Paul McGrath Recalls His Feisty Exchange With Gheorghe Hagi At Italia '90

Paul McGrath Recalls His Feisty Exchange With Gheorghe Hagi At Italia '90

It's June 1990. The Republic of Ireland soccer team have defied all odds on the world stage as Jack Charlton leads the unlikely heroes to the knockout stages of the sports most prestigious tournament - the World Cup. So many of the individuals involved would become eventual heroes to the nation.

Yet, one player in particular made the most remarkable journey through life. Having been raised in an orphanage, Paul McGrath had to learn to battle both on and off the pitch. 'The Black Pearl of Inchicore' established himself as one of the finest players to ever sport an Irish jersey, and his consistent performances in the group stage of Italia 90 ensured Ireland only conceded two goals.

Next on the agenda was Romania who were blessed with the talismanic striker, Gheorghe Hagi. It would make for a fascinating affair but one moment deep into the second half could have changed the fortunes of the Irish national team. McGrath recalled the incident on 'An Irishman Abroad' podcast;

I remember I belted Hadji with an elbow. Simply 'cause he hit me in the ribs. I don't know who tackled who but we both ended up on the ground. He hit me a real sly dig in the ribs. Naturally, my left arm came out and I kinda belted him right in the mush.

Then I looked up at the Brazilian referee and I just went "Please don't. Whatever you do, don't". He luckily enough just waved it off and said 'you both hit each other'.

In moments like that you just think, oh my God, everything could have been over for me.


Oh, how things would have been different if a red card was brandished heading into extra-time.

Referee, José Roberto Wright is the true unsung hero of Italia '90.


Darren Holland

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