FAI History Chapter 20 - Qualifying tournament World Cup 1982
Eoin Hand was just 34 when appointed manager of the Republic of Ireland international squad in May 1980. He was one of the youngest to fill a post as national team manager and one of the least experienced.
He was appointed manager of Limerick in the League of Ireland for the season 1979/'80 and took them to a first Championship success in 20 years. He had played the last of his 20 international matches for Ireland in 1975 and played the occasional match for Limerick.
In a sense, then, he could be described as a contemporary of at least some of Ireland's squad of international players when he was appointed by the FAI after taking temporary charge of the team for the friendly match against Argentina at Lansdowne Road on May 16, 1980.
His first assignment was to prepare for a World Cup qualifying tie against Netherlands at Lansdowne Road on September 10, 1980.
Netherlands were amongst the leading powers in world football after reaching successive World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978. Some of their great players of that era were now retired - Johan Cruyff, Wim Hanegem, Rudi Krol, Arie Haan amongst them.
They were still a force with Ernie Brandts and Willie Van Der Kerkhof survivors from their loss in the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina.
Hand's management style was set for an immediate thorough examination and he chose to engage it in typically forthright fashion. Ireland were positive and aggressive in their tactics and earned a rich return in the form of a 2-1 success.
It was not without some moments of anxiety for Netherlands were composed and skilful and they absorbed lots of pressure before catching Ireland with a sucker blow in the form of a goal from Tahamata twelve minutes into the second half.
Ireland showed real ambition as the responded with even greater intensity. And they earned a just reward when Liam Brady and Tony Grealish engineered an opening to send Gerry Daly through a stubborn defence for an equaliser with only eleven minutes to play.
The Irish fans in an attendance of 30,000 were well satisfied with the level of enthusiasm and determination Ireland had shown but there was still more to come. Brady was captain of Ireland, at the peak of his powers at Juventus, and he thrilled the fans when he played a free kick perfectly for Mark Lawrenson to claim a winner with a diving header.
Ireland were involved in a qualifying group of imposing strength for the Belgium team that next came to Dublin on October 15, 1980, was highly rated and little wonder. Belgium had reached the finals of the European Championship four months previously and went all the way to the final where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.
Eoin Hand chose to meet them with a team that was a little more biased towards attack with Steve Heighway recalled to join Don Givens and Frank Stapleton up front. Belgium, as Hand had expected, put the emphasis upon not conceding and sought to strike on the rebound.
Hand selected a new partnership in central defence with Mark Lawrenson alongside Kevin Moran and Belgium hit Ireland before they had time to settle. Van Moer played a pass between Lawrenson and full-back Chris Hughton and Cluytens ran through to beat goalkeeper Gerry Peyton.
Ireland again responded bravely and Brady worked central midfield to set the rhythm of their game. Ireland were level after 42 minutes when Brady and Gerry Daly sent Tony Grealish in to beat goalkeeper Pfaff superbly. An absorbing contest ended level.
Ireland emerged with credit against such exalted opponents but they had only two weeks to relax before they visited Paris to play France on October 28, 1980. And France were assembling the team that would go on to win the UEFA Championship in 1984 - Michel Platini, Maxime Bossis, Jean Tigana, Dominique Rocheteau, Didier Six, Bernard Lacombe et al.
Michel Hidalgo was manager of France, an astute and experienced coach who, like Eoin Hand for Ireland, liked his teams to play with ambition and imagination. It promised to be a classic but was threatened to be undermined when a number of English clubs refused to release their players because the match clashed with League Cup fixtures.
The FAI was not prepared to tolerate this and they invoked a recent FIFA rule that made it obligatory for clubs to release their players for competitive matches. It was a significant move by the FAI for England had structured their club fixtures to suit their international schedule with little thought of others.
Don Givens' distinguished career with Ireland was now drawing to a close and Hand introduced a new centre-forward in Michael Robinson and recalled Mick Martin for his first game in a year.
Ireland struggled under sustained French pressure as Tigana found Platini in the 12th minute and the great man pulled the pass down before scoring.
Ireland survived to the break without further loss and gradually worked their way into the contest. Then, in the 58th minute, came an incident which once again exasperated the Irish.
Heighway spun a free kick across the French penalty area and it was headed back from outside the far upright by Moran. Robinson struck quickly to fire home a glorious goal on his debut but even as the Irish celebrated the Spanish referee, Lamo Castillo, wiped out the goal and gave France a free.
TV replays confirmed the goal was legitimately scored and that Moran had not handled the ball.
This was of no comfort to Ireland, of course, and Ireland were left once again to rue a perceived injustice as Zimako broke on goal to score a second for France. Fate decreed that a courageous Ireland would return home having fulfilled their traditional role as unlucky losers.
Competitive matches against Netherlands, Belgium and France represented an introduction to competitive football for manager Eoin Hand that must have generated as much sustained stress as a year on death row for a condemned man.
Now the visit of Cyprus to Dublin on November 19, 1980 brought with it the promise of a less taxing contest and, hopefully, a welcome two points. And so it proved as Ireland looked to purge their frustration by hitting Cyprus for six without conceding.
Two goals were scored by Gerry Daly with one a typically cool finish from the penalty spot. Tony Grealish, Michael Robinson, Frank Stapleton and Chris Hughton were also goal-scorers as Ireland recorded their biggest win to that point but knew that the result meant little in the context of qualification for the 1982 finals in Spain.