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Ireland Euro 2012: Boys in Green need to defy history to advance

For England, the task this summer is to replicate the hero’s of ’66. For Spain the matadors of 2010 and 2008. For France, the champions of 1998 and 2000. Even the likes of Denmark and Greece have legends to take inspiration from. The task charged with the Republic of Ireland is to make history in front of our eyes. As a result of previous near misses and “if only” moments, the expectation levels placed on Ireland are significantly lower than the majority of the other European nations. However, to say that Ireland have no history is as naive as claiming that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City do not have previous glories with which to spurn them on. Just because Ireland’s history hasn’t been altogether successful, there are still legends – who have never given up on their dreams – to inspire the class of 2012 and lessons to be learnt from previous qualifying campaigns.

It is unlikely that the Boys in Green will look as far back as the late 1940s, but nonetheless the years immediately preceding the Second World War were some of Ireland’s proudest. The class of 1949 became the first ever nation outside of the Home Countries, to defeat England on their home soil. It may have been “just a friendly”, but on the 21st of September 1949 at Goodison Park, the founders of football were defeated 2-0 by a resilient Irish XI. The Irish team of the 1940s, although largely forgotten, was one of the strongest in terms of playing personnel, with the majority of the team playing club football within the English football pyramid, for the most part in the first and second divisions (the modern day equivalents being the Premier League and the Championship).

Irish left green with envy as England claim the World Cup

Irish left green with envy as England claim the World Cup

Nine years on, however, England inflicted their revenge, defeating Ireland in a play off for a place in the 1958 World Cup. Since this time onwards, qualification always posed a serious challenge for the Boys in Green. There was controversy in Ireland’s bid to qualify for the 1966 World Cup, when a play off against Spain was played in France instead of Ireland, which proved to favor the Spaniards given their large levels of French support. Spain claimed a 1-0 victory, but were eventually knocked out in the group stages by a West German side that made it all the way to the final. One wonders whether the Irish fans of the day would have cheered on the victorious English side, who claimed their maiden World Cup victory on home soil. 

Through the 60s and 70s Ireland had a manager; Johnny Giles and with him much needed stailit, aswell as a marque name to stand in awe of, Arsenal’s Liam Brady. 72 caps later and the midfielder is to this day largely recognised as the most technically gifted player ever to pull on the Green shirt. His best moment playing for the national side came when he claimed the winning goal against France in March ’77. The goal and the victory were made sweeter by the fact that the match was a make or break qualifier for Ireland’s bid to play in the ’78 World Cup. Although the memories of that game will rest in the heart of those Irish fans who witnessed it for eternity, Ireland missed out on a long awaited place in the World Cup by just 2 points.

With Eion Hand in charge significant progress was made towards qualification to a World Cup. This progress was unfortunately not significant enough, as Ireland missed out on qualification on goal difference, after replicating their victory against the French on home soil. Dismal qualification campaigns for the ’84 European Championship and ’86 World Cup, and Hand’s time in charge was effictively over after the Boys in Green came nowhere near qualification.

Jack Charlton, Ireland longest serving manager

Jack Charlton, Ireland longest serving manager

Hand’s depature cleared the way for what is widely acclaimed to be Ireland’s most successful period. In came Jack Charlton, brother of coarse of World Cup winner Bobby Charlton and with him, at long last, came World Cup qualification. Charlton was quick to impose his methods, shortly after taking charge in 1985 . Gary Mackay’s goal gave Ireland a win against Bulgaria to ensure top spot in the qualification group for the 1988 European Championships. Once again, however, it was “if only” for the Boys in Green. After defeating England and drawing with the Soviet Union, Ireland were 10 minutes from a place in the semi finals. However, the Dutch side put in front of them were ressilient, and broke Irish hearts by claiming a last grasp winner.Charlton and Ireland’s proudest moment was yet to come. They cruised to qualification for the 1990 World Cup, a stunning feat bearing in mind that today’s holders Spain occupied their group. Their trip to Rome ensured an audience with the Pope, but the tournament itself was so much more than just a photo shoot for Ireland’s star XI. After qualifying from a group that included England and Holland, Charlton’s side brushed Romania aside to claim a spot in the Quarter Finals. At this point the script was read again, and Ireland were defeated by the solitary goal against Italy, although there could be little shame in defeat as Italy were the home nation, and the Quarter Final was played in their national stadium in Rome.

From Rome to the USA; Ireland again defied the odds to take their place in the ’94 World Cup, despite missing out on qualification for the European Championship’s just two years previously. They inflicted a famous revenge on the Italian side that ended their 1990 World Cup dream, but eventually succumbed to the Netherlands in the second round. A year on and Ireland had the chance to gain sweet revenge on their defeators again, as they faced the Dutch in the play off for the ’96 European Championships. There was to be no happy ending for Jack Charlton, however, as he walked away from the job after defeat at the hands of the Oranje. Nonetheless it was an era that Irish football could cherish for generations to come, as Charlton’s side hit the highest heights.

Joy for Keane as his heroics give Ireland precious draw with Germany

In came the everpresent Mick McCarthy who, despite success, could not replicate the Charlton era before him. After missing out on two major tournaments in succession, goals from Ian Harte and Robbie Keane against an Iranian side gave Ireland a place in the 2002 World Cup. In a championship full of twists and turns, upsets and drama, Ireland joined in the party. A last grasp Robbie Keane equalizer gave McCarthy’s side a momentous point, which secured a place in the knockout phase once again. The image of Keane rolling across the Korean turf will forever remain one of the greatest moments in Irish football, and established the Wolves player as one of the greatest Irish players ever, certainly the most influential. Against Spain Keane would replicate his heroics, slotting home an equalizing penalty late in the match. His efforts were, however, in vein as Spain kept their cool in the subsequent penalty shootout; defeating Ireland by 3 penalties to 2. McCarthy’s achievement was made greater by the way in which he dealt with Roy Keane’s controversial withdrawal from the team shortly after joining up the squad, as he cited personal reasons and a disagreement with the playing staff as reasons not to partake in the tounrament. Keane was a key player in terms of his tough blooded, never say die attitude on the pitch, but unfortunately the down side of such an attitude was controversy off the pitch, as Manchester United later discovered.

The achivements of Charlton and McCarthy have gone unmatched, as the Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton have failed to bring in stability and, most crucially of all, a place in one of the two major tournaments that Irish fans so dearly desire. Staunton’s last game more or less summed up his short lived “era” a 5-2 defeat against Cyprus, possibly the worst defeat in Irish history.

Henry handball shatters Ireland's hopes


However, in the same way that we have spoken of the Charlton and McCarthy eras, we may well in future years be talking about the Giovanni Trapattoni era. Spurned on be their controversial defeat against France or “Les Cheats” as they have been donned by some passionate Irish followers, the Boys in Green cruised past Estonia and will take their place in the European Championships. They will be looking to match the achievements of McCarthy’s men in 2002, that team had so much heart and a never say die attitude. As mentioned in previous articles, Ireland have a good blend of youth and experience as well as a well rehearsed system that makes them hard to beat. However, this time its even harder for them. This is the time when the Boys in Green, have to become the Men in Green.

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