Iconic Ireland

For a nation of just 5 million people we have had quite an interesting and notable impact on the world of football. We may not have qualified for as many tournaments as we might have liked (just 6 major tournaments) and here’s hoping Stephen Kenny and his team add to the half dozen, but we have had some very memorable performances and occasions in our footballing history.

Running the Irish Football Pics account has widened our eyes to so many photos captured down the years and because of this, it has made the task of picking just 5 of them, near impossible.

As a breakaway from perhaps some of the more obvious photos that would make most people’s Top 5 photos i.e. Houghton’s leap and header in Stuttgart, Packie’s save or Paul McGrath at the Giant’s Stadium, we have decided to walk a less trodden path and select some of our own personal choices. Each in their own way, forming a very important part of Irish footballing history.

Asking us to whittle it down to a ranking Top 5 would be too arduous a task and might cause some in-house fighting among contributors. So for that reason, the 5 selected are in no particular order!

Liam Brady scores for Ireland against Belgium

Ireland’s Liam Brady scores an 89th minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Belgium in the Heysel Stadium, Brussels, 10th September 1986. Brady converted from the spot after Frank Stapleton had been taken down on the edge of the box by Jean-Marie Pfaff.  It was a stark contrast in fortunes for Ireland as the previous game in the Heysel Stadium in 1981 resulted in some dodgy refereeing by Fernandes Nazare ultimately destroying our 1982 World Cup qualification campaign after a 1-0 defeat.  This was Jack’s first competitive game in charge and his reign signalled a change in luck as things started to go our way for once with Gary Mackay ultimately sealing our Euro 88 qualification in Sofia on a rainy November night in 1987.  Interestingly this game was a return to the scene of the Heysel Disaster for Liverpool players Mark Lawrenson and Jim Beglin who only 16 months earlier played the infamous 1985 European Cup Final in which 39 Juventus fans lost their lives.

Jason McAteer scores against the Netherlands

Jason McAteer putting a half volley past The Netherlands keeper Edwin Van Der Sar at the old south terrace end in Lansdowne Road, 1 September 2001.  Victory in this crunch qualifier put us on our way to Korea and Japan and still stands as one of the best games and atmospheres ever at the famous old stadium.  It doesn’t seem like long ago but it’s now 20 years since that famous game.  To put this in perspective, the twin towers in New York were still intact, we were using the Punt, the internet was in its infancy and social media did not exist, smartphones were still a decade off, DJ Otzi was number 1 in the charts with ‘Hey Baby’, Foot and Mouth was the feared virus at the time and the Sumatra Tsunami was still 3 years away.    

Ireland vs Italy at Dalymount Park in 1985

Rep of Ireland 1-2 Italy, Dalymount Park, Dublin, 5 February 1985. In a time when international friendlies were taken seriously as can be seen from the heaving crowd.  Juventus striker Paolo Rossi put the Azzurri ahead from the penalty spot. He would move to AC Milan later in the year.  Alessandro Altobelli put the Italians 2-0 up before half time.  Gary Waddock pulled one back in the second half with a fine left footed strike from 20 yards similar in style to Kevin Sheedy’s  goal against England in Cagliari in 1990.   Thankfully this night did not descend into a potential tragedy.  In the days before Health and Safety a large crowd crammed into the old crumbling home of Irish football.   What lay ahead could have been a nightmare.  An expected crowd of 20,000 was vastly underestimated as over 40.000 descended upon the narrow bricked laneways leading into the ground.  Kick off had to be delayed and Gardai ordered gates to be opened to relieve pressure.  Fans spilled over onto the touchlines and other unofficial vantage points.  Thankfully a major incident was avoided.  The fans on the roof could have ended up seriously injuring themselves and those below. A similar incident in Scarborough in 1987 saw Wolves fans fall through the decrepit old stand roof to the concrete below.   Heysel was 3 months off in which many Italian players would be playing as well as our own Jim Beglin and Mark Lawrenson. The Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 was the final catalyst that has seen scenes like this confined to the history books with all seater stadiums replacing the decaying, albeit atmospheric grounds of old.

Diego Maradona taking on the Irish defense

Diego came to town twice within the space of a year. Once as a substitute and then as the main man for the then world champions. All eyes were on the young star at Lansdowne Road as full back Dave Langan was tasked by Eoin Hand to keep Diego at bay. Langan stuck to the task and even picked up a yellow card for giving Diego a belt which was met with a look of “that all you got?”

Despite being well marshalled by Langan in the final third, Maradona still managed to sparkle on the day. His very low centre of gravity, incredible speed and strength, ensured the Lansdowne crowd were treated to a reputation that didn’t disappoint. Argentina left Dublin securing a 0-1 win. Despite the loss, the fine Irish performance on the day meant that Eoin Hand secured the job as manager on a permanent basis. Hand was just 34 at the time.

The Old Lady of Dublin

Our last photo doesn’t have to be associated with any one particular match or performance but is one that will hold long and abiding memories for all players and fans lucky enough to experience it in its heyday. It is of course, the Old Lady of Dublin, the old Lansdowne Road.

Yes it was in dire need of repair and modernisation and we all accepted that, but there was just something beautiful about the old ground, the history, the terraces, the clubhouse in the corner and the sight and vibrations of the DART running under the stands.

Many of our fixtures pre 1993 were scheduled for lunch time kick offs. Bizarre to think that less than 30 years ago, our stadium had no floodlights! But this was very much the case. This meant days off from work, half days from school, for all of the travelling fans from near and wide. But like we said about, there was something beautiful and innocent about it all. Halcyon days indeed.

By Irish Football Pics

The Hex Blog

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