16 days to Euro 2012: The road to Germany ’88

Thank you, Gary Mackay.

JACK CHARLTON MAY be looked upon as the man who led Ireland through their most successful period in international football, but his initial appointment had a hint of controversy about it.

After the resignation of Eoin Hand in 1985, the FAI decided they would target a British-based manager and sent president Des Casey and assistant general secretary Dr Tony O’Neill across the water with a list of potential candidates in early ’86.

Four names, Liverpool’s most successful manager Bob Paisley, John Giles, Liam Tuohy, and Charlton, emerged. A first ballot at Merrion Square resulted in nine votes for Paisley, and three each for the remaining three candidates.

It seemed then that Paisley couldn’t be beaten as even if those backing Giles and Tuohy transferred their votes to Charlton, a 9-9 result would mean Casey, who wanted Paisley in, would have the final say.

During a second ballet, however, one of his original supporters defected and Charlton was the surprise winner.

With the former World Cup winner in charge, his first two games saw Wales hand Ireland a defeat thanks to Ian Rush’s goal before a 1-1 draw with Uruguay.

In May, they entered a three-team tournament in Reykjavik and picked up the country’s first piece of silverware at senior level after wins over the hosts Iceland and Czechoslovakia.

Belgium, Scotland, Bulgaria and Luxembourg made up a difficult group 7 for Euro ’88. Two draws were followed up by an away win over the Scots through quick thinking from new arrival John Alridge at Hamden Park but Ireland were beaten 2-1 away to Bulgaria in their next fixture.

Maximum points from minnows Luxembourg meant victory over the Bulgarians at Lansdowne Road wouldn’t even guarantee qualification. Goals from Manchester United pair Paul McGrath and Kevin Moran earned the home side a 2-0 win but, on a sour note, Liam Brady was sent off and subsequently missed the finals.

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Our destiny was left in the hands of Scotland who travelled to Sofia to play the group leaders. And it was debutant Gary Mackay who cemented his name in Irish history books with the only goal of the game.

The Bulgarians hadn’t been beaten at home in five years while Scotland had a poor record on the road. However, the young midfielder came off the bench to find the back of the net and Ireland topped the group.

Mackay is still living off the fame today: “People still talk about my goal and I know it will always be remembered in Ireland,” he said.

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