FAI History Chapter 22 – Frustration ahead of UEFA Championship 1984
Ireland's narrow failure to make the finals of the World Cup of 1982 against top-class opposition was both a huge disappointment and an encouragement to manager Eoin Hand.
The manager had to endure an exasperating Summer in 1982, however, before Ireland could attempt to harness the positive effects of their energetic challenge and channel it into the qualifying tournament for the 1984 European Championship.
The FAI sought to deflect the team from dwelling on missing the excitement of the World Cup finals in Spain by arranging a busy summer of friendly matches.
These were far removed from the regular whistle-stop tours of central Europe for Ireland were scheduled to play for the first time on the Continent of Africa and were also to play in South America.
The match in Africa against Algeria took place on April 28, 1982 and proved a total anti-climax. Ireland were out-of-touch against moderate opposition and although they dominated the match, they fell to a 0-2 defeat.
There was uproar when the arrangements for the trip to South America were made public for in addition to matches against Chile and Brazil, Ireland were also scheduled to play Argentina in Buenos Aires. And in 1982 Argentina was at war with England.
The FAI sought to proceed with the programme but there was a very negative response from the clubs in England. Eoin Hand attempted to persuade the managers to release the players when he made personal contact with them but to no avail. And the FAI eventually relented and proposed to go ahead with the tour and play just two games.
Some of the English clubs were now disenchanted with the idea of releasing their players and so the manager had to cater for a raft of withdrawals. And to complicate his situation, the League of Ireland was committed to sending a representative squad of players to New Zealand so Hand could only call on those who were not amongst the League's preferred players.
Hand succeeded in gathering 15 players and apart from Liam Brady, Mick Martin, Gerry Ryan and Gerry Daly the squad was inexperienced at international level.
Included were players largely unknown at international level - new cap Sean O'Driscoll (Fulham), Eamonn Deacy (Aston Villa), Johnny Walsh (Limerick), Mick Fairclough (Dundalk) and Mike Walsh (Everton).
Ireland played Chile in their first match on May 21, 1982, in Santiago and lost to a goal that was scored within 45 seconds of kick-off.
Such a negative start presented the manager with nightmares ahead of a match against Brazil six days later and he sought, unsuccessfully, to fly out Chris Hughton and Tony Galvin from 'Spurs to strengthen the team.
There was also an issue over fees of almost 1,000 dollars each to the players that had been promised before the start of the tour. The fees were eventually paid in full but the delay was not a source of comfort leading up to a match against potential World Cup winners.
Ireland faced Brazil on May 27 1982 in Uberlandia and, in preparation for the World Cup soon to kick-off in Spain, Brazil included all of their stars - Oscar, the aristocratic Socrates, Junior, Falcao, the peerless Zico, Eder, Careca, Dirceu, Leandro included.
This squad of Brazilian players went on to captivate the World audience in Spain with the grace, extravagance and the effectiveness of their football even if they were knocked out at the semi-final stage. And they showed their potential as they hit a hapless Ireland 7-0.
It was a deeply unhappy Irish dressing-room and it was not long before their feelings became known as the manager threatened to resign immediately if the fees owing to the players were not paid forthwith. This was duly done but a third match, hastily added to compensate for the cancellation of the game in Buenos Aires, was arranged against Trinidad & Tobago.
Liam Brady had been so upset by the farce in Brazil that he declined to travel with the group to Trinidad and instead indicated that he was returning to Italy. But he responded to a call to arms and arrived a couple of hours before kick-off and scored the goal as Ireland suffered a humiliating 1-2 defeat.
The entire unhappy episode impacted negatively on the morale of a group who had emerged from a failed but spirited campaign in the 1982 World Cup with credit and with ambition soaring high.
Now, faced with a qualifying campaign against Spain, Netherlands, Iceland and Malta in the 1984 UEFA Championship, manager Hand had to work hard to restore pride and morale.
The start of the 1982/'83 season brought a testing return to competitive action with a match in Rotterdam against Netherlands kick-starting Ireland's UEFA Championship programme. Ireland could ill afford the absence of the injured Kevin Moran and Ronnie Whelan but included was Tony Galvin of 'Spurs on the left of midfield.
Ireland made a disastrous start and were a goal behind within a minute of kick-off. Goalkeeper Seamus McDonagh performed wonders to keep the Dutch in check but Schoenaker's early strike was eclipsed by a thunderbolt from Ruud Gullit from distance after 65 minutes.
Finally Ireland began to find a rhythm and an improvement in midfield spread through the team so Netherlands began to feel the full force of Ireland's attacking strength.
Brady, predictably, provided the key to unlock the Dutch defence and Gerry Daly closed on an astute pass from the maestro to cut the deficit in the 79th minute. While it did not save the game for Ireland, it did confirm the potential within the team.
Brady's value to Ireland was now immeasurable and when he reported a hamstring injury prior to the next match, against Iceland on October 13, 1982, the news occasioned some misgiving. Brady, by now playing for Sampdoria, was fit enough to start the match but was forced to retire in the second half by a rib injury.
Iceland came with a defensive plan and it served them well until the 35th minute when Stapleton took a pass from Whelan to strike the opening goal. A bad tackle by full-back Mick Walsh led to some vigorous exchanges in the second half but Ireland claimed the second goal that helped reflect their superiority when Tony Grealish scored.
Spain's visit on November 17 represented a critical contest, the result of which would inevitably impact hugely on the final group placings given that three teams were reasonably well matched.
It was sixteen years since Spain's last played in Dublin and while the team had failed to cope with the pressure of playing at home in the World Cup finals in June, they were acknowledged a top side.
Once again Eoin Hand's plans were disrupted by withdrawals because of injuries and he had to plan without David Langan, David O'Leary, Kevin Moran, Gerry Daly, Kevin Sheedy, Gary Waddock and Ronnie Whelan. They might not all have been first choice in a full-strength team, but they were all valued squad members.
Ireland started at pace and they enjoyed the perfect start when Ashley Grimes volleyed the first goal in the second minute. But Ireland failed to build on that and Spain were soon level as Ireland slipped up in defence and allowed Maceda claim the equaliser.
Worse was to follow a minute into the second half when Mick Martin deflected the ball into his own net.
Ireland could sense a disaster now as they struggled to recover their early form and matters did not improve as Victor raced through a square defence to put Spain 3-1 up.
Once again Brady lifted Ireland, his beautiful free kick allowing Stapleton head a goal after 63 minutes. And Stapleton ensured a drawn game with a welcome third in the 76th minute.
The loss of a point at home did nothing to help Ireland's cause given such a tight competition but at least they had averted a disaster. And the manner in which they lifted their game in the closing quarter once again helped raise spirits and promised much more to come.