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Macedonia and 3 other occasions when Ireland have been humbled by a minnow

Slip-ups against lesser opposition aren’t a common occurrence but are we due one?

Liechtenstein 0 -0 Republic of Ireland, June 3rd 1995

HilltopFinal Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

At the end of this torrid afternoon, the home side all held hands and paraded in front of their supporters. The Euro 1996 qualification campaign was the tiny country’s very first foray into UEFA competition and the scoreless draw against Jack Charlton’s side proved their greatest ever football moment (though it’s since been surpassed by a collection of impressive performances throughout the 2006 World Cup qualifiers). In contrast, it remains the Republic of Ireland’s worst ever result.

Source: sp1873/YouTube

There was a certain air of weirdness to the whole affair, a feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. The ‘dug-outs’ were merely a collection of fold-out chairs. Some fans peered at the game from a height nearby. On the field, things were comical, to the point of absurd.

Liechtenstein goalkeeper Martin Heeb (who doubled as the stadium groundsman when he wasn’t between the sticks) was a one-man repelling machine. Jason McAteer hit the post but that was as good as it got. Ireland fired 37 shots at goal and failed to score from a single one. Later, Charlton referred to the game as ’90 minutes of madness’ and he wasn’t far wrong.

Republic of Ireland XI: Alan Kelly, Gary Kelly, Denis Irwin, Phil Babb, Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan (c), Jason McAteer, John Aldridge, Niall Quinn, John Sheridan, Steve Staunton

Macedonia 3-2 Republic of Ireland, April 2nd 1997

There was something fitting about this World Cup qualifier coming so soon after April Fool’s Day. Keeping with the theme, Ireland debuted a garish orange away shirt. It was unintentional hilarity – something that cropped up throughout the rest of the afternoon.

Mick McCarthy’s side did get the perfect start in Skopje after Alan McLoughlin popped up to send a neat header to the net after a perfect knock-down by Tony Cascarino. But on the half hour mark, Jason McAteer (more from him later) handled in the box and the hosts were awarded a penalty. Mitko Stojkovski stepped up and side-footed to the net, the ball kissing the underside of the bar on its way. The equaliser should’ve stunned Ireland into offering some kind of response but instead, they went to the interval 2-1 behind.

Source: 90sSoccerBoy/YouTube

Terry Phelan was penalised for another handball in the area and Stojkovski made no mistake once more. On the hour mark, a dreadful mistake by substitute Ian Harte was gleefully punished by Georgi Hristov (soon to be of Barnsley), who conjured a superb finish to make it 3-1.

Mick McCarthy shows his despair. 2/4/1997. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Keith O’Neill, who had been brought on in place of Cascarino at half-time, picked up an injury and was forced off himself. His replacement, David Kelly, managed to pull one back for the visitors after good work from Jon Goodman. But even though an equaliser eluded them, there was time for one final, darkly comedic moment.

In injury time, under a dropping ball, McAteer launched himself, kung-fu style, at Artim Sakiri. It was Cantona-esque, though at least the Frenchman’s assault on Matthew Simmons was chest-high. McAteer left his stud marks on the Macedonian’s neck. It was a straight red card and, in hindsight, Trigger deserved a lengthy ban for this.

Source: ManlyMovieDotNet/YouTube

In the immediate aftermath, Stojkovski was also sent-off for reacting furiously to his team-mate having been laid out in such a violent fashion.

An ugly end to an ugly day for Irish football.

Republic of Ireland XI: Alan Kelly, Denis Irwin, Gary Breen, Terry Phelan, Steve Staunton, Roy Keane, Andy Townsend, Alan McLoughlin, Jason McAteer, Tony Cascarino, Jon Goodman

Cyprus 5-2 Republic of Ireland, October 7th 2006

The Steve Staunton era has many lowlights but this is certainly at the top of the list. Having been hit with a touchline ban after kicking over a water bottle in anger during Ireland’s opening Euro qualifier against Germany, Stan was subsequently forced to watch this embarrassment from the stands. And afterwards, the majority of Ireland fans wanted him to accept his failings and keep his distance from the team on a permanent basis.

In many ways, this was the beginning of the end though there was a brief reprieve after some home wins later in the campaign. But this performance in particular seemed to serve as the perfect metaphor for Staunton’s reign: confused chaos.

Source: sp1873/YouTube

Ireland were in front after 8 minutes when Stephen Ireland drove a low strike to the far corner after a great cross from Damien Duff. But just 90 seconds later, an awful error from Andy O’Brien gifted an equaliser to Michael Konstantinou. After 16 minutes, it was Paddy Kenny’s mistake that led to Cyprus’ second and though Ireland levelled before the break through Richard Dunne, they fell behind early in the second half when O’Brien conceded a cheap penalty and Konstantinou grabbed his brace. On the hour mark, the hosts scored a fourth after the Irish defence was run ragged. With 16 minutes left, Charalambidis popped up with his second after another cheap Irish giveaway.

To compound matters, Dunne was sent-off late on for a second bookable offence. As the defender trudged off into the Nicosia night, it was a sorry sight befitting of the ninety minutes that preceded it.

Republic of Ireland XI:  Paddy Kenny, Steve Finnan, John O’Shea, Andy O’Brien, Richard Dunne, Kevin Kilbane, Aiden McGeady, Stephen Ireland, Clinton Morrison, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff

San Marino 1-2 Republic of Ireland, February 8th 2007

Staunton was on thin ice prior to this game. After it, having come so perilously close to a humiliation of epic proportions, there was renewed calls for his resignation. Amazingly, he didn’t cave and survived for eight more months.

Soccer - European Championship Qualifying - Group D - San Marino v Republic Of Ireland - Serravalle Stadium Staunton shows his frustration during Ireland's narrow win over San Marino in 2007. Source: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

How, after this debacle, we’ll never know. Maybe Stephen Ireland’s late, late winner did save Staunton’s job. But it shouldn’t have covered an incredibly dismal performance, capped off by the goal San Marino scored after 87 minutes.

After an aimless clearance up-field, Manuel Marini was well-shadowed by Paul McShane when Wayne Henderson suddenly came racing to the edge of his area to clear. He missed his kick. Richard Dunne tried to challenge but only succeeded in falling over. As he went to strike the ball towards goal, Marini did likewise, the ball squirmed off his leg, went through McShane’s and trickled to the empty net.

Source: sp1873/YouTube

After scoring Ireland’s winner, the then-Manchester City midfielder headed to the Irish bench to celebrate with Staunton, who enveloped him in a bear-hug. It said much: Ireland relieved to have claimed three points against a team ranked 195th in the world. Here’s hoping this weekend won’t throw up a similar feeling.

Republic of Ireland XI: Wayne Henderson, Steve Finnan, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Ian Harte, Damien Duff, Lee Carsley, Stephen Ireland, Kevin Kilbane, Robbie Keane, Shane Long

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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