FAI History Chapter 16 – Don Givens' golden goals
The arrival of John Giles as manager brought to the Republic of Ireland international scene a new level of professionalism that helped to dispel the grim legacy of the unrewarding 1960s and imparted a new impetus to the squad.
Giles took charge of Ireland for the first time in a friendly match against Poland at Dalymount Park on October 21, 1973, and the 1-0 victory was a first in five meetings with opponents who had become very familiar to the Irish.
Giles was already looking ahead to the qualifying tournament for the 1976 European Championship when he took his Irish squad to South America in the Summer of 1973.
This was a repeat of a visit Ireland had made twelve months previously but now they were scheduled to play against more celebrated opponents in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile.
The timing of the tour was not ideal for the Irish players were just coming off a busy club season. With Giles as manager the call to arms was eagerly accepted and a full squad of players was available.
The team selected to play against Brazil on May 5, 1974 in the famous Maracana Stadium immediately laid down Giles' plan for development of the team. Only one change was made from the team that had played Poland - Giles came into central midfield in place of Tony Byrne.
Ireland did well to contain a Brazil team that included such celebrated players as Rivelino, Jairzinho, Paulo Cesar and goalkeeper Leao and the 2-1 win for the home side pointed to a spirited performance from Ireland.
Ireland went on to lose 0-2 to Uruguay but then illustrated the progress that was being made by beating Chile 2-1 with goals from Eoin Hand and Jimmy Conway.
There was a real sense of purpose in the Irish team as they opened their European Championship challenge with a game against the Soviet Union on October 30, 1974.
Ireland drew 35,000 supporters to Dalymount Park for the mid-week contest and with Don Givens celebrating his 25th international appearance in extravagant style, Ireland made it an occasion to remember.
Givens was at the peak of his powers and playing consistently for Queen's Park Rangers. Big, powerful and extremely mobile, he looked the complete centre-forward as he scored a hat-trick of goals to give Ireland a 3-0 success in a match of many highlights.
It was a first hat-trick for an Irish player since Paddy Moore had been tormenting international defences 40 years previously. And it was scored in a tough and highly competitive game in which both teams finished with ten players after Ireland's Terry Mancini and Kaplichny had been sent off in the 32nd minute.
The match was also highly significant because it marked the introduction of one of Ireland's truly great players, Liam Brady. The skilful midfielder had made his debut with Arsenal at 17years of age in October, 1973, and he was unquestionably the outstanding player in the English League when he transferred to Juventus in 1980.
Giles now had a team that looked well fitted to challenge the very best of international opponents and after such a handsome win over the Soviet Union, it was with real ambition and confidence that Ireland travelled to play Turkey in Izmir on November 20, 1974.
It was the first time Ireland were exposed to the peculiar atmosphere of a competitive tie before a hostile Turkish crowd and they coped well. Their prospects did not look great when Mick Martin turned the ball into his own net in the 56th minute but the prolific Don Givens struck a marvellous equalising goal eight minutes later.
Ireland warmed-up for the resumption of competitive action the following Summer by scratching a 1-0 win over Germany "B" at Dalymount Park on March 11, 1975.
It was, however, a very settled and focused Irish team that looked well on course to a convincing win over Switzerland at Dalymount on May 10 after Mick Martin and Ray Treacy put them two goals in front. Then a late goal for Switzerland made for a tense closing fifteen minutes.
Two points were awarded for a win in those days and with five from a possible six now safely harvested Ireland travelled away for a hectic two games in four days later that month in May with spirits high and confidence surging.
The Soviet Union were first up on May 18, 1975, and the game was played in Kiev in deference to the fact that the Soviet Union were represented almost exclusively by the Dynamo Kiev players who had won the European Cup Winners' Cup just a few days previously.
The atmosphere generated by an excited crowd of 100,000 was remarkable and Ireland had to endure a torrid time as the Soviets played dynamic football at breakneck speed.
They were inspired when Oleg Blokhin scored after just eleven minutes and goalkeeper Paddy Roche had to play brilliantly to hold them at bay after Kolotov scored a second in the 28th minute.
Ireland were a confident and competitive group, however, and they worked their way back into the contest. The Soviets' early sparkle was dulled by determined Irish football and after Eoin Hand had scored in the 79th minute Ireland pushed for an equaliser. Terry Conroy narrowly missed once and the Soviets were mightily relieved at the final whistle.
The huge effort Ireland made in Moscow took its toll when Ireland faced Switzerland three days later in Berne. Jimmy Holmes and Ray Treacy came into the team in place of Joe Kinnear and Steve Heighway but it was a tired Irish team that fell to the only goal of a poor match.
Qualification for the finals was now the property of the Soviet Union and Ireland showed what a pity this was when they played Turkey in the final match on October 29, 1975, at Dalymount Park. The ill-feeling that had been evident between the teams in their first meeting in Izmir now surfaced again.
Twice the action on the pitch inflamed the crowd so the referee twice threatened to abandon the match. The referee sent off Mick Martin and Turkey's Alpaslan eleven minutes from the end, but amidst the confusion Ireland played some compelling football and Don Givens illustrated just what a special player he was.
Givens had scored a hat-trick twelve months previously against the Soviet Union and now he claimed all four goals as Ireland won 4-0. His achievement matched that of Paddy Moore against Belgium in Ireland's first World Cup tie in 1934 and has not been repeated to this date - April 2011.
Ireland defeated Norway 3-0 in a friendly on March 24, 1976, at Dalymount in a match that featured debut performances from Tony Grealish, Ray O'Brien and Mickey Walsh. O'Brien played for Ireland five times and his brother Fran later made three appearances.
Ireland's goals came from Liam Brady, Jimmy Holmes, from a penalty, and Walsh who went on to play 21 times for Ireland. Grealish enjoyed a longer career for he made 46 appearances and captained the team 17 times.
Proof that Ireland were growing in stature and in effect was provided in May 1976 when Ireland scored a first win over Poland away from home. Don Givens scored both of Ireland's goals in Poznan as Poland were held scoreless.
The kick-off to the 1978 World Cup was now eagerly awaited and a friendly match at Wembley against England in September 1976 represented ideal preparation. Giles called up 18 years old David O'Leary for his first international in partnership with Mick Martin at centre-back as the process of adding to Ireland's squad of players continued.
O'Leary coped with admirable composure with the challenge and Ireland played impressively after losing a goal to Stuart Pearson just on half-time. An equaliser struck with total conviction by Gerry Daly from the penalty spot after a foul on Steve Heighway gave Ireland a draw they deserved.
Ireland travelled to play Turkey in Ankara in another friendly on October 13, 1976, and Giles looked to Arsenal again to pluck another substantial talent in Frank Stapleton for his first international. He scored within three minutes of his debut with a trademark goal as he ran to the near post to deflect a free from Giles into the net.
Gerry Daly added to Ireland's lead eleven minutes later but a forceful Turkey recovered to lead 3-2. It fell to Joe Waters from Limerick to salvage a draw with a third goal for Ireland.
Ireland had now gone five games without defeat since the loss to Switzerland in the European Championship and a belief was taking root that a breakthrough in one or either of the championships was close.