FAI History Chapter 18 – European Championship 1980
Manager John Giles took advantage of a series of friendly internationals to introduce a raft of new players to international football after elimination from the World Cup of 1978 as Ireland prepared for the preliminary rounds of the European Championship of 1980.
The draw grouped Ireland for a second consecutive championship with Bulgaria and the presence of England, Denmark and Northern Ireland in the group ensured maximum interest from a spectator's point of view.
Seven new players were introduced to international football by Giles against Turkey at Lansdowne Road on April 5, 1978 - David Langan, Noel Synnott, Maurice Daly, Ashley Grimes, Gerry Ryan, Paul McGee and Synan Braddish.
Ray Treacy, with two, Giles and McGee claimed the goals as Ireland beat Turkey 4-2 but there was no joy for Ireland when they were beaten 0-3 by Poland in Lodz a week later.
A scoreless draw with Norway in Oslo on May 21st, 1978, was not calculated to raise expectations ahead of the European Championship qualifiers.
The stimulus of a competitive match helped Ireland raise their game three days later, however, when they faced Denmark in Copenhagen. And when Frank Stapleton and then Tony Grealish scored within 30 minutes Ireland looked well on the way to an important win.
Henning Jensen cut the arrears before half-time but Ireland were full of running and Gerry Daly restored a two goals advantage when he turned in a cross from Paul McGee. Ireland's defence fell twice in the closing stages as Benny Nielsen, from a penalty, and Soren Lerby ensured a draw.
The historic visit of Northern Ireland to Lansdowne Road on September 20, 1978, was of special interest for many reasons, not least because the North were managed by the respected Danny Blanchflower who had, just like Giles on the opposite side, enjoyed a remarkably successful career.
The sense of anticipation was acute but was betrayed by a match that produced few highlights and little entertainment. It was as if the occasion proved too much for the players and a tame, scoreless, draw resulted.
Ireland would have welcomed a better return from their two matches than the mere two points they had collected before the visit of England to Dublin to Lansdowne on October 25, 1978. They went into the game knowing they needed a win if they were to hope to win the group.
Ireland's prospects were not improved when Bob Latchford headed England into the lead within eight minutes of kick-off before a capacity 50,000 audience. Gerry Daly equalised from Liam Brady's free kick and although Gerry Ryan had the ball in the net a second time the referee claimed goalkeeper Ray Clemence had been impeded and the match was drawn.
Now Ireland faced a very difficult task if they were to get back into contention. They again rallied to beat Denmark 2-0 at Lansdowne on May 2nd, 1979 when Gerry Daly and Don Givens scored the goals.
Next up was a return visit to the Vassil Levski Stadium in Sofia and a match with Bulgaria that proved just as disappointing as their previous visit but for different reasons. The fractious nature of Ireland's previous visit was not repeated but a serious injury to Ireland's full-back Jimmy Holmes overshadowed all else.
Holmes was in the process of building what promised to be a brilliant career with Tottenham Hotspur after first emerging as an international player with Coventry City. Cool and composed under pressure, he was a resourceful defender who brought an element of elegant style to the game.
He suffered a double fracture of his leg in an accidental clash and had a plaster cast applied in a Sofia hospital for the journey home. He took ill on the plane and had to have the plaster removed and replaced in a Swiss hospital when the plane diverted to Zurich.
Sadly the injury effectively brought a premature end to his first-class career. Holmes wore the Irish shirt again against Wales 18 months later for the 30th time but it was his last international and he was also forced to abandon his club career soon afterwards.
The game was routine apart from this awful accident but once again Ireland were left to review the referee's performance with misgivings after he had disallowed an apparently good goal from Mickey Walsh. It meant Ireland lost for Tzvetkov scored ten minutes from time.
Ireland's European Championship hopes now lay in tatters and the effect on the team's performances was palpable. Ireland lost a friendly to a highly rated West German team that contained Sepp Maier, Manny Kaltz, the Forster brothers, Bernd Schuster, Karl Heinz Rummenige, Uli Hoeness, Klaus Allofs on May 22, 1979 on a 1-3 scoreline.
Ireland were beaten 1-2 by Wales at the Vetch Field, Swansea, in September and two weeks later fell 1-4 to Czechoslovakia in Prague as Giles, who had switched by now to Shamrock Rovers, continued to introduce new players - Eamonn Gregg, Brendan O'Callaghan, Terry Donovan, Damien Richardson, Jerry Murphy, John Devine, Fran O'Brien and David O'Leary's brother Pierce.
It was a familiar Ireland team that faced Bulgaria in competition on October 17, 1979, and the incentives for Ireland were many, not least their desire to score a first win over their opponents. It proved very satisfying as Ireland played with genuine resolution to win with goals from Mick Martin, Tony Grealish and Frank Stapleton.
Giles introduced another new international in Chris Hughton when USA played at Dalymount Park on October 29 for a game which Ireland won 3-2 with goals from Grealish, Givens and John Anderson who, along with Jeff Chandler, was making his debut.
Three weeks later Ireland made the journey to Belfast for a match with Northern Ireland at Windsor Park with little more than pride at stake for both teams. Injury kept Liam Brady out of Ireland's midfield and they failed to break down a stubborn Northern defence in which goalkeeper Pat Jennings was again a major influence.
Gerry Armstrong scored the only goal in a game that passed off, to everyone's relief during this troubled time in the North, without major incident.
So to Ireland's final match in the 1980 European Championship and a visit to Wembley in search of a first win over England since 1949. The game was a triumph for the diminutive Kevin Keegan who shot England in front after eleven minutes and then embellished the game with a delightful second when he chipped the ball over replacement goalkeeper, Ron Healey, near the end.
It was a low key defeat for Ireland as a European Championship campaign that had opened in such high-scoring fashion against Denmark, ended in disappointment.