Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 73-Give It A Lash Jack! (1990)

Ireland weren’t exactly fashionable in international football for quite some time. There were no football stickers of players that weren’t to the level of Johnny Giles or Liam Brady and although there was a lot of interest around the time they would try and get to a World Cup and that was about it. Despite a near miss to qualify in 1982 Ireland only really got serious when former Leeds United hardman Jack Charlton was confirmed as boss of the side and being only the second man from outside Ireland to coach the team (the Scot Doug Livingstone being their first).

Charlton started using the major loophole of finding players who had Irish parents or grandparents which would make them eligible to represent Ireland. A heap of players born in places like Glasgow, Liverpool and London all came in to the picture and were soon in the green shirts and mumbling their way through the Irish National Anthem. After a decent showing at Euro ’88 (where they shocked England 1-0) the Irish got serious about qualifying for Italia ’90 and after a slow start qualified following a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland and then 2-0 victory in Malta despite thousands of fans planning on going to Malta being stranded in Ireland due to fog (major media event for Ireland at the time).

Only 8 out of the 22 in the squad were born in Ireland, those being Packie Bonner, Steve Staunton, Kevin Moran, Ronnie Whelan, David O’Leary, Niall Quinn, Frank Stapleton and the troubled but brilliant defender Paul McGrath. The plastic brigade included Tony Cascarino who would go on to admit after his retirement that even the “fact” that his grandmother was Irish was untrue. Despite the dissapointment of getting Holland and England again in their group like Euro ’88 there was a new found sense of pride for the team and the acceptance of Jack Charlton as the foreign manager of a rather foreign team.

There was even a song or two written for the team, a god awful cheesy techno number produced by U2’s Larry Mullen Jr called ‘Put em under pressure’ and another track called ‘Give it a lash Jack!’

In their first game they again took points of England when they came behind to draw 1-1 thanks to a goal from Kevin Sheedy (not that Kevin Sheedy). They then bored the life out of the viewing public (like so many other teams in this tournament) with a 0-0 draw against Egypt. There was controversy on the home front when it was claimed that Eamon Dunphy (a constant critic of Charlton’s route one tactics) had thrown his pen across the studio on RTE and claimed that he was ashamed to be Irish following the 0-0 draw. What had happened was that he had dropped his pen on to his notes and said that if Ireland played like that every time he would be ashamed, this further had the Irish people either Pro Dunphy/Anti Charlton or vice versa.

Dunphy then flew to Italy to interview Charlton at a press conference but Charlton refused to have him in the room which resulted in a tussle breaking out between pro and anti Dunphy journalists. In the final game of the group stage Niall Quinn (thanks to an awful error) equalised in the second half to draw with a 10 man Holland 1-1 and have the team go through in second place and cause more mass hysteria in Ireland. All of a sudden there were pubs packed with the bandwagoners who hadn’t bothered with the England match and were usually more interested with the GAA.

There were stories in the press about Irish fans who had rang home to have money wired to them so they could continue on to watch the Irish play Romania who were the darkhorses for the tournament with a team of emerging superstars who had starred in recent European Cups and now emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. In the second round both teams cancelled each other out in Genoa and it was yet another drab 0-0 draw but with the tension of a sudden death match in the air, Romania never making the quarter finals before and Ireland going as far as they could.

The game went to penalties and the Russian roulette kicked off. The Romanians went first and the brilliant Hagi converted, Sheedy also converted. Lupu, Houghton, Rotariu, Townsend, Lupescu and Cascarino all converted. For the final kick for Romania Timofte lined up to take his penalty. Up against Timofte was the always dour but sometimes brilliant Celtic goalkeeper Bonner who dived low and to his right to punch the shot away. Bonner jumped in air, pumped his fist and gave this grizzly smile that was so horrific it could possibly be seen as child abuse in this day and age.

It was now up to O’Leary, the sometimes maligned veteran striker from Arsenal who seemed to take forever and a day to place and then place again the ball on the spot. Eventually the big man hit the ball to the keeper’s left, the keeper went to his right and Ireland were through with the ball crashing into the back of the net, the celebrations started with a lasting image being some of the coaching staff running across the pitch to O’Leary with their FAI OPEL tracksuit tops flapping behind them.

Even Bonner managed to crack a smile. Following the win the stories again went around. David O’Leary’s wife had gone out in to the garden because she couldn’t stand to watch the penalty and the Irish team went on to visit the Vatican and meet the Pope (the only team to do so). Football had certainy captured the hearts and minds of the people in Ireland.

Next up for them was Italy who were hosting the event and not willing to really want to tolerate an alleged lightweight like Ireland. A goal from eventual golden boot Salvatore Schilaci knocked the Irish out 1-0. The ride was over but the Irish team were heroes and came back to a massive welcome in Dublin. Jack had been renamed ‘Saint Jack’ and would eventually be given the rare award of an honourary Irish citizenship.

Even days after they had arrived home there were more people to welcome home the team than there were some days later to welcome Nelson Mandela to Ireland for the first time. A memorable moment from a drab World Cup where Ireland had finally arrived on the scene and swept up their country in the process, a bit like Germany 2006 was for us really.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.


  1. I can remember Jackie Charlton in a long grey raincoat rushing onto the pitch to hug his players after they qualified.
    David O’Leary took Leeds United a long way in the Champions League as their manager a decade ago (those were the heyday of Kewell and Viduka from memory).

  2. Peter Fuller says

    Some fine memories drawn out by this “moment”.

    I recall the story of the Irish ranger who was full of righteous indignation when patrolling a lake in his territory, he came upon a fellow fishing in the prohibited season. He discovered that it was Jack Charlton, and had a complete change of heart. “Oh it’s only you Jack, well we owe you a lot more than a couple of fish.”

    I think it was Niall Quinn’s first international, and the players, managers and officials were lined up. Niall belted out the anthem, barely keeping the tears out of his eyes. As it concluded, he heard Jack alongside him say “I suppose that’s ours, is it?”

    The wits had it that FAI didn’t mean the Football Association of Ireland, but find an Irishman. An English journalist found a dismissive Dublin cab-driver who was unhappy with the blow-ins: “All you need is an Irish granny, and everyone has one of those.”

  3. Dennis Gedling says

    In the fantastic collection of writings called ‘My Favourite Year’ Roddy Doyle has written a fantastic essay on Italia 90 and being part of it. I found a lot of parallels to our efforts in 2006.

    Fair dues to Ireland for putting that side together. They found a loophole and exploited it. It was the St Patricks Day of Football where everyone was a little bit Irish to make sure they played in a World Cup.

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