FAI History Chapter 24 - 1986 World Cup
The optimism engendered by the challenge for qualification for the 1982 finals in Spain was diluted by the failed effort to make it to France for the 1984 European Championship.This was reflected in the small attendances at Ireland's friendly matches but a return to World Cup action aimed at producing passage to the 1986 finals in Mexico soon raised hopes again.The draw, however, gave Ireland cause to pause for they were grouped with the Soviet Union, Denmark, Switzerland and Norway. No pushovers in this group !Ireland could expect, with confidence, to cope with Switzerland and the amateurs of Norway even allowing for Norway's well-deserved reputation for offering a determined and physical challenge to all and sundry. But the Soviet Union and Denmark represented opposition of the highest class.Ireland's programme of build-up matches involved a first visit to Tel Aviv on April 4, 1984, while Israel were seeking involvement with European teams in an effort to be allowed compete as a member of the European group in international competition. What was expected to be an undemanding work-out for Ireland turned out to be something far different.Israel stunned Ireland with a lightning strike inside two minutes and Ireland laboured without success to get on terms. They were caught again in the 62nd minute and when Israel added a third three minutes later, Ireland were forced to accept they were second best.Seven weeks later Ireland faced Poland at Dalymount Park for their 100th international match at home, but the significance of the occasion was not reflected in the performance. Ireland were decidedly un-inspired as they played out a drab scoreless draw.The excellence of Shamrock Rovers on the domestic scene at the time led to the introduction of midfielder Pat Byrne to international football and he opened his career with Ireland in impressive fashion. He was joined on the pitch in the course of the match by two club colleagues who came in as substitutes - Jacko McDonagh and Liam Buckley.A debut of still more lasting significance was that of Mick McCarthy who had recently been transferred from Millwall to Manchester City. He came in as partner to David O'Leary at centre-back and his strength in the air and leadership qualities were immediately apparent.Next Ireland made the journey to the Japanese city of Sapparo to compete in a tournament made up of club and national teams. They played the Peoples Republic of China, just a year after Ireland had beaten them 5-1 in an U21 match.Eamonn O'Keeffe had claimed four of those goals and China must have had misgivings when he now opened the scoring for Ireland's senior team in the 57th minute. It proved to be the only goal of the game.Ireland's final warm-up game was a first-ever meeting with Mexico at Dalymount Park. The novelty of the occasion was not enough to excite public interest in the fortunes of the team and just 5,100 spectators came through the turnstiles. They were given little to cheer in a scoreless game.This was far from encouraging for manager Eoin Hand just five weeks ahead of the opening of the World Cup qualifying campaign on September 12, 1984, with a match at Lansdowne Road against a highly rated Soviet Union.And Ireland's prospects were not helped by the absence of Frank Stapleton, who was recovering from an operation on his knee, and Kevin Sheedy, sidelined by an ankle injury.The whiff of competitive action energised the team, however, while Mickey Walsh, at centre-forward, and Tony Galvin, on the left wing, were vigorous replacements for the absentees. Ireland hit a high note from the start and against the dangerous Soviet Union pushed on with determination.They would have deserved a goal before half-time with Liam Brady in sparkling form in midfield but 64 minutes had elapsed before they made the breakthrough. Michael Robinson penetrated on the right and his cross was finished with authority by the muscular Walsh.Ireland still had a battle on their hands and the Soviets twice hit the woodwork in one sustained attack as they sought an equaliser. But with Ireland's defence working effectively, Ireland opened their campaign with an encouraging win to the acclamation of 28,000 fans.This represented a significant win for the Soviets had highly-rated players like Blokhin, Bessonov, goalkeeper Dasayev, Sulakvelidze, Baltacha, Chivadze in their team. Ireland's win sent expectations soaring once again.The optimism that was engendered was all too quickly shattered as Ireland played their next two qualifying matches away from home against Norway and Denmark and lost both. They were defeated 1-0 by Norway in the Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo on October 17 and fell 0-3 to Denmark in Idraetspark, Copenhagen a month later.Ireland spurned a number of early chances against Norway and once Norway snatched a breakaway goal just before half-time they were frustrated by a massed defence afterwards. Liam Brady was twice close to an equaliser but nobody could under-estimate the damage done to Ireland's prospects by the loss.Eoin Hand opted for change after the Oslo experience in the knowledge that Denmark represented a much tougher test. Frank Stapleton was recalled after recovering from his operation while Mick McCarthy was given a first competitive game at centre-back with Mark Lawrenson moving to right-back and Jim Beglin replacing Chris Hughton at left-back.Ireland looked comfortable for thirty minutes against a superb Denmark but a mis-placed pass in midfield was snaffled by the formidable Elkjaer who exploded through Ireland's defence to beat goalkeeper Seamus McDonagh.The goal helped Denmark find their rhythm and roared on by the noisy home fans in a packed stadium they were devastating in the second half. Elkjaer showed his class with a second goal just after half-time and Soren Lerby exchanged passes with Michael Laudrup before sweeping home a third.These two defeats effectively settled any hopes Ireland had of qualifying for the World Cup finals in Mexico. Significantly Denmark and Soviet Union confirmed the results of the qualifying tournament as both made a great impact in Mexico by winning their groups and advancing to the Round of Sixteen.The sense of disappointment that swept through Irish football as realisation dawned that yet another Championship would be decided without them was sensationally swept away when the reigning World Cup holders, Italy, came to Dublin for a friendly match on February 5, 1985.Italy paraded their stars, players of distinction like Marco Tardelli, Paulo Rossi, Antonio Cabrini, Bruno Conti, Gaetano Scirea amongst them.Their appearance generated huge interest and when an estimated 40,000 fans rolled up at Dalymount, the authorities had to allow thousands inside the railings to fill the spaces on the touchlines.Happily the atmosphere was one of carnival. Italy coped with the unusual challenge of having to pick a pathway through spectators to take corner-kicks and throw-ins with good-nature but the potential for serious problems was obvious and the match marked the end of Dalymount Park as a venue for major international occasions.Italy provided value for money and they quickly showed their class with goals from Rossi and Altobelli. Ireland played well and responded with a goal in the 52nd minute from Gary Waddock.The game marked the introduction of Paul McGrath to international football for he was sent in by Manager Hand as replacement for the injured Lawrenson after nine minutes.McGrath played from the start of the next match, a friendly against Israel in Tel Aviv on February 27, 1985, that ended scoreless. And he played the opening 45 minutes of a friendly against England at Wembley a month later that was won 2-1 by England. The goals came from Trevor Steven and Gary Lineker, on his international debut, and Liam Brady .The performance against England did little to instil confidence ahead of the visit of Norway to Dublin for the return World Cup tie on May 1. Frank Stapleton had the ball in the net only to have ‘the goal' disallowed and Ireland struggled against hard-working opposition in a game that ended scoreless.Eoin Hand was so disappointed with the experience that he told the players in the dressing-room that he was resigning. Liam Brady, who had been substituted in the course of the match, was one of the first to ask the manager to re-consider and to pledge his support.The FAI departed from routine when they decided to stage the next friendly match, against Spain, at Flower Lodge, Cork, on May 26, 1985. It was the first international played in Cork in 46 years but on an immaculate playing surface that was praised by all concerned, a mediocre match ended scoreless.Ireland were well below strength against Spain but were back to full-strength when they played Switzerland in the World Cup at Lansdowne Road on June 2. The extended period that Hand had to work with the players was reflected in a sparkling performance that yielded a 3-0 win with goals from Frank Stapleton, Tony Grealish and Kevin Sheedy.The return match with Switzerland was played in September and again Ireland slumped in form and failed to find inspiration. The match finished scoreless and offered little encouragement ahead of an assignment against the Soviet Union in Moscow the follow month, on October 16.Stories abounded at the time of hardships in Russia with reported food shortages causing the team management worries ahead of the game.Manager Hand experienced difficulties in persuading the FAI officers of the need to bring their own foodstuffs. They relented when a deal was done with a Dublin hotel to provide provisions and Hand was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Pat, who prepared meals for the squad.Ireland responded to the challenging circumstances surrounding the game in a packed Lenin Stadium by playing some of their best football. They held the Soviet Union attack for an hour before conceding finally to Cherenkov and it was only in the dying seconds the Soviets snatched a second goal through Protasov to put a flattering look on the scoreboard.This performance heralded better things but whatever optimism was engendered was betrayed again by a limp performance against Denmark at Lansdowne Road on November 13. 1985.Frank Stapleton scored the first goal of the game but Denmark again proceeded to out-play the Irish. They played devastating football on a hard and unforgiving playing surface to win 4-1. Eoin Hand's resignation, after 40 games in charge, was entirely predictable.
9th May 2011