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28 Years Ago Today, Irish Football Took A Giant Leap Into The Future

By Conor Neville
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The early days of Jack Charlton's reign as Ireland manager were dominated by talk of Jackie's 'up-and-under almost Garryowen style tactics', as the Irish Press termed them.

He had inherited the job in convoluted circumstances in early 1986 after the Eoin Hand era, which bristled with surprising promise early on, had trundled to a dreary, depression conclusion.

Of course, the Hand era was cherished by some folk. The small band of supporters who turned up at Hand's final game, a 4-1 thrashing at home to Denmark, were able to adopt a morally superior pose for the duration of the Charlton era - but the inflatable hammer brigade were too high on the joy of it all to notice.

The identity of Hand's biggest critic in the Irish media was also the man who would be Jack's stoutest defender throughout the Euro 88 qualification campaign.

And his name will surprise anyone under the age of 30.

Eamon Dunphy believed that Charlton's grim pragmatism would be a good antidote to the years of amiable 'decentskinsmanship' that he blighted the Hand era, in his eyes.


Ireland started the campaign positively, drawing 2-2 in Belgium. There followed a 0-0 draw with Belgium where Ireland enjoyed more of the play. Then there was another 0-0 draw at home to Scotland, which was not greeted with much approval.

The Scots were well used to playing in major tournaments at that point. With the exception of USA 94, they qualified for every World Cup between 1974 and 1998 - a superb record soured only by the fact that they never actually made it past the first round.



While it was a treacherous group  with only one qualifying spot up for grabs, the Scots were confident.

Of Ireland, there was a breezy expectation, inherited from history, that Scotland should have too much for them. But Pat Nevin was more clued in to what was happening with this new Irish generation.

There was an expectation that we would qualify and Ireland hadn’t ever qualified and were considered a weaker side. But people like me who played against their guys every week knew that that was a load of tosh! So, the players knew fine well that we were up against a right good side, whereas some journalists, in the days before the internet, might have thought, ‘Ach, it’s only Ireland, you’ll beat them’. That wasn’t the case in any of our minds.

The goal came early. The ball was knocked high into Frank Stapleton who won a free after being sandwiched by Maurice Malpas and Alan Hanson. Malpas came off worst and ended up on the ground. He was still on the ground when Ireland took a quick free-kick. The free quick for the camera which was still lingering on Malpas holding his head on the ground. It only flicked back to the action as Mark Lawrenson whipped the ball into the net.

[Watch Video]

Lawrenson - who has been very frank in his admission that he only opted to play for Ireland because England didn't look like picking him at the time - was one of Ireland's best players between 1977 and 87.


Along with Liam Brady, he was one of the most influential players in that qualification campaign. Neither of them would get to play in the tournament proper, Brady through suspension, Lawrenson through a career-ending injury.

Scotland attacked well with Pat Nevin and David Speedie creating a host of chances on either flank. They were vulnerable at the other end, however, and John Aldridge, still mired in his international goalscoring drought - Charlton's tactics were not incidental - messed up a couple of great chances.

Ireland held out, claiming a famous victory. It remains the famous victory of the campaign, even more famous than the arguably more impressive 2-0 home win over top of the table Bulgaria in October. Of course, people were under the mistaken impression that win was futile at the time.


Nevin's grandparents were from Naas and when he was younger, his family harboured hopes of him playing for Ireland. And though his father was born in Scotland, he was conflicted, to say the least, about who to root for that night. After Nevin traipsed dejectedly outside, he found that his father was unable to keep the smile from his lips.

I was gutted because we played well, we’d played with two wingers, myself and Davie Cooper, we’d created a lot of chances. When I went out afterwards there was my Dad standing waiting for me smiling.

I said to him ‘surely you weren’t supporting Ireland?’

And he said, ‘well, I’ll go this far son, if you’re going to get beaten by anyone, that’s who to get beat by.’

See also: Balls Remembers One Of The Most Harrowing Results In Irish History

See also: The Gary Mackay Hall of Fame

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