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How Ireland Could Have Won Euro 88, Italia 90, And Euro 92... Kind Of

Balls Team
By Balls Team
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Carlsberg don't do potted counterfactual histories of modern Irish football and sadly they haven't chosen to sponsor this one either. But even they would struggle to construct as glorious an alternate reality as the one sketched below. The years 1988-2016 truly have been a golden age of Irish football, nay a golden age to end all golden ages. Here's how it went down.

Listen to our discussion on the Euros Racket today:

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Euro 88

With time rapidly running out and the Dutch crowd growing more and more antsy, Ronald Koeman shanks a skittery half-volley goalwards. Wim Kieft redirects the wild shot goalwards with a deft glancing header on the edge of the box.

Fortunately, the ball was trundling at around 4 miles per hour, and Packie Bonner was able to walk across and allow the ball to roll into his arms.


The game duly finishes 0-0 and Ireland qualify in second place, one point ahead of the Dutch.

With the favourites Holland now dumped out of the tournament, Ireland proceed to the semi-finals. Their giant-killing reputation spooks the nervy Germans. As they would six years later in Hanover, Ireland dispatch the Germans 2-0 in the Volkparkstadion in Hamburg.

Having dominated them in the group phase, Ireland have no fear of the Soviets. They go ahead early through a Frank Stapleton header and boss proceedings for the remainder of the match.


George Hamilton has learned his lesson from the group game and opts not to tempt fate. Quite simply, there is no danger here.

Ireland win the European championship at their first attempt. Taoiseach Charlie Haughey hails the players and basks in the acclaim of the crowd.

Charlie plants a pair of kisses on the cheek of Chris Morris while he the full-back is conducting a pitch-side interview with Jimmy Magee.


After Haughey skips away, a discommoded Morris, still live on air, leans towards Jimmy and asks 'Who the fuck is that?'

Italia 90


Irish football is brimming with confidence following the European championship victory two years previously. Nonetheless, we eke our way through to the quarter-finals without bothering to win a match in 90, or indeed 120, minutes.

40 minutes in against Italy in Rome, Roberto Donadoni hits  a shot from thirty yards. Fortunately, it is straight down Bonner's throat. He catches it in his chest without parrying the ball. Good thing too, because Schillachi was ready to pounce. Halfway through the second half, Paul McGrath nods a header into the path of John Aldridge who wastes no time in rifling the ball into the far corner.

In the semi-final, they beat the ill-disciplined and under-performing Argentina in the semi-final. Then came the final against the Germans. Re-unification was on the cards, Helmut Kohl was in attendance and there was a widespread belief that we were in the midst of an annus mirabilus for the German nation. Unfortunately, they met their bogey team Ireland in the final.


Unlike the Argentinians, Ireland rationed their fouls wisely and spread the yellow cards around the place, finishing with 11 men. After a scoreless 120 minutes, Ireland triumphed 5-4 in the penalty shootout.

Captain Mick McCarthy and Taoiseach Charlie Haughey jointly hold the World Cup aloft in the Olympic Stadium in Rome.

Euro 92


When war broke out in Yugoslavia, UEFA were initially going to simply invite the second placed team in their qualifying group, aka Denmark, into the tournament proper.

Fortunately, fairness prevailed and they proceeded to hold a playoff involving all the second-placed teams in the qualifying campaign.

Ireland eventually triumphed in a seven-team knockout tournament (the Danes were given a bye) beating Wales, Denmark and Italy in the hastily arranged playoff.

They were on the way to Sweden. Jack Charlton had to cancel his punditry gig with ITV. Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves needed to find another old boy with whom they could have the banter. Brian Clough was drafted on board although his deterioration was obvious to audiences.


As has been recognised by all in the years since, the other seven teams at Euro 92 were no great shakes. Ireland beat Germany in the second major competition in a row.

Up in the stands, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds whispers to his German counterpart, 'unlucky Helmut, sham!'

Korea/Japan 2002

Tom Humphries interview with Roy Keane fails to make it into the Irish Times after being bumped for an exclusive with Dublin manager Tommy Lyons.

After high-tailing out of Saipan, Keane calms himself on finding the Japanese base of Izumo much more to his tastes.

They knuckle down and perform well in the group phase.

With the score 1-1 in extra-time against Spain in the round of 16, an alert McCarthy notices that the Spaniards at down to 10. He re-organises the team and Ireland exploit their numerical advantage. Duffer terrorises his man and wins another penalty in extra-time.

Casillas saves from Keano but the ball rebounds to Kevin Kilbane. He wasn't going to miss an open goal for the second time in the same match. 2-1 Ireland.

Ireland demolish the South Koreans in Suwon after the referee somehow fails to disallow a couple of legitimate Ireland goals. The referee in question is removed from the FIFA panel by Sepp Blatter after the tournament.

A semi-final beckons against the Germans. The colour drains from the German faces when they see those green shirts lined up against them in the final. Our hex against the relatively mediocre Germans remains in place as we secure another 1-0 win.

By now, the Germans are obsessed by Ireland, their repeated failure to beat us in major tournaments becoming the subject of numerous pop psychology documentaries on German TV.

The final is a nerve-jangling affair with Ireland on the back-foot throughout against the Brazilians. But it is the day that Roy Keane proves his worth.

He breaks up numerous Brazilians attacks, uses the ball smartly, bails his teammates out time and again with key interventions and, on 71 minutes, scores the only goal of the game on a breakaway. It is his finest hour. No one ever talks about the game in Turin '99 ever again.

The definitive image of the tournament is the sight of a shirtless Keane embracing McCarthy after the final. Observers agree that the warm relationship between manager and captain was key to Ireland's success. 'Keane was McCarthy's representative on the pitch,' they observe.

A DVD entitled 'Damien Duff Dizziness', showcasing Duffer's best moments in Japan, becomes the best selling DVD in the country that year.

Euro 2016

After a refreshing opening display against Sweden, Ireland survive a traumatic opening 45 minutes in Bordeaux against Belgium. Somehow, the score remains 0-0.

Early in the second half, Shane Long is kicked in the back of the head by Toby Alderweireld. Luckily for Ireland, the game is being reffed by an official who is notoriously quick to blow for such fouls.

Turk Cuneyt Cakir is most famous for sending off Nani for a high-foot in the 2013 Champions League tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

He was never going to see Alderweireld's even more dangerous foul on Long and not award a penalty. Robbie Brady dispatched the penalty.

The brittle Belgians blow a gasket and crumble in the heat. Ireland win the match 1-0, effectively sealing a place in the last 16.

They face Italy in the final game in Lens knowing that a draw is eminently acceptable to both teams. To no one's great surprise, the match finishes 0-0. Ireland go through as runners-up.

The RTE panel assured us that the Hungarians were no great shakes. Ireland reach the quarter-final following a comfortable 2-0 win. The Wales-Ireland game is a gritty local derby. The battle conditions suit us more than them. A 1-1 draw and Ireland go through on penalties.

Likewise, the Portuguese are beaten the moment James McClean takes Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game with a crunching early tackle.

And thus we face into a European championship final once more this Sunday.

Ladbrokes Bet of the Day

Unfortunately, Wales let us down last night, meaning our 'both teams to score' bet failed to come through. It's back on the horse. We are confident that our bet on Antoine Griezmann to emerge as top scorer will deliver for us. Tonight, he is 5/2 to score. We've thrown €50 on it.

Read more: The Welsh Team The Day Gareth Bale Played In Croke Park's 1st Soccer International


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