tried to ask a question, Charlton refused, telling him, ‘You’re not a proper journalist’, before walking out.

Colm Tóibín remembers it well, having been commandeered to keep an eye on his Sunday Independent colleague during a visit to Palermo which had been planned before the storm broke. Tóibín says, ‘The editor of the paper calls me and says, “Dunphy’s partner is going nuts because he is determined to go over to Palermo, and I’m worried about him that he may be in danger. I don’t care what you do or what you write, but can you make sure that he’s not left alone at any time?” So that was funny – my job was just to be with Dunphy.

‘I was at the conference, and Charlton walked out once Dunphy stood up to speak. Dunphy wanted to ask him, “Why are you using this very primitive method of soccer that isn’t working, and why are you leaving particular players off?” David O’Leary, for example. Charlton didn’t rate David O’Leary, and Dunphy did. There were those arguments.

‘What’s important to remember is Dunphy could have gone to other press conferences and caused a similar fuss each time and, he didn’t do that. He gets no credit for that. He said he was becoming the story too much, and he didn’t want to stay being the story.

‘I didn’t know anything about soccer, I was just listening to him. The argument I’d have had with him, if I’d bothered arguing, was that it’s like anything else – if something works, shut up moaning about it. It got us as far as Rome, so to try to talk about the niceties, the choreography as to how you actually play the beautiful game in the middle of a national eruption of emotion, seemed to me to miss the point. But Dunphy was trying to say that the journalists had become fans with typewriters — there’s a need for somebody to speak the truth, and the truth is we’re playing a form of soccer which we shouldn’t be proud of.

‘This is fine, but said in the euphoria of an entire nation where old ladies got to know about offside and people were screaming in the streets, and Dunphy just looked like he was the spoiler. If you look at Roddy Doyle’s novel The Van, it’s set in Dublin in 1990. They’re selling fish and chips from this van, and if you want to buy a sausage, you ask for “a Dunphy” because a sausage was shaped like a prick, and Dunphy was a prick.’


Eamon Dunphy was not alone in everything he said. Mark Lawrenson, writing a column in the Irish Times, called for a defensive pairing of McGrath and David O’Leary. Instead, McGrath operated ahead of centre-backs McCarthy and Moran. This last-named argues, ‘I remember people saying, “They’re slow, you put a ball over and they’ll get behind,” but we never did get caught out. A lot was because of the way we played, with Paul [McGrath] in front of us – if one of us got pulled, Paul used to drop into the middle.’

Moran himself can empathise with Dunphy over his efforts to swim against the swollen tide of ‘Olé, olé’ elation. ‘I know what people say, and I often thought, “Yeah, we could have played an awful lot more,”’ he says. ‘You’d look at it and it was a hell of a team — that team, you just wonder, if we could put the ball down and play, how much more could we have played? But in saying that, we didn’t do badly when you consider where we got to even playing the way Jack wanted us to play. As a result of that, we started to have belief in what Jack’s style was and go along with it. And we did – we got to the quarter-final of the World Cup, and at our peak were seventh in the world. We’d never got anywhere near that before.’

The first step was out of Sicily and, after their Egypt disappointment, they managed it thanks to a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands in their last group game. Gullit struck a smart early goal on a one-two with Kieft but the Irish ability to, well, put ’em under pressure meant Ronald Koeman had less space to pick his passes and the clever patterns of Dutch movement slowed down. With nineteen minutes remaining, Niall Quinn equalised with one of the scruffiest goals of the tournament following Bonner’s long punt upfield. Berry van Aerle, in his eagerness to stop Cascarino collecting, miscued his volley and the ball flew back to Hans van Breukelen. The goalkeeper fumbled, and Quinn stretched out a long leg to score.

With news coming through that England led against Egypt, the draw would take both sides through. ‘It was a hell of a game up until the last five or seven minutes when we downed tools a bit,’ says Mick McCarthy. ‘I said to Gullit, “We’re both going through here.” That’s true but we had it hammer and tongs for eighty-three, eight-four minutes. It was far from cheating. I’d say that was common sense at the end of the game with six minutes to go.’

That left just one thing to do: with Ireland and the Netherlands sharing identical points’ and goals’ totals, there was a drawing of lots to decide who finished second or third in the group. Luck was with the Irish who took second place, meaning they would avoid West Germany and face Romania instead.

The adventure would continue, but Kevin Sheedy, the man who had got the ball rolling on that rainy night in Cagliari, suggests it took a moment of comedy in a Palermo hotel lobby to lighten the mood ahead of their meeting with the reigning European champions. A smile creases his face as he recalls a mishap involving Mick Byrne, the squad’s physio, and a beautiful model boat made from matchsticks.

‘The morning after Egypt, we got lambasted by the Irish press, and we were all sat in the lobby. The main feature was this boat; it was a magnificent piece. Mick Byrne came down and saw the mood. Mick was a great character – he could always put a smile on your face. He said, “Come on, lads. We’re still in this, we can beat Holland”. He was trying to gee everyone up and for some reason started singing “The Lambeth Walk”. He went, “Doing the Lambeth Walk . . . oi” and he nudged his elbow and he just knocked the boat slightly. We’re all looking and the boat started wobbling and we all knew what was going to happen and the next thing this boat just fell. Mick tried to catch it, which made it even funnier as he was never going to catch it and it just smashed to smithereens. The players were howling. The hotel manager came over and started kicking off. Mick was saying, “I’m so sorry”, and we were laughing even more. It changed the mood of the camp.’ Crash, bang, and then laughter. That was Ireland’s World Cup in a nutshell.


If you'd like to read more of World In Motion, you can buy it here on deCoubertin's website.