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Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 26 January 2021

Ireland's five greatest days under Jack Charlton

From Genoa to Giants Stadium, we look back on five days when Jackie’s Army shook up the world.

Ray Houghton celebrates his goal against England at Euro 88.
Ray Houghton celebrates his goal against England at Euro 88.
Image: © Billy Stickland/INPHO

 1: EURO 88, Ireland 1-0 England

No one saw this one coming. Certainly the English didn’t. “We thought we could win the tournament,” Gary Lineker said of their Euro 88 expectations. Instead, they didn’t even win a point.

Ray Houghton was partially to blame for that, his looping header giving Ireland a lead they jealously protected on that sun-kissed afternoon in Stuttgart.

England, packed with players who had reached the World Cup quarter-finals in ’86 and who’d go on to reach the semis in ’90, had underestimated Ireland. “Under Jack we were mostly ramshackle and part of what made us tick was the disorganisation and the joy we got from pretending to the world that we weren’t to be taken seriously,” Niall Quinn wrote in his autobiography.

People changed their opinion after this game.

the-irish-team-meet-pope-john-paul-ii-1990 The Irish team met the Pope before their World Cup quarter-final in 1990. Source: INPHO

2: Italia 90, Ireland 0-0 Romania (Ireland won 5-4 on penalties)

A nation held its breath, David O’Leary held his nerve. If any image sums up the Charlton era, it was that one, the bench emptying, the party starting, the country celebrating.

Charlton, O’Leary and keeper, Packie Bonner, became national heroes as the odyssey moved from Genoa to Rome. There, the team met Pope John II, who, as a former goalkeeper, made a point of saying hello to Bonner.

Two nights later, Bonner spilled Donadoni’s shot into the path of Salvatore Schillaci. The little man made him pay. Ireland were out. “I’m proud of you all,” Charlton said to the Irish players afterwards. “The country is proud of you. Be proud of yourselves.” Just then he saw Bonner. “Ah, Packie,” Charlton said, looking across at his keeper. “The f***ing Pope would have saved that.”

More than half a million people welcomed the squad home.

3. USA 94, Ireland 1-0 Italy

Another early goal from Ray Houghton led to another day of hanging on and watching the clock. Paul McGrath was immense, so too Phil Babb but Charlton knew that time was ticking with that team. “By the time ’94 had ended and we were going into ’96, he realised that a number of players no longer had the legs,” wrote Tony Cascarino in today’s Times. “Aldo, Andy Townsend, Ray Houghton, myself and a few others.” The Fairytale of New York turned out to be a swansong.

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republic-of-ireland-v-italy-2122011 Houghton celebrates another key goal. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

4: World Cup qualification 1990, Ireland 1-0 Spain

Qualification may have been secured in Malta but this was where the heavy lifting was done, beating Spain at Lansdowne, courtesy of an own goal. Entering that game, Ireland had only two points from three games, whereas the Spanish had won five from five.

Still, with two qualification places available, Charlton knew a result here could swing fortunes in his side’s favour, especially as rivals, Hungary, had failed to beat Malta home or away. He was changing his team and there wasn’t a place for Liam Brady, ageing but still loved. “It was obvious Liam had had his day,” Charlton reasoned in The Team that Jack Built. “He wasn’t getting away from players the way he used to.”

Andy Townsend was preferred instead. “Andy could put the boot in and the Spanish didn’t like that.” This day proved that. Ireland won. Italy was on the horizon.

5: Euro 88 qualification, Scotland 0-1 Ireland

Check out this Irish team: Packie Bonner was the goalkeeper; Paul McGrath and Ronnie Whelan were the full backs, Kevin Moran and Mick McCarthy the centre-halves. Midfield comprised of Ray Houghton, Mark Lawrenson, Liam Brady and Tony Galvin while Frank Stapleton and John Aldridge played up front.

Ireland won – their best away result since 1967. It’s worth pointing out this team to remind ourselves that Charlton had good players at his disposal. Seven of the side won league titles in either England, Italy or Scotland while Moran, Stapleton and McGrath pocketed FA Cup winners medals. The 11th player, Galvin, was one of three members of that side – Lawrenson and Whelan being the others – who won a European trophy.

He may have been a fine manager – but Charlton had decent material to work with.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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