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Dublin: 22 °C Tuesday 2 June, 2020

‘The nation holds its breath’ – The story behind that famous quote

RTÉ commentator George Hamilton gives an account of Ireland’s quarter-final penalty shootout with Romania and David O’Leary’s historic spot-kick in 1990.

O’Leary and Bonner (centre). Credit: INPHO / Billy Stickland

WITH THE EUROPEAN Championships just days away now, past glories of the Irish national team, and in particular, the Charlton era, are inevitably being relived.

This week, we spoke to legendary RTE commentator George Hamilton  (who will be attending his 17th major tournament when he covers Ireland at Euro 2012) about what are likely to be the most famous words he has ever spoken.

Having earned a place in the knockout stages of Italia ’90 thanks to three draws against England, Holland and Egypt in Group F, Ireland played out a scoreless draw with Romania after 120 minutes in Genoa, meaning a penalty shootout was needed to settle the tie.

Packie Bonner had just kept out Daniel Timofte’s attempt to keep it at 4-4 when Arsenal defender David O’Leary stepped up. We’ll let George take it from here…

It wasn’t a pre-thought thing as I don’t like the idea of making notes of what you’re going to say.

I find a pre-prepared comment sounds very stilted. The final whistle is blown and off goes the commentator into this big spiel about this and that, which may not have any relevance about the events.

It was June 25, which was the end of the Irish government’s six-month presidency of Europe and there was a press conference in Dublin Castle, which was being hosted by Charlie Haughey. It was on at the same time as the game and was being televised on the Six One news. We were on the RTE 2 . When the match went to extra-time and penalties, someone in the news room made the wise decision to say ‘hold on a minute, we can’t carry on here while this potentially historic moment is about to happen elsewhere’.

They stopped the press conference and advised journalists present to watch the TV monitors. Back in RTE, the editor of Six One decided to take live pictures of the game, which meant that the game was being transmitted on the two channels. I was told this, so anybody who was watching Irish television at that moment was watching this match.

Right before Dave O’Leary’s turn, it just seemed the absolutely appropriate thing to say. Put yourself in my position that your mind is now filled with an image of two televisions -one showing the news, which had cut to the penalties, and one also showing the match.

…And everybody’s watching, so there was nothing else to say except that.”

Watch the shootout in full below. Skip to 14:20 for O’Leary’s:

YouTube credit:

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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