25 years ago, Irish players - and fans - experienced a rather uncomfortable afternoon in Orlando.
The Ireland team line up before kick off ahead our FIFA World Cup 1994 clash with tonight's opponents Mexico. #TBT #COYBIG pic.twitter.com/sk7xCojO9O
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) June 1, 2017
A significant sub-section of Irish fans at USA 94 decided to skip the opening match in New Jersey. Their reasoning was they didn't want to be flying to New York, then down to Orlando for Mexico, and then back to New York again for the Norway game. It was simply more economical to make do with watching Ireland-Italy on television and then join up with the Irish fans in Florida. These people now have good cause to curse their logistical good sense.
Popular culture has understandably relegated the remaining three games of USA 94 to the status of an afterthought. As Roy Keane wrote in his terrifyingly angry first autobiography, Ireland's '94 World Cup campaign effectively ended after they beat Italy in the Giants Stadium. Keano retrospectively defined Ireland's primary objective as avoiding disgrace.
This modest ambition was immediately realised in the opening match and thereafter the Ireland team lounged around in the comfy environment otherwise known as bonus territory.
Sadly, they refused to avail themselves of any of the spoils of bonus territory.
The Friday - six days after Ireland claimed their biggest victory of them all - they met the Mexicans in Game Two.
While Ireland had been busy ensuring we were the beneficiaries of the then obligatory Italian slow start, Mr. Kjetil Rekdal was giving the Norwegians the win against Mexico.
We were sadly hamstrung by the venue, which, appropriately enough, was not far from the original home place of Mickey Mouse. Not to mention the start time, though it's probable that the conditions in Orlando would have been tough to bear even had the game began at a normal time.
But, yes, due to some Mickey Mouse style organising skills from the geniuses from FIFA, the match was scheduled to proceed at half past midday local time. This, ironically, was at the behest of the European TV companies who wanted to screen a game in late afternoon/early evening.
Thus, Ireland had to play Mexico in Orlando in high summer at a time of day when the heat was at its greatest.
We needn't dwell too long on how the match went. Everyone knows. The Mexicans went 2-0 through Garcia Aspe, George Hamilton displaying local GAA commentator levels of partiality by screaming 'OHHH NOOOOO!!!' when the second goal flew in.
John Aldridge called some infuriating FIFA jobsworth 'a twat' and 'a dickhead'. And then when he was finally let on, he nodded home what turned out to be a very crucial goal to leave the final score at 2-1 Mexico.
He also treated us to the traditional celebration of the player who's just pulled a goal back. That is to say, no celebration. Just pick the ball out of the net and plonk it back on the centre circle in record quick time, while barking at your teammates to look alive for the next few minutes. The great fear is that the modern player is far too self-indulgent and individualistic a creature to forgo his goal celebration in such a fashion. Olivier Giroud copped heat for that at Bournemouth and his goal celebration followed an equalising goal.
Of course, Ireland needed another goal to draw the game but we also like to think that Aldridge was still too furious to do anything as frivolous as celebrate a goal at that time.
The players travails are well documented. What's less well known as that the Irish supporters in the Stand, many already drained from a week of solid drinking, were in a state of some distress themselves. Irish supporter Darragh McGlynn remembers the First Aid people buzzing around the place attending to Irish supporters.
They were droppin' like flies around the Stadium. Irish fans passing out. People were drinking before the game and then just dehydrating. The First Aiders had their work cut out that day, because a lot of lads were fainting. We just know how the lads on the pitch stuck it.
Jack Charlton, by now facing a touchline ban following his row with the pedantic FIFA official, was in foul humour after the game. He remained defiant in the face of it all.
"Next time, we'll play the Mexicans in winter and we'll see what happens", Charlton was quoted as saying.
We've played them in a couple of friendlies since then, and are due another this year. But thus far, no winter rematch has been arranged.