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How Poland Cost One Of Ireland's Best Ever Teams A Shot At Glory

By Conor Neville
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The identity of the eventual winners of Euro 92 only deepened the sense of regret that Ireland felt over not making the tournament.

For Denmark had one big thing in common with Ireland at that time. Neither had qualified for Euro 92. Alas, only one those countries went on to win the competition they hadn't qualified for.

Unfortunately, war broke out in Yugoslavia and not in England and thus Ireland had to watch their fellow qualification failures scrap their way to glory that summer.

And it's all Poland's fault.

Ireland were part of the only four-team group in the qualification stage. Naturally, we were drawn with England (I believe it was compulsory at that time), along with the Poles and then whipping boys Turkey.

The two England games are the most oft repeated from that campaign, in particular the Wembley fixture. Between June 1990 and March 1991, Ireland played three competitive fixtures against England. All finished 1-1 with Ireland coming from behind in each of them.

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The September 1990 game in Lansdowne Road was comfortably the most dreary of the three.

The England players were annoyed by the pitch, which Gary Lineker described as a 'ploughed field' and the English public were at once baffled and annoyed by the kick-off time. Like almost every Irish home match before 1995, the game was played on a weekday afternoon, owing to the absence of floodlights in Lansdowne Road.

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It was a different story at Wembley 1991 where Ireland delivered one of their best performances of the Charlton era. They would hardly have been flattered by a 4-1 win.

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While many were content with the result, the abiding feeling watching the extended highlights online is frustration at Ireland's failure to make their superiority count. (Kevin Moran later told Tom Humphries as part of his 'Dubs v Kerry' book that the only matches from his career he ever watched back were the '76 and '77 games against Kerry and that game in Wembley in '91.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sfGPJezCGU

Ireland had a truly powerful side out that night. McGrath was imperious in his defensive midfield role. Bryan Robson was largely anonymous.

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A head-bandaged Kevin Moran and the elegant David O'Leary formed the defensive duo.

Irwin and Staunton, the latter of whom was unlucky to redirect Dixon's flashed half-volley into the net early on, were the two full-backs. Houghton, Sheedy and Townsend were all busy in midfield while Quinny was a 20 goal a season man for Man City in the early 1990s.

While Graham Taylor's unimpressive England struggled past Turkey 1-0 both home and away (a 1-0 win over Turkey in those days was considered an alarmingly narrow victory that was deserving of censure and criticism), Ireland spanked the Turks 5-0 in a euphoric performance in Dublin and then dispatched them 3-1 out in Istanbul.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8do7XFSKeI

Goal difference was emphatically on Ireland's side.

However, it was points dropped against Poland that were to cost us.

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England, still basking in the glow of Italia 90, beat Poland in the opening game in Wembley and never played as well again in the campaign.

Unaccountably, Ireland's failed to demolish the Poles when they had them pinned against the wall in Dublin. They created a hail of chances in the first 45 minutes and a had a goal disallowed for Quinny's rather robust challenge with the Polish keeper. Ireland's attacks grew less coherent as the game wore on. The game petered out to a depressing conclusion.

Peter Byrne in the Irish Times reported that 'a sense of deep inevitability settled on the stadium in the last half hour when the carnival mood of the early afternoon had quietened to almost nothing.'

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6acWEUglv6E

However, if that left a sour taste, the levels of frustration were off the scale after events in Poznan in October 1991.

As the game entered the final quarter, Ireland looked to be sailing to victory. Goals from McGrath early on and from Townsend and Cascarino midway through the second half left Ireland with a 3-1 lead. They looked set fair for a fantastic result. The Poles were going through a lean period but beating them in Poland was not an easy task.

The Indo (who magnanimously declared football the winner at the end) described the events.

But on 77 minutes, Bonner could only get a touch to a drive from Nawrocki after it had been deflected by Moran and Furtok narrowed the gap by tapping in the rebound.

Thirteen minutes left and 3-2. Edginess reigned supreme. You know the rest.

With just four minutes left a cross from Czachowski seemed to have the Irish defence getting all their signals wrong and Urban headed in the equaliser with Bonner in no-man's land.

The players looked impossibly dejected coming off. The word came back that Ireland's chances of qualifying were slim.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYdT7Krd6EE

England, thus only needed a draw in their final match in Poznan. In keeping with the general tenor of their campaign, they made heavy weather of it.

Poland, having stymied Ireland's qualifications twice that year, proceeded to almost do the same to England. While Ireland were busy disposing of the Turks, the word came through that the Poles were 1-0 up. Ireland were going through.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lolOpTOQodY

By the full-time whistle in Turkey, the mood was flat again. England stole out of Poland with a 1-1 draw after Lineker snatched a late goal.

England were no addition to the tournament the following year.

There were no goals in their first 180 minutes of football as they drew 0-0 with both Denmark and France. They then proceeded to lose 2-1 to the hosts, and Graham Taylor was a hunted man thereafter.

The fusty old duffers who ran the FA at the time were fond of Graham and he was let manage England's USA 94 qualifying campaign. It would have been better for all concerned had he been sacked after Sweden.

Among the Irish public at large, it's the one tournament from the early 90's that didn't happen. The producers of Reeling in the Years (the folk responsible for writing the first draft of history) showed little interest in the tournament.

Among the hardcore Irish fans, it is recalled as an opportunity missed.

Arguably, Euro 88, when Ireland were eight minutes from knocking the eventual champions out in the group stage was an even greater opportunity. But by 1992, Ireland had a couple of big summer jamborees under their belt. They had gotten a taste for it. The team was as strong as they ever were.

In the qualification group for USA 94, we were drawn with Denmark. As if to prove it would have been doable, Ireland edged out the Danes in the race for the USA.

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