FAI History Chapter 14 - Little Joy for Mick Meagan
Ireland embarked upon their regular close-season tour in the close season in 1970 with their recently appointed manager, Mick Meagan, seeking to hit on a combination that would turn Ireland's fortunes around.
Meagan had been given little opportunity to impose any personal shape or design on Ireland's team upon his appointment before being exposed to the harsh realities of full-blown competitive matches.
He had just one friendly match against Scotland before launching into the World Cup qualifying campaign with three quick-fire matches against Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Hungary in the Winter of 1969.
Ireland's return of one point and just one goal from the three matches amounted to instant elimination from the World Cup and presented the manager with a challenge that could not be under-estimated.
Ireland had played eleven matches without a win since they had shocked Czechoslovakia in the European Championship on November 22, 1967 in Prague.
Meagan was to discover there was no short-cut to success for Ireland were defeated 2-1 by Poland in Poznan on May 6th, 1970, and then 2-1 by West Germany in Berlin three days later.
The further extension of Ireland's run of negative results might not have impacted so damagingly if they were to know that most of the West German players they faced would go on to win European Championship and World Cup titles - Vogts, Grabowski, Beckenbauer, Overath, Seeler, Muller.
The upcoming European Championship qualifying campaign of 1972 was of more immediate importance to Ireland who faced Poland at Dalymount Park on September 23rd, 1970 just three weeks before they were due to entertain Sweden in the Championship. A 2-0 loss to Poland was of little encouragement.
Sweden, Italy and Austria were Ireland's European Championship opponents with just one to advance. Italy were the overwhelming favourites - they were reigning European champions since 1968 and had lost a classic World Cup final to a magnificent Brazil in 1970.
Ireland opened their challenge with a battling 1-1 draw with Sweden at Dalymount Park on October 14, 1970 and then fought a dogged rearguard action before losing 0-1 in Malmo two weeks later.
Florence was the venue for Ireland's match against Italy on December 8th and there was no disputing the Italians superiority as Ireland again sought to achieve a result by concentrating on defence.
Italy had ten players from the World Cup final on duty and duly won 3-0 and then confirmed their undoubted class by travelling to Lansdowne Road to win 2-1 on May 10th, 1971.
This was the first FAI international game played at the Lansdowne Road headquarters of the IRFU since the meeting of Ireland and Italy "B" which was Ireland's first ever home international.
The decision to move to Lansdowne from the traditional home of international football at Dalymount was not a popular one with the public. It was adopted for two reasons - because of the greater finance generated by the existence of more seated accommodation and by the deteriorating condition of the Dalymount stadium.
Waterford had enjoyed the good fortune of being drawn against Manchester United, in 1968, and Celtic, in 1970, in the UEFA Champions' Cup after their League of Ireland successes.
They were obliged to find a suitable venue for both matches and chose Lansdowne Road ahead of Dalymount Park for economic reasons. They, and the FAI subsequently, were welcomed by the IRFU who saw the leasing of the stadium as a worthwhile financial venture.
Ironically when the FAI hosted the visit of Italy in May of 1971, the attendance was a modest 25,000 and was appreciably smaller than for many games at Dalymount Park. The receipts for the game were a record for the FAI, however, because of the greater number of seats in the grandstands.
The relatively small attendance for so successful and attractive a team as European champions, Italy, was proof of the antipathy of the public towards the team at the time after a prolonged period of negative results.
That feeling hardened into resentment when Austria came to Dalymount Park three weeks later, on May 30, 1970 and strolled to a 4-1 win.
Ireland finished bottom of their qualification group for the 1972 European Championships, ending Mick Meagan's tenure as manager. He resigned from the post as public disenchantment found increasing expression in the media outlets of the day.
Liam Tuohy replaced him, and having gone five years without recording a victory, optimism was not high. His first games in charge were in Brazil as part of the Brazil Independence Cup, and things started brightly with victories over Iran and Ecuador.
However, by the time World Cup qualification came around, the team was struggling and, although they managed to beat France at Dalymount Park, the Soviet Union finished ahead of Ireland in the group.