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Euro ’88 relived: Ireland legends Bonner and Sheedy reel in the years

The pair also give their thoughts on the importance of getting a favourable result in the first game.

Sheedy, left, and Bonner in Dublin during the week. Credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Two Irish heroes of yesteryear, Packie Bonner and Kevin Sheedy, were in town doing some media work for ESPN on Wednesday and took time out to relive their experiences of the country’s first involvement in a major tournament 24 years ago and our chances this summer.

Packie Bonner: The memories are still very vivid. I can still remember staying out in a hotel in Lucan pre-tournament and touching down in Stuttgart. The bus came out to pick us off the plane, which wasn’t normal for us. Suddenly you felt, ‘Jesus, we’re at a tournament here’. The games themselves were fantastic.

Kevin Sheedy: I was playing domestically for my club (Everton) but going to play on the world stage is very different. I don’t think we realised at the time how good a team we were. We clicked in the first game against England when Ray Houghton scored that goal and winning that was a great boost for everybody.

If you win your first game or don’t get beaten, it gives you a good opportunity to progress in the competition. Against Russia (the Soviet Union), we drew 1-1 but played very well.

Sheedy in possession against the USSR at Euro ’88. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Bonner: People still today talk about that game as the best they have ever seen us play. We played really, really well. Tony Galvin should’ve had a penalty but that Soviet Union team were a good side. And of course they got to the final. Then for us to take a fantastic Dutch team scoreless into the last six minutes was incredible.

Sheedy: It just shows how close we came. Obviously Holland were the best team in the tournament with Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard and it proved how much we had developed as a team. That then helped with the qualifying games for the World Cup in 1990.

We played a style which a lot of people weren’t used to. You can call it ‘long ball’ but if you’ve got the players in the team that we had like Steve Staunton, Denis Irwin playing diagonal passes with quality, it was the type of football that we played well.

We had very good players when we got in the final third and the biggest thing we had going was the team spirit. It was like being at a club.

Bonner: It is vital in any tournament not to lose the first game. I’m really excited about the group we’ve been drawn in this time. I was in Sweden working for UEFA during the weekend and there were goalkeeping coaches from Italy there who were saying they’re afraid of Ireland because Trapattoni will have a plan.

Sheedy: If we win great (against Croatia), if we don’t get beat it is still a good result. The pressure will also be on Spain and Italy, who have got to play each other first.

Bonner: When you look at the players we had back then, they were winning European Cups with their clubs. The Man United lads (Kevin Moran, Frank Stapleton, Paul McGrath), and the Liverpool lads (Ronnie Whelan, John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Mark Lawrenson). So we had a real nucleus of top players. It’s only when you go into a tournament and play against big teams that you realise how good a side you are.

Then with a manager behind you like Jack (Charlton), he gives you a huge amount of confidence and Trap will do that to the guys.

On the current midfield

Sheedy: As I mentioned, Denis Irwin and Steve Staunton would play longer balls into Aldo (John Alridge), Tony Cascarino or whoever was playing up there and then we’d squeeze right up and press them in the final third. Trapattoni has a different type of football and wants his central midfield players to sit so it’s not the running style we had.

Bonner: We played ball into corners to create space for the midfielders to run into. The game has changed completely now. I think when Ireland get to Poland he might change the plan a little bit and allow them to get forward because you have to score the odd goal in the tournament to progress.

The manager has got every right to lead out the tactics. We’ve all got our opinions but Trapattoni has gained the right as he’s qualified us. Whatever way he wants to set up the team, it is him that’s in charge. We’ve got to get behind him. Playing against Spain and Italy will be different and he will have to adopt separate tactics for each of them.

Trapattoni is very clever and who knows what he will do.

Sheedy: Look at Liam Brady, who was a world class player but didn’t fit into Jack’s system. Jack wanted to miss midfield out but Liam was a playmaker. It was a little bit frustating for me (to adjust).

We went through how he wanted to play in training all the time. If the defenders played it into midfield and they gave it away then he would have a go at them for passing it into midfield. In the end, the whole squad knew what was required of them and if they didn’t do it someone else would come in.

When you’re getting success, it helps. So Trapattoni is the same, he has earned the right to play what way he feels the team should.

Our Euro ’88 adventure

England 0-1 Ireland, Stuttgart, 12 June:


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Ireland 1-1 Soviet Union, Hannover, 15 June:


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Ireland 0-1 Holland, Gelsenkirchen, 18 June:


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Packie Bonner and Kevin Sheedy were speaking at ESPN’s announcement of their forthcoming live matches: Everton v Tottenham (March 10), Stoke v Manchester City (March 24) and Kilmarnock v Celtic (April 7). Live Barclays Premier League football and live Clydesdale Bank Premier League matches are shown on ESPN channels alongside live, top European soccer and other international sports. To get ESPN, visit: www.ESPN.ie.

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