FAI History Chapter 11 – World Cup 1966
The selection of England as the venue for the finals of the 1966 World Cup was welcomed with a degree of satisfaction in Ireland. How convenient a destination for Irish fans if the international team could qualify !The draw for the qualifying round was ominous, however, for Ireland were grouped with Syria and Spain. When Syria withdrew because of unrest in the Middle East, Ireland were left to dispute matters with Spain and the all too recent experiences against these opponents in the European Championship could not be ignored.Ireland sought to purge the disappointment of the European Championship quarter-final by engaging in a quickfire series of friendly matches immediately after the UEFA Championship losses to Spain.They were defeated 1-3 by Poland in Kracow on May 10, 1964, but three days later enjoyed an encouraging 4-1 victory over Norway in Oslo. Less than two weeks later, on May 24, 1964, Ireland were beaten 3-1 by England at Dalymount.There was no way of knowing on that day, of course, that six members of that England team would go on to win World Cup medals at Wembley two years later - George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Peter Thompson, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore.Ireland beat Poland 3-2 at Dalymount on October 25, 1964, but a team that contained five home-based players lost 0-2 to Belgium at Dalymount on March 24, 1965. The League of Ireland players were Fran Brennan (Drumcondra), Jackie Hennessy (Shelbourne), Frank O'Neill, Jackie Mooney and Liam Tuohy of Shamrock Rovers.Hennessy and O'Neill kept their places when Ireland faced Spain in the first of their World Cup ties at Dalymount Park on May 5, 1965. Making a return after missing the Belgium game were Noel Cantwell, John Giles, Charlie Hurley. Pat Dunne made his debut in goal and a new full-back, Shay Brennan, stepped up to make history.Brennan (Manchester United) became the first player to play for Ireland under the recently introduced FIFA piece of legislation that allowed a player play for a country other than that of his birth if he qualified by way of ancestry or residence.It was entirely appropriate that Brennan should be the first individual so recognised by the FAI selectors. His parents came from Co. Carlow and while he was born in Manchester he was genuinely Irish by inclination as well as by ancestry.Shay Brennan's development at Old Trafford was accelerated by the tragic events of Munich Airport in 1958. He was then just 20 and was swiftly promoted to the United first team for their first, emotional, match after the crash - a Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday.Brennan was a full-back throughout his career but on this night he was pressed into service as an emergency left-winger. He wrote his name into history by scoring two of the goals that helped United defeat Wednesday 3-0 in a match that was played in a downpour.He was to go on and enjoy a career that was not so much sprinkled as smothered in the stardust of success with United. Inordinately talented as a footballer, he brought a level of sophisticated skill to the job of defender that was rare and grew to become an international player of genuine class.He formed a triangle of Irish players with fellow full-back Tony Dunne and goalkeeper Pat Dunne when United won the English League Championship in 1965. He helped United win another Championship title two years later and then, in the company of other Irishmen Tony Dunne and the brilliant George Best, he won the European Cup with United in 1968.Brennan played 350 games for United and 19 for Ireland and few were as exciting or as demanding as his debut game against Spain. Ireland knew they had to win their home leg and, with aggregate scores not counting, this would guarantee them a play-off at a neutral venue.Spain came to Dublin as European champions and included six players who had helped to defeat the Soviet Union in the final of that Championship. But they met an Irish team bristling with intent and fired up by the dominance of Charlie Hurley at centre-back and the drive of Noel Cantwell at centre-forward.Ireland won a famous victory when the pressure they exerted yielded a precious winning goal. Frank O'Neill stroked a trademark free-kick into the ‘red-for-danger' zone.Spain's goalkeeper, Jose Iribar, came to collect. But then the substantial shadow of the leaping Cantwell fell across him to block out the sun, as it were. Iribar could not avoid deflecting the ball into the net.The return match in Seville on October 27, 1965, had no such fairytale ending for the Irish. They were denied the services of Brennan and Hurley because of injury and with Eric Barber (Shelbourne) making his debut at centre-forward, Ireland were out-played and beaten 4-1.The decision to fix the play-off for Paris was controversial. There were suggestions that the FAI chose not to pursue an argument in favour of Wembley because of financial reasons. The perceived wisdom of the day was that FIFA were inclined to fix the match for Wembley but the Spanish FA offered to pay Ireland's expenses if they travelled to Paris.Whatever the background to the decision in favour of Paris, what was generally accepted is that Spain drew great comfort from the level of support they had in an attendance of 35,000 people when the teams ran onto the pitch at the Colombes Stadium on November 10, 1965.Ireland were again without Hurley and his absence, in turn, robbed the forward line of Cantwell who had to fill in for him. But Shay Brennan was back and Ireland played with great resolve and determination and were unlucky to lose to a goal eleven minutes from time.The failure to qualify for the finals in England was a major disappointment that left a legacy that impacted negatively upon the team and fans alike.The sequence of results that followed took a heavy toll.West Germany defeated Ireland 4-0 at Dalymount on May 4, 1966 with a team that included such brilliant players as Franz Beckenbauer, Uwe Seeler, Wolfgang Overath and Sepp Maier. And Austria won 1-0 in Vienna on May 22, 1966.Ireland gathered their forces to score a 3-2 win over Belgium in Liege on May 25, 1966, but by then the public focus was on the World Cup so tantalisingly close in a geographical sense but so far out of reach !And when the draw for the European Championship of 1968 decreed that Ireland would once again face Spain as well as Turkey and Czechoslovakia, the future looked daunting.
11th Apr 2011