FAI History Chapter 8 – World Cup 1958
Irish fans were already looking forward to the qualifying tournament for the 1958 World Cup when Spain visited Dalymount Park on November 27, 1955. As ever the selectors had to cope with the consequences of the inevitable retirements and over the next few years there were some very significant departures and arrivals.The visit of Spain was their first to headquarters in six years and again a capacity attendance of 40,000 was recorded for a match that marked Tommy Eglington's final international and was drawn 2-2. Ireland's goals came from Shay Gibbons - the opening goal of the game after just eight minutes - and a late equaliser from Alf Ringstead.The great Con Martin represented Ireland for the last time when Ireland visited Rotterdam to play Holland in May 1956. His was a magnificent career and as he prepared to depart the scene, he was joined by some young players who would go on to play important roles for Ireland.Tommy Dunne of St. Patrick's Athletic came in against Holland, the son of Jimmy who had been such a big player in the 1930s. Joe Haverty, a skilful ball-playing winger, came in as Eglington's replacement and a first cap was also handed to the youthful Liam Whelan.Whelan did not play in the League of Ireland, unlike his brothers Christy and John, but moved to Manchester United straight from Home Farm's minor team in 1953. He had to wait until March 1955 for his first team debut at Old Trafford, but once he made the step up he was quickly an influential figure.Whelan may have lacked genuine pace but he was generously endowed with all of football's other attributes. Superb ball skills were enhanced by his cool and confident temperament and he had the priceless capacity of being an effective goal-scorer as well as creator.Whelan was just 22 years when he died in the tragic accident in Munich in 1958 that devastated Manchester United and his loss to club and country was incalculable.He had won two championship medals with United and played in the Cup final of 1957 at Wembley and in his all too brief first-class career he had charmed all genuine football fans by the scope, the grace and style of his game.He made 52 first team appearances for United and he ranked so highly with his colleagues that Bobby Charlton once commented that he was the only player whose skill he envied. He played just four times for Ireland.His debut in Rotterdam was watched by 60,000 fans who thronged the Feyenoord Stadium to see the team that had beaten Holland the previous year. Ireland delivered, playing urgent and efficient football after a tense opening half to win 4-1.All of Ireland's debutants played well as Arthur Fitzsimons scored twice and Joe Haverty and Alf Ringstead also got on the scoresheet. Holland's goal came as a late consolation.The result fired Irish ambitions that were hyped still further when the draw for the World Cup qualifying tournament grouped Ireland with Denmark and with England. Denmark were first up with a game at Dalymount on October 3, 1956.Gerry Mackey of Shamrock Rovers was selected to fill the void left by the retirement of Con Martin and two other local players joined him - his club-mate Ronnie Nolan and centre-forward Dermot Curtis of Shelbourne.Curtis claimed a goal on his debut despite Denmark's protestations that he had been offside. The English referee ruled he had not been interfering with play and Ireland went on to win 2-1 with Johnny Gavin converting a penalty before Denmark claimed a late consolation.The away match against England was seven months away but already the build-up was in full flow after this encouraging start. And Ireland prepared by welcoming the reigning World Cup champions, West Germany, to Dalymount.Local players rated highly with the selectors in this era and the selectors confidently selected seven League of Ireland players in the team for the German match on November 25, 1956. Three players played for the first time - Alan Kelly of Drumcondra, and the Shamrock Rovers' pair Jimmy McCann and Noel Peyton.Ireland responded with fire and enthusiasm to the exhortations of a capacity attendance and never allowed the World champions settle. Their bravura performance was inspired by Noel Cantwell who hammered a penalty kick into the German net in typical swashbuckling style.Ireland worked so hard that Germany were denied a scoring opportunity and the home team finished with a flourish with Haverty and McCann adding goals in the last three minutes to complete a handsome win.The selectors opted to hand a majority of professional players the task of coping with a highly-rated England when the World Cup tie came round on May 8th, 1957 at Wembley. Just three Irish-based players survived the cut - Alan Kelly, Gerry Mackey and Dermot Curtis, who had just joined Bristol City.The powerful Pat Saward of Aston Villa was recalled for his second cap after three years at left-half-back and the team that represented Ireland in their first competitive match against England was:Alan Kelly (Drumcondra); Don Donovan (Everton), Noel Cantwell (West Ham); Peter Farrell (Everton) capt., Gerry Mackey (Shamrock Rovers), Pat Saward (Aston Villa); Alf Ringstead (Sheffield United), Liam Whelan (Manchester United), Dermot Curtis (Bristol City), Arthur Fitzsimons (Middlesbrough), Joe Haverty (Arsenal).The England team included many famous players - Roger Byrne, Billy Wright, Duncan Edwards, Stanley Matthews, Tommy Taylor, Johnny Haynes and Tom Finney included.Ireland were devastated by an English team that hit a peak of form, fired by the atmosphere generated by an attendance of 51,000. They settled the result with an explosive start and the 20 years old Kelly, in goal, experienced a torrid time.Tommy Taylor, too big and powerful for Mackey to contain, was in devastating mood and he scored three goals in the opening half. Another from John Atyeo had them four up and they went on to win 5-1 with another goal from Atyeo and with Dermot Curtis claiming Ireland's only response.The return match was set for Dalymount Park eleven days after the Wembley encounter and the contest that ensued has gone down in history as one of the most famous matches ever played by Ireland.The Irish selectors inevitably rang the changes. Out went the youngster, Alan Kelly, who had to wait five years to be given the chance to resurrect an international career that eventually proved a magnificent one.Tommy Godwin, a survivor from the win at Goodison Park eight years previously, was recalled. Ronnie Nolan came back at right-half and introduced at centre-back was a player unfamiliar to Irish fans and one who would grow to become one of Ireland most celebrated players, centre-back Charlie Hurley.Hurley was voted Sunderland's "Player of the Century" by the club's supporters in 2000. He was born in Cork but moved with his parents to London while still a child. He was 21 when first capped by the Irish selectors and playing for Millwall.England needed only a draw in Dalymount to qualify for the finals of the World Cup in Sweden, Ireland had to win and then defeat Denmark away from home if they were to force a play-off with England.The proximity of the match to the previous contest in Wembley, the importance of the result and the reputation of the English players meant that a record 47,600 spectators were shoe-horned into Dalymount on May 19, 1957.What they saw was a magnificent contest, one in which the powerful Charlie Hurley established himself as a major player, not just with Ireland but on the international scene. His performance against one of the most highly-rated centre-forwards ever to play for England in Tommy Taylor was the stuff of dreams."Tommy Taylor was rated the best centre-forward in the world at the time" Hurley told this writer, "I asked my father how I should mark him and he said - If Tommy Taylor goes to the bathroom, make sure it is you are standing next to him."Ireland played heroically and took the lead amid huge excitement through Alf Ringstead after just three minutes. Godwin played brilliantly in goal as Ireland mounted a defiant defence of their lead and with the referee checking his watch they looked to have achieved the result they sought when everything turned sour for the Irish.For once Ireland's defence was found wanting as the game entered added time and suddenly a hush descended upon the huge attendance as Tom Finney worked his way clear on the right for a cross to the far upright. The ball carried over Hurley and Taylor and found John Atyeo unattended as he headed an equalising goal.England were through, Ireland were out again.
8th Apr 2011