World Cup ’94 and with England failing to make it to the USA, everyone looked to neighbours Ireland to bring some summertime cheer. Let me tell you, they did not disappoint!
The Irish didn’t seem to mind the old enemy jumping on their band wagon. This was their time in the spotlight and they revelled in it. It also helped that their manager was England World Cup winner, Jackie Charlton and star striker Tony Cascarino had no connection to the country whatsoever, except of course for his fifty caps.
As a football enthused eight year old, I was lucky enough to be holidaying in the country the Easter prior to the tournament. You don’t need any injections to travel to Ireland but I should have had one that year… because I caught a virulent strain of World Cup Fever! WAAYHO!
I was in Cavan, one of the boggiest counties in the middle of the country. The main industries are fishing and undertaking. It’s a quiet place. Not in the spring of ’94. The place was a buzzing hive of World Cup activity. You could buy anything with a World Cup theme and people couldn’t get enough of it. A fashion took hold for cut and shut football shirts, half being the Ireland shirt the other that of the USA, the like of which has never resurfaced.
I myself purchased a very amusing 15cm ruler wittily expressing ‘Ireland Rule’ and my first ever music single – We’re On Our Way (to the USA) by the Ireland World Cup Squad. To this day, that is the finest cassette I have ever owned. Having procured it, my brother and I raced to the car to listen to it, as well as the excellent B Side, We’re On Our Way (Karaoke Mix). We played it over and over again, loving every piece of lyrical brilliance. It was worthy of Keats himself: –
So let the world take notice,
Let the world beware!
We are ‘The Mighty Irish’,
Ignore us if you dare!
The music stopped when my mum arrived, arms full of shopping and ready to set off towards holiday relaxation. Well, it turned out that the Ireland world cup squad’s voices were so passionate, and their song so catchy that the battery had been completely exhausted by the undertaking. It wasn’t without a sense of irony that we absent-mindedly sang “We’re on our way…” as the car sat stationary in a Cavan car park coughing like a crow with croup. Fortunately for us though, Ireland’s World Cup started in a far more impressive fashion.
Ireland’s chances to get out of the group stage were regarded as poor in a group containing an acclimatised Mexico, a Norway team that had qualified ahead of England and most people’s tournament favourites, Italy. I say “most people’s” because Pele had suggested Columbia would win it. Hard to comprehend now but this was a good six years before people realised Pele has no idea about football. Pele was of course an idiot, his native Brazil would go on to win the tournament beating the unanimous favourites Italy. The only team to do so except for one… ‘The Mighty Irish’ in the first match of the competition. This would be their most glorious moment in the USA, a 1-0 scalp and one of the goals of the tournament from Ray Houghton.
The qualities of the Irish team took people by surprise. The squad was full of legends - Paul McGrath, Dennis Irwin and notably a thirty eight year old Kevin Moran, enjoying his second career having won two All Ireland Gaelic Football Championships before playing over two hundred times for Man Utd. Mixed with the young talents of Roy Keane and Jason McAteer, Ireland had a good team and a manager who knew how to use what he had. Jackie was a genius, pioneering the now common Northern European method of getting eleven men ridiculously fired up for a match and then spending the following ninety minutes desperately urging them to take on water as his gammon faced players slowly broiled in the Florida sun. It really is brilliant, and is especially handy when the team is knocked out. Then it almost becomes a human rights issue – ‘Well they wouldn’t let them have the water bottles! It’s inhumane to deny an Irishman water in that heat!’.
Who could say where Ireland would have ended up had they been properly hydrated? Likely they’d have been beaten by The Dutch in the second round, which is in-fact exactly what happened. But no-one expected them to win it, just as no-one expected them to beat Italy and as no-one can take those achievements away from them – except of course for Tony Cascarino’s whose caps are under investigation having admitted to not being Irish in his autobiography. But in 1994 he was Irish, and for a moment, so were we.