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Memories are made of this

30th Anniversary Retrospective: An Irish team had never qualified for the finals of a major tournament in 1977. It took another 11 years for that dream to be realised – and there’s been a few memorable campaigns since. Tony Cascarino fills us in.

Tony Cascarino, 20 Jun 2007

I never need an excuse anyway, but since it’s hotpress’s 30th birthday, it seems a suitable time to look back on the Republic’s glory years.

My first call-up was in 1985. Eoin Hand brought me on board, though he wasn’t getting the results and lost his job a few months after I joined. Jack Charlton took over – and it wasn’t long before we realised there was something really special going on with the team.

I remember looking around the dressing room one day and being overwhelmed by the talent that was there. We had bloody great players – there was Aldridge, Stapleton, Whelan, Houghton, O’Leary, Chris Hughton, Tony Galvin. Any national team would have killed to have players like that. Even the bench was full of talent. Jack himself brought leadership qualities, and a single-mindedness that was unique to the job. He was very sure about exactly what he wanted us to do, and even if certain individuals in the group didn’t agree with him, he made certain they did what he told them to. In the early stages, there was a fair amount of muttering to the effect that we should play more free-flowing football – but, as the results kept on coming, everyone began to believe in him more and more, and the feeling grew that we could really make an impact on the international stage.

He wanted players fighting for their shirts, so no-one was ever guaranteed their place. It was good, it kept everyone on their toes. I’d been in the wilderness really for Jack’s first 18 months – I didn’t play much part in the qualifiers, and just got back into the squad in time for the Euro ‘88 finals. I played well in a few friendlies and he decided I was worth a go.

That day in Stuttgart when we beat England 1-0 was unforgettable. I remember the incredible atmosphere in the stadium, and being taken aback at how many Irish fans had made the trip. England had some great players at the time: in particular, Gary Lineker was probably the best striker in Europe, he was so sharp and quick and knew where the goal was. But between Mick McCarthy and Packie Bonner, there was no way he could get through that day.

Jack was great to be around, as well. He was bloody funny, without trying to be, and he gave us a lot of freedom (although not on the pitch, obviously!). He’d let us have a beer together, enjoy ourselves on nights out, and I’ve never known such a team spirit anywhere. The atmosphere was very relaxed, and we always seemed to over-perform. We ended up going out against one of the best teams ever seen, the Holland of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard, and ran them all the way, losing to a freak goal with five minutes left (which was offside, by the way, if you look at the replay!)

Looking back, I think the team was at its peak around 1991, just after the World Cup, when we were playing the Euro qualifiers. To this day, I’ll never know how we didn’t qualify. We went to Wembley and absolutely slaughtered England: the game ended 1-1, but if you look at the video, we killed them. Ray Houghton had a great chance to win it late on, as he had done in the home game at Lansdowne. I equalised that day, in Dublin, and I’ve never been as drunk after a game. We dominated them twice: my main memory is big Paul McGrath, who was playing out of position in midfield, having Bryan Robson in his pocket. It was scary. Nothing Robson did would work. The only bad thing was that Jack got dog’s abuse from the English fans: they were chanting ‘Judas’. He was really upset. He’d won the World Cup with England, and it hurt Jack deeply. He was managing Ireland, doing a professional job, and he shouldn’t have had to put up with that.

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