For the national football team, the ‘luck of the Irish’ seems to have been forever absent. Like the other home nations, with the possible exception of England, the Republic of Ireland have enjoyed very little success in footballing terms. Where other nations can boast of winning World Cups or even European Championships, this nation can merely reflect on qualifying for major tournaments.
However, the Irish faithful still look back fondly at memories of Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy leading the team through its most successful era. Having not qualified for a major tournament in over fifty years, Ireland qualified for Euro 88, and reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup two years later.
They were successful in both the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, as they made the last sixteen. Modest achievements though these achievements may be, hopes are still high for an even brighter future. To that end, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has recently appointed legendary coach Giovanni Trapattoni as their new boss. If history is anything to go by though, the chances of the Irish moving to the next level are not exactly great.
What to wear and where to play?
When at home, the Republic of Ireland traditionally play in green and white (Green shirts, white socks and green socks). When they travel away, the colours of the strip are normally reversed.
However, there have been exceptions to the norm, such as the orange strip that was worn in the 1990s. Although the shirts worn by players do not have a sponsor, replica shirts have Eircom, an Irish telecommunications company, printed on the front.
At present the national team play their home fixtures at Croke Park in Dublin. This is the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association, and, at capacity, there can be as many as 82,300 fans in the stadium.
However, due to legislation regarding all-seater stadia, the capacity of the stadium is reduced due to the fact that the Hill 16 end of Croke Park is a terrace. This means that temporary seating is used during competitive matches, of which there have been just four Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Before moving to Croke Park, the Republic of Ireland played most of their home matches at Lansdowne Road, also in Dublin. They played there from the 1980s onwards. The stadium is also home to the national rugby team, and owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).
The move to Croke Park became necessary due to extensive redevelopment work at Lansdowne Road from 2007 to 2009. This was unsurprising, as the stadium proved woefully insufficient for major sporting events, being just 36,000 at capacity. It is believed that, when finished, the new capacity will be near the 50,000 mark for competitive matches.
Prior to the 1980s, the national team played at various grounds across the country. The vast majority of their games were played at Dalymount Park, where Bohemian FC play their home games, and also Tolka Park, the Royal Dublin Society, Mardyke and Flower Lodge.
Early History – Irish Free State
This part of the guide may resemble something straight out of a history lesson. However, it is important to look back at the history of Ireland, as it had a huge impact on the development of Irish football, and what we now know as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland today.
Prior to 1921, Ireland had a single national football team. Players were selected from both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, which in 1922 became the Irish Free State when the two countries split. A year later, the FAI was recognised by FIFA as the governing body of the Irish Free State.
They made their World Cup debut in 1934, and drew 4-4 with Belgium in a qualifier at Dalymount Park. Scorer of all four goals, Paddy Moore, still remains in the record books as the only player to score four goals in a World Cup game.
After 20 years of confusion over selection rights, some clarity was achieved in 1953, when FIFA ruled that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be considered two separate teams, with their own pool of players. This proved to be necessary after the near-farcical spectacle in the 1950 World Cup, when four players turned out for both Irish teams in the same tournament.
The years of failure
The Republic of Ireland can be looked at as the ‘nearly men’ of international football. Despite having players of undisputed ability, qualifying for major tournaments has proved a stumbling block throughout the history of this national team.
One particularly heartbreaking early example came in 1958, when they narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification. John Atyeo scored a last minute equaliser for England, at Dalymount Park, ensuring England’s progression to the World Cup competition in Sweden at Ireland’s expense.
The 1960s would prove to be one of the worst decades for the national team, as they failed to qualify for the 1962 World Cup after losing all four qualifying games, culminating with a record 7-1 defeat at the hands of Czechoslovakia.
That sort of embarrassment was mercifully absent in the 1966 World Cup. Although the competition was taken by England, the Republic of Ireland faced Spain and Syria in the qualifying rounds. After Syria withdrew from the tournament, the Irish defeated Spain 1-0 at Dalymount Park, but lost 4-1 away in Spain. However, unlike today, there was no such thing as aggregate scores and so a play-off match was necessary.
Controversy surrounded this fixture. The game was originally scheduled to be played at Wembley Stadium in London. However, due to the fact that there was a large Irish population in London, the game was move to Paris, even though the city was home to a large Spanish population. A solitary strike from striker Ufarte meant that Spain progressed to the World Cup finals in England, and Ireland were left disappointed again.
The next couple of decades would also prove to be littered with near misses, as the Republic of Ireland continued to struggle to qualify for major competitions. Mick Meagan became the first manager of the Republic of Ireland in 1969, as the FAI decided that it was no longer effective employing a team of selectors to pick the side.
However, this change in the system seemed to have little effect as Meagan failed to win any of his twelve games in charge. After losing nine games and failing to qualify for the 1970 World Cup and 1972 European Championships, Meagan’s reign at the helm was halted.
There were further disappointing managerial appointments to follow, as Liam Tuohy, Johnny Giles and Eoin Hand all endured unsuccessful spells as the man in charge of the national team. Hand did go very close though, only missing out on the 1982 World Cup on goal difference.
The Charlton Era
After years of underachievement, it would be former World Cup winner Jack Charlton who would bring a smile back to the Irish public. He was appointed as manager in February 1986 after a successful spell as manager of Middlesbrough.
Many of his Middlesbrough team would move on to play for the successful Liverpool team of the time, something which the former England international could take much credit for. As a testament to his unique abilities, Charlton became the first Republic of Ireland manager not to be born in Ireland.
Under his guidance, the national team enjoyed their most successful period of its history, in which they qualified for two World Cups and a European Championship; a feat which had not been achieved by any of Charlton’s predecessors.
In 1988, the national team qualified for their first ever major tournament, the European Championships in West Germany. This was achieved after the Republic of Ireland beat Bulgaria 2-0 at Lansdowne Road in October 1987.
Ireland were then on cloud nine as they defeated England in their first game, thanks to an early goal from Ray Houghton. They drew their next game 1-1 with the Soviet Union, meaning they only needed a draw against Holland in their final group game to progress to the semi-finals.
Unfortunately, that solitary point proved elusive, as Wim Kieft scored the winning goal to send Ireland out of the competition. Despite the disappointment of not reaching the semi-finals, the Republic of Ireland players were treated to a hero’s welcome as they returned to Dublin. Over 200,000 people welcomed home their heroes, whom had restored the nation’s pride thanks to their brave performances in West Germany.
Greater things were to follow as, after the euphoria surrounding the team’s performances in West Germany, Ireland qualified for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Their first game in a World Cup was against England, a game which finished 1-1, with Kevin Sheedy scoring Ireland’s first ever World Cup goal.
They then went on to draw their remaining two group games against Egypt and Holland, booking their place in the second round in the process. In the second round they faced Romania; a game that will be remembered in Irish folklore as Ireland won 5-4 in a penalty shootout. David O’Leary’s decisive penalty took Ireland to the last eight in the competition, where they faced the much favoured hosts Italy.
Despite an audience with Pope John Paul II in the build up to the game, the Republic of Ireland still lost 1-0. Again though, the players received a hero’s welcome when they returned to their country and Charlton’s name was elevated to that of legend.
Remarkably, the Republic of Ireland missed out on the 1992 European Championships, despite not losing a game in qualifying. However, pride was restored when they qualified for their second successive World Cup in 1994, which was held in the United States.
It was in this competition where the Republic of Ireland took arguably their greatest ever scalp, albeit in very unexpected circumstances. An early goal from Ray Houghton in the opening game earned a surprise victory over eventual finalists Italy. Here is some YouTube footage of the goal.
However, this was to be their only success in the tournament as they lost to Mexico and drew with Norway in the next two fixtures in the competition. It was still good enough to see them through to the second phase, where they were then unfortunately beaten 2-0 against Holland in convincing fashion.
Despite these comparatively glorious achievements, the side’s failure to qualify for Euro 96 signalled the end of Charlton’s reign. Nevertheless, Jack Charlton will go down as one of the best managers ever to manage the Republic of Ireland national team, if not the best full stop. He restored pride to a nation that had never experienced major tournaments. Whereas his predecessors had failed to qualify for one major tournament, Charlton qualified for three.
McCarthy steps in
Charlton resigned after Christmas that year and was replaced by Mick McCarthy. McCarthy also came with a good pedigree, as he transformed Millwall in the football league, and placed emphasis on youth.
He would have to do the same at national level now, as a lot of the players that he inherited from Charlton were nearing retirement. This meant that the national team went through a period where the results were inconsistent, as a new team was being built. Needless to say, the Republic of Ireland failed to qualify for the next two major tournaments.
However, McCarthy did eventually enjoy some success, as the Republic of Ireland qualified for the World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002. This was quite an achievement, considering they had faced the likes of Portugal and Holland in qualifying and incredibly went unbeaten to finish second behind Portugal. After they triumphed in a play-off against Iran 2-1 on aggregate, they qualified for their first World Cup in eight years.
Controversy surrounded the first few days of the World Cup, as captain Roy Keane was sent home after rowing with manager McCarthy. The Republic of Ireland put this loss behind them and went on to progress to the second round thanks to two draws with Cameroon and Germany and an emphatic win against Saudi Arabia.
Robbie Keane’s last minute equaliser against the Germans, in particular, will go down in Irish folklore. They faced Spain in the second round, and drew 1-1. Sadly, many Irish hearts were broken, as they crashed out of the competition 5-4 on penalties.
After the World Cup, the Republic of Ireland seemed to revert back to the old days, and failed to qualify for Euro 2004 under McCarthy, who resigned during qualifying. He was replaced by the people’s choice, Brian Kerr, who had an excellent record at youth level, and had guided both the Republic of Ireland under 16s and under 18s to victory in the 1998 European Championships.
Despite having a better winning record (53%) compared to both Charlton (50%) and McCarthy (46%), Kerr still failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2004 and the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
Kerr was subsequently replaced by Steve Staunton, the man with the most caps for the Republic of Ireland. Unfortunately, his reign was also unsuccessful, as they failed to qualify for Euro 2008, and Staunton was sacked late on in 2007.
The future’s bright: the future’s orange, white and green
On February 13, 2008, the FAI announced that Giovanni Trapattoni would become the new Republic of Ireland manager in May, ending a 112-day wait for an appointment. This was great news for the nation.
Having won many titles in his native Italy and also in Germany, Portugal and Austria, with his experience, and a little bit of ‘Irish luck’, the Republic of Ireland could soon be back on the football map, and on their way to many World Cups and European Championships.
|Steve Staunton||1989 – 2002||102|
|Niall Quinn||1986 – 2002||91|
|Tony Cascarino||1986 – 2000||88|
|Kevin Kilbane||1997 – present||87|
|Shay Given||1996 – present||86|
|Paul McGrath||1985 – 1997||83|
|Packie Bonner||1981 – 1996||80|
|Robbie Keane||1998 – present||79|
|Ray Houghton||1986 – 1998||73|
|Kenny Cunningham||1996 – 2005||72|
Ireland In Major Tournaments
World Cup Record
- 1934 – 1986 – Did not qualify
- 1990 – Quarter-finals
- 1994 – Second Round (Last 16)
- 1998 – Did not qualify
- 2002 – Second Round (Last 16)
- 2006 – Did not qualify
European Championship Record
- 1960 – 1984 – Did not qualify
- 1988 – First Round
- 1992 – Did not qualify