FAI history Chapter 19 - Fractured beginnings to World Cup 1982
The enduring mystery as to why Ireland could not succeed in qualifying for a major championship was further complicated by the acknowledged talent of the players in the squad as John Giles' term as manager drew to a close in 1980.
Ireland's elimination from the European Championship of 1980 meant an early start to their qualification programme for the World Cup finals of 1982 in Spain. The prospect of Ireland making the long-awaited breakthrough in nearby Spain was almost too attractive to contemplate.
A win away from home was a welcome start even if it was not achieved in totalling convincing fashion. Ireland travelled to Nicosia on May 26, 1980, to defeat Cyprus 3-2. Paul McGee, with two, and Mark Lawrenson scored the goals.
The Irish team on duty that day included players of genuine international quality - David O'Leary, Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Steve Heighway, Gerry Daly, Mark Lawrenson, Tony Grealish, goalkeeper Getty Peyton among them.
Surely now Ireland had the ability to put behind them the many years of frustration and the many heart-breaking occasions when a referee's whistle signalled further bitter recrimination ? Surely Ireland were ready to fulfil their potential with this talented young squad ?
Before Ireland could build on their successful start, however, there was an unexpected interruption to their advance. The Football Association's President, Mr. Charlie Cahill, called a special meeting on April 15, 1980, to announce the resignation of Ireland's manager, John Giles.
Giles had spent seven years in the job and presided over failed attempts to advance beyond the preliminary qualifying competitions in the European Championships of 1976 and 1980 and the World Cup of 1978.
He had eliminated the excessive swings in performances that had betrayed previous Irish administrations but could not engineer a breakthrough.
The news of his departure came as a major shock, especially as the World Cup qualification process had already begun. And The FAI had only fifteen days from the date of his resignation to the next international match - a friendly against Switzerland in Dublin - to find a successor.
Giles had goalkeeper Alan Kelly as his assistant from early 1974 and when he took over as interim manager it seemed logical to expect this would lead to a permanent appointment. Kelly had been a distinguished international and when injury forced his retirement from playing in 1973 he had accumulated a then record 47 international caps.
Kelly made changes to the team for the visit of the Swiss. Kevin Moran and Gary Waddock came into the team and they were to go on and make significant contributions to Ireland's international cause. David Langan was recalled after two years absence.
Ireland coped comfortably with the Swiss, winning 2-0. Don Givens and Gerry Daly scored the goals and Ireland's only moment of concern came when Moran turned the ball into his own net. Fortunately it was ruled out as a Swiss player had strayed offside.
The emerging picture was changed irrevocably yet again within days when the Preston North End chairman informed Kelly that he was not satisfied to allow him to continue to combine his position at the club with the role expected of him with Ireland. He resigned as Ireland manager.
Kelly had invited Eoin Hand, another retired international, to act as his assistant for the match against Switzerland.
The FAI again had to react quickly for Ireland were due to play Argentina in Dublin in another friendly within two weeks. They asked Eoin Hand to take charge of the team while they considered the appointment of a new manager.
Hand had played 20 times for Ireland and was back home in Ireland after a career that had taken him to England to Swindon Town, to Portsmouth and then to South Africa. He had played in the League of Ireland with Dundalk and Shelbourne before building his reputation with Drumcondra.
He returned to Ireland in the summer of 1979 to take over as player/manager of Limerick United and enjoyed immediate success on Shannonside. He led the team to a first Championship win in 20 years in his first season and into Europe against no less than Real Madrid.
The match against Argentina was of importance to Ireland in the sense that they faced World Cup qualifying ties against Netherlands, France, Belgium and Cyprus in the new season. But its potential value was limited by the withdrawal of several players, most notably David O'Leary, Mick Martin and Mark Lawrenson.
Hand was looking, no doubt, for an encouraging performance and a good result to bolster his bid to take over as Ireland manager on a permanent basis.
Argentina came as World Cup winners in 1978 with a distinguished team powered by champions like Fillol, Passarella, Olguin, Tarantini, Gallego, Barbas and enlivened by members of the team that had won the World U20 Cup in 1979 in Japan. Most notably Diaz and the extraordinary Diego Maradona.
Argentina were held to a goal by a weakened Ireland on May 16, 1980 at Lansdowne Road with Maradona providing the cross for Valencia to score in the 28th minute.
But the focus was upon the FAI and their consideration of applications for the position of manager from Hand, Paddy Mulligan, Liam Tuohy, Ray Treacy, Paddy Crerand and Theo Foley.
They opted for Hand who, at 34 years of age, had just one year's experience of management with Limerick United behind him. He had three months to prepare for a challenging introduction to competitive international football with a World Cup qualifying tie against Netherlands set for September 10, 1980, and he moved quickly to bring Terry Conroy on board as his assistant.