FAI History Chapter 13 – Mick Meagan is first manager
Ireland's repeated failure to advance beyond the preliminary competitions of the World Cup and European Championships was exasperating for the FAI, the players and the public alike.
Ireland had to endure still more disappointment after elimination from the 1968 European Championship before the prevailing system of selecting and managing the team was revised.
When Ireland sought to build again they turned to their perennial opponents in friendly competition from Poland in search of a winning formula.
The teams drew 2-2 at Dalymount Park on May 15, 1968, when John Dempsey and the skilful Alfie Hale from Waterford scored Ireland's goals. Ireland lost the return in Katowice 0-1 on October 30 of that year but suffered a much greater loss off the pitch.
Mr. Joe Wickham, a legendary figure in administrative affairs in Irish football, was Secretary to the FAI when he died of a heart attack at half-time in the game. He had served the Association as Secretary from 1936 and was the longest serving administrator in Europe when he died.
A Dubliner, Mr. Wickham's playing career was foreshortened by injury after he had played centre-half with Midland Athletic and Bohemians. He was a Trade Union official when he succeeded Sir Grattan Edmonde as Secretary to the FAI.
He guided the Association through difficult times and did so with a style and grace that ensured he was a respected figure throughout the game at international as well as at local level. He was in his 70s when he died and his loss to the Association was incalculable.
Ireland's form as they prepared for the World Cup qualifiers of 1970 followed its usual unpredictable course. After the two matches against Poland, Ireland welcomed Austria to Dalymount Park on November 10, 1968, but a 2-2 draw with goals from Eamonn Rogers and Alfie Hale provided only modest encouragement.
The draw for the World Cup preliminaries saw Ireland grouped with Denmark and with two powerful East European teams in Hungary and, yet again, Czechoslovakia.
Ireland's programme opened with a home game against Denmark on December 4, 1968, but the match had to be abandoned because of fog after 51 minutes with the teams level 1-1. It was the first time an international match in Ireland was not completed and efforts to replay the game the following day were unsuccessful.
Czechoslovakia arrived in Dublin on May 4, 1969, keen to make amends for the shattering defeat they had suffered at Ireland's hands in the European Championship tie of 1967. Ireland scored early through Eamonn Rogers but were defeated in a rugged contest when Kabat and Adamec scored for the visitors.
The match marked the first appearance of the highly promising Mick Leech, a prolific goalscorer with Shamrock Rovers. The young Leech was an immediate hit, to such an extent that he was the victim of a tough challenge that forced him off on a stretcher before half-time.
He was replaced by Eoin Hand, formerly of Drumcondra and then with Portsmouth, who was to play a major role with Ireland's national team over the next two decades.
Leech was recovered from injury and restored to the team when Ireland travelled to Copenhagen to play Denmark on May 27, 1969. The Danes, operating out of a part-time professional domestic league, had a surprise win when Ole Sorensen, playing full-time in the German League, scored both goals in a 2-0 win.
Ireland were at home again to Hungary on June 8th, 1969, in a game that marked a final appearance for Ireland of that great warrior, Charlie Hurley. He was a peerless centre-half but he epitomised the spirit of the day by willingly filling an unaccustomed role at centre-forward for the team.
The occasion again proved a disappointment as Ireland lost 1-2 to a skilful Hungarian team still powered by some of the players who had done so well in the World Cup finals in England in 1966. The game was notable because it marked a first international goal for Don Givens in his second match for Ireland.
Givens, born of hurling stock in Limerick, was signed by Manchester United in 1969 when he was 17 and made his first team debut within two months. Yet he played only nine senior games for Manchester before he was transferred to Luton Town.
United were left to rue their loss as he built a successful and fruitful career at club and international level. Givens played in more than 400 championship matches for six different clubs before he moved from English football to enjoy a hugely successful time with the Swiss club, Neuchatel Xamax, a club he served as player and then coach.
Ireland once again were left frustrated as three consecutive losses marked a swift end to hopes of qualifying for the finals in Mexico in 1970. Ireland's stock on the world's football exchange ranked too low for comfort and it was a brave optimist who could possibly identify any portents of future growth and advancement.
The public showed their dis-enchantment with only a few more than 17,000 witnessing the game against a highly-rated and attractive Hungarian team. The FAI acknowledged the seriousness of the situation by taking a revolutionary step by appointing Mick Meagan as manager with full executive powers for team matters.
Meagan was a quiet and thoughtful half back who played 19 times for Ireland between 1961 and 1969. He played for Everton and Huddersfield Town after moving from schoolboy football in 1959. And at the time of his appointment as manager of the National team he was back in Ireland as player/manager of Drogheda United.
Meagan took charge of Ireland for the first time when they played Scotland at Dalymount Park in a friendly on September 1, 1969. He selected himself in a team that followed closely the team selection in the previous World Cup ties.
Ireland drew 1-1 with Scotland with Don Givens scoring the goal and then they travelled to Prague for the World Cup tie against Czechoslovakia on October 7, 1969. A 0-3 defeat offered little encouragement to the new regime but there was little time to ponder the significance of a defeat that came as no surprise.
The Czechs had always proved difficult opponents but when Denmark came for the return leg in the World Cup tie on October 15, Ireland were confident they could break the losing sequence.
Don Givens again showed his goal-scoring talent within eight minutes of the start of the game but Ireland could not turn an early superiority to better account. They finished level after Denmark had converted an 85th minute penalty.
The lengthening sequence of losing matches continued with demoralising consistency when Hungary won the World Cup tie 4-0 in the Nep Stadium in Budapest on November 5, 1969, as the decade of the 1960s drew to a predictable close.