FAI History Chapter 12 – Spain again break Irish hearts
The 1960s and 70s were unproductive years for Ireland's international team despite the availability of players of high reputation and considerable achievement at club level.The effects of the negative results were seen in the constantly changing personnel in the dressing-room for no Irish team selection remained unchanged for two consecutive matches.And there was little cause for joy when Ireland were drawn in the same group as Spain, Czechoslovakia and Turkey in the qualifying tournament of the 1968 UEFA Championship with only one team to qualify for knock-out quarter-finals.Ireland opened their programme with a home game against Spain on October 23, 1968 and again the fans rolled up in numbers to offer the team their committed and noisy support.This time there was no repeat of the drama of the World Cup tie three years previously against these opponents and Spain efficiently countered an Irish attack that by this time included Ray Treacy, a brave and determined centre-forward who was winning the second of his 42 international caps, spread over thirteen years.Turkey were novel visitors to Dalymount for the second qualifying match on November 16, that same year, and Ireland coped comfortably. Frank O'Neill scored his first goal for Ireland with a shot that deflected off Charlie Hurley and Andy McEvoy scored a beauty in the 79th minute.Turkey claimed a consolation goal before the final whistle but the scoreline flattered them. The game was largely undistinguished, disputed as it was against a background rendered colourless by the run of poor results. The attendance of 20,000 was a significant postscript to the story.The return match with Spain was played in Valencia on December 7 in a qualifying run that galloped along. Noel Cantwell missed the game because of injury and John Dempsey replaced him to become the second non-Irish born player to wear Ireland's shirt.Goalkeeper Alan Kelly struck a peak of form that torrid evening in the Mestalla Stadium as Spain orchestrated and performed a composition of their own sparkling imagination. His heroics could not deny a sharp and swift forward line that fired the home team to a 2-0 win.Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the finals lay in tatters now and Ireland travelled to Turkey on February 22nd, 1967 in search some inspiration and a means to draw their many talented players into a coherent and effective unit. The selectors sought an instant solution by welcoming three players new to international football - Joe Kinnear, Al Finucane and Charlie Gallagher.Ireland were out-played and beaten 2-1 in a poor match in Ankara in which the only consolation was another goal from Noel Cantwell, again operating at centre-forward as Charlie Hurley was fit to captain the team from centre-back.There remained only the two matches against Czechoslovakia and the public showed their disillusionment with the situation by ignoring the first meeting at Dalymount Park on May 21, 1967. The attendance was returned at 8,500, the smallest on record for the international team.Czechoslovakia were comfortable 2-0 winners and the return in Prague on November 22, 1967, was played only to enable Czechoslovakia pick up the two points at stake and advance. They needed just a draw to connfirm their position at the head of the qualification table above Spain and take them through to the quarter-finals.Again the selectors made changes and in came Eamonn Rogers to midfield and Turlough O'Connor to support Ray Treacy in attack. And matters were proceeding as anticipated as the Czechs ruled the opening half without managing a goal. It seemed only a matter of time.The Czechs made the breakthrough eventually when John Dempsey deflected a ball into his own net but the goal served to fire Ireland to renewed efforts. They were level when Treacy scored and in sensational style, Ireland defeated Czechoslovakia for a first time when O'Connor headed in a cross from the redoubtable Treacy. It was Spain, Ireland's perennial spoilsports, who benefitted for they won the group and advanced.The domestic game moved on an altogether more purposeful and exciting path through the 1960s when two elite teams emerged in the colours of Shamrock Rovers and Waterford. Their rivalry was embellished by the quality of football they played and they brought fans flocking to the stadiums.Rovers won the FAI Cup six seasons in a row from 1964 to 1969 and they won the National League of Ireland Championship as well in the 1963/'64 season. They were runners-up in the League five times in seven seasons.One player played in all six successful Cup finals - left-back Pat Courtney. Around him he had an equally talented group of players - Liam Tuohy, Ronnie Nolan, Frank O'Neill, Johnny Fullam, Mick Leech, Mick Kearin, Mick Lawlor, Mick Smyth among them.Waterford won the National League for the first time in the club's history in the 1965/'66 season. They then went on a winning streak that brought them three titles in a row from 1967/'68 and two more titles in 1972 and 1973.Their winning formula consisted of marrying the best of local talent with a group of outstanding English professionals. Alfie Hale, John O'Neill, Paul Morrissey, Al Casey were some of their local stars.They signed Shay Brennan, Peter Thomas, Peter Bryan, Johnny Matthews among others from England, Jackie Morley and Carl Humphries from Cork, Al Finucane from Limerick, Tommy Taylor from Dublin.The standard of the domestic football was remarkable, the attendances across the country were high and it was a golden era for the game. Yet the FAI and the Republic of Ireland team could not identify a means of making a breakthrough at the top level.
11th Apr 2011