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The Magnificent Seven: Lansdowne memories

It may have a new name now, but Ireland have many fond memories of the old Lansdowne Road. We take a look back at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Roy Keane welcomes Dutch winger Marc Overmars to Dublin in September 2001.
Roy Keane welcomes Dutch winger Marc Overmars to Dublin in September 2001.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

1. Republic of Ireland 2-1 Netherlands

10 October 1980

When Limerick United manager Eoin Hand took the reins as manager of the Republic of Ireland, the national football team was at something of a crossroads.

The promise of the late 1970s, buoyed by talent such as Liam Brady and Frank, appeared to have fallen slightly flat.

Despite taking a major scalp against France in 1977 and stringing together a run of results in the early stages of the Euro 1980 qualification campaign, Ireland were yet to secure a place at any of the big dances.

Sensing that he had taken this group of players as far as he could, manager John Giles resigned the post which he had held since 1973, preferring to concentrate his efforts on the progress being made by Shamrock Rovers at Glenmalure Park.

Into the breach stepped Hand, facing an unenviable test in his first competitive game as World Cup runners-up Holland came to town. Of course, if there is one way to prove that you’re fit for the task, it’s turning over one of the best teams in the world.

When they came, Ireland’s goals proved that they were as capable of playing fluid and clinical football as any of the big boys. Desperately seeking a way back into the game after Simon Tahatma’s predatory opener, Tony Grealish’s neat one-two with Frank Stapleton unlocked the Dutch defence.

As the Luton Town midfielder saw his name in lights, he was chopped down on the edge of the box. While Grealish dusted himself off, Gerry Daly tucked the loose ball into the corner of the net to draw Ireland level with just over ten minutes on the clock.

To his credit, Hand made no effort to defend the point which Ireland had salvaged. They pushed on in search of greater glory and were duly rewarded when Liam Brady’s inspired set-piece found Mark Lawrenson completely unattended in the Dutch area, allowing the centre-half to nod his new gaffer into the fans’ favour.


2. Republic of Ireland 3-2 France

18 October 1981

Though the result against Holland had gotten Hand’s managerial career off to the best possible start, inconsistency began to set in once again. As in the past, it seemed that results against bigger opposition were little more than occasional upsets, marked by their infrequency.

In the year which followed, Ireland’s qualification campaign juddered and jerked. Five further games yielded only one victory, a 6-0 demolition against one of the few teams whom we could legitimately refer to as minnows, Cyprus.

Ahead of France’s visit to Lansdowne Road in October 1981, the maths weren’t exactly favourable yet Ireland knew that victory would give them a squeak of a chance of qualifying for the following summer’s shindig in Spain. Judging by the steeled looks on the players faces and the noise flowing from the wedged terraces, there was no question of Ireland going out with a whimper.

Within three minutes, what had initially seemed like defiant optimism quickly turned into an achievable target. Brighton striker Michael Robinson skated down the wing, leaving his French pursuers tripping over each other in his wake. The ball which he played into the path of Frank Stapleton was inviting, so much so that Philippe Mahut decided to stick in the net himself.

As one might expect of a team containing Michel Platini, France were resilient, all too aware that their own qualification hopes would be severely dented by a defeat.

Though Bellone managed to draw France level almost immediately, Ireland were not to be deterred. By half-time, they had run their opponents ragged, finding space and punishing mistakes with Stapleton and Robinson adding one each before the break.

Despite hanging on for a famous win, it wouldn’t quite be enough to see Ireland through to their first major tournament. That would have to wait for another few years yet.


3. Republic of Ireland 1-0 Brazil

23 May 1987

Everybody knows that friendlies don’t really count. Except if you’re playing Brazil, but that’s different.

Before we even go to the bother of suggesting that the Brazilians weren’t really too bothered about their 1987 friendly against Ireland or that manager Carlos Alberto Silva had only brought half a squad with him, it is worth recalling the basic facts.

On one hand, we have the three-time world champions. On the other, we have a nation who had never qualified for a major tournament of any description. A mismatch so uninviting that only 17,000 people bothered to go to see it.

In theory, there was no contest. Yet, hit by Charlton-era “put ‘em under pressure” tactics, the Samba boys struggled to function. There was no room to drift into, no space to exploit – just wall after wall of unrelenting tackles.

Ireland were never going to dominate, but they did know how to punish. Now 31 years of age, Liam Brady showed that he had lost none of his footballing ingenue, wrong-footing Carlos in the Brazilian goal to give Ireland a famous win.

Yes, it was a friendly. Yes, Brazil were without Zico. And Socrates. And a host of others.

Take nothing away from the Irish victory though – Brazil wanted to win this match, as evidenced by the fact that a visibly-annoyed Dunga refused to swap shirts at the end of the game.

Though the players, fans, and even Big Jack himself couldn’t have known it, the win against Brazil in 1987 was merely the beginning of something very special.


4. Republic of Ireland  1-0 England

15 February 1995

I can’t remember too many things that happened in 1995 but I can remember exactly where I was on the evening of February 15.

I was at Lansdowne Road, sitting up on one of the crash barriers at the Havelock End, trying to make sense of what was going on around me. Not just the immediate questions of what was being hurled by the English “fans” in the upper west stand and where they had gotten their missiles from, but why they were doing it.

Why would anybody bother to come all the way to a football match to cause trouble? Especially this match – wasn’t everybody as excited to see Ireland play England as I was?

I know now that many of the subtleties of the occasion went well over my head. I didn’t know what a neo-nazi was or who Combat 18 were, although I was hardly the only person in the stadium that night to whom the latter part of that sentence applies.

I didn’t notice the nasty bite in the pre-match atmosphere, the booing of President Mary Robinson and the other official dignitaries as they greeted the players, the flagrant disrespect of both sides’ national anthems.

And when David Kelly latched on to John Sheridan’s neat pass in the 22nd minute to put Ireland 1-0 up, I didn’t realise that all hell was about to break loose.

I was delighted. Ireland were winning. 1-0. Against England.

As the missiles rained down in the minutes that followed, I couldn’t help but notice the vicious atmosphere that had now completely enveloped the ground. Very quickly, I knew that something wasn’t right.

I was young. I was frightened. And, on a night that should have been one of the fondest sporting memories of my childhood, up there alongside Ray Houghton’s goal in the Giants’ Stadium, all I wanted to do was go home.


5. Republic of Ireland 1-0 Portugal

26 April 1995

Ireland’s qualification for Euro 96 could hardly have gotten off to a better start, starting with three wins out of three. Not even a disappointing draw at home to Northern Ireland in March 1995 could diminish the optimism that sprung from an unbeaten start to the campaign.

There was a sense, however, that Ireland had proven nothing until they had proven themselves against the big boys of the group – Portugal. Managed by Antonio Olivera, they travelled to Dublin in April 1995 knowing that a win against Ireland would cement their place as favourites for qualification.

The match wasn’t the most thrilling game ever to be played at Lansdowne. However, it will be remembered for one of the most bizarre own goals seen at the south Dublin venue.

As the first-half edged towards a scoreless conclusion, Steve Staunton stepped onto a loose ball in midfield, opting to feed it to Niall Quinn on the floor rather than hoofing it to the big man as per usual.

When the striker looked to return the favour, Staunton had ghosted in behind the static Portuguese defence. His attempt to cut the ball back to John Aldridge was fractionally off-target however, running agonisingly past the outstretched toe of the Irish centre-forward.

It was no more than a half-chance and it would have gone a-begging had Portuguese netminder Vitor Baia not diverted the ball into his own net. Sixteen years later, I’m still not sure how he managed it.

It didn’t matter, not least to Aldridge who was happy to both claim the goal and to roar his delight into the face of whichever unfortunate Portuguese defender happened to be standing closest to him.

Forty-five minutes later, Ireland had again pulled off a famous win against the odds, this one coming in the most unlikely of circumstances.


6. Republic of Ireland 1-0 Netherlands

01 September 2001

If Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 marked a renaissance in Irish football, victory over the Netherlands in 2001 was the spark for a future generation of devout followers.

Nine long years had elapsed and three major tournaments had passed since Ireland’s American adventure in 1994. For the younger members of Ireland’s fanbase, the recent past had been full of near misses and recriminations as the anguish of three successive play-off defeats gradually took its toll.

We were sick of play-offs. However, in September 2001, most Irish fans would have knocked over their own granny for a shot at redeeming our horrendous record. Though we were unbeaten in eight games, the fiercely competitive nature of Group 2 meant that a two-legged tie against an exotic opponent was the best which we could realistically hope for.

In order to even achieve that much though, Mick McCarthy’s men would first have to dispose of Louis van Gaal and Holland in a winner-take-all match in Dublin. Overmars, Kluivert and van Nistelrooy were opposition not to be taken lightly.

The stakes could scarcely have been higher and within 30 seconds, the perfect tone had been set as Roy Keane barrelled through the back of an unsuspecting Marc Overmars, taking man, ball and everything in between.

Though Lansdowne buzzed and the Irish players hassled and harried, the Dutch eventually came into the game. Kluivert missed an early sitter. Overmars zoomed up and down the wing. Try as they might, Ireland couldn’t get a firm hold on the game and with each passing minute, it seemed that a Dutch goal was becoming increasingly imminent.

Gary Kelly’s dismissal shortly before the hour mark didn’t help matters either, but all form went out the window in a 90-second period which turned the game on its head.

First, Shay Given hauled down Ruud van Nistelrooy as he attempted to capitalise on an underhit Steve Staunton backpass. Stonewall penalty. Waved away.

Then, as if sensing the fickle hand of Lady Luck by their side, Ireland broke almost immediately. As Steve Finnan’s gently lofted ball somehow eluded everybody in the Dutch box and found its way to a totally unmarked Jason McAteer at the back post, time stood still.

The net rippled. Lansdowne erupted. Ireland were one step closer to Korea and Japan.


7. Republic of Ireland 0-1 France

07 September 2005

This column wouldn’t really be representative of anyone’s memories of Lansdowne Road if it didn’t include at least one defeat.

As the qualification process for World Cup 2006 neared its end, Ireland were still in with a very real chance of qualification. Brian Kerr and his side were, in a sense, the architects of their own destiny as they still had home games against their two chief opponents in Group 4 – France and Switzerland.

The away legs of both matches had yielded hard-earned points, proving to Ireland that the results were there for the taking in the performance was up to scratch.

So, it was an air of quiet hope rather than of expectation that crept over Dublin in September as star-gazer Raymond Domenech brought his charges to the capital for the first of two crunch ties.

For me, the game will forever be synonymous with two particularly notable pieces of  footballing skill, the first coming in the eighth minute when Zinedine Zidane masterfully curled a free-kick towards the top corner of the Irish goal, requiring Shay Given to pull off a one-handed save that Banks or Zoff would have welcomed on their own highlights reel.

It was the second, however, which broke Irish hearts. By the 68th minute, the game had gone slightly flat and Ireland looked as though they would be able to battle their way to a point at least.

On this occasion as in the autumn of 2009, it was Thierry Henry who would crush Irish hearts. This time though, his modus operandi was legit and nothing short of superb.


Read more of Niall Kelly’s Magnificent Seven series >

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Niall Kelly

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