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20 November 1997 Edition

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Sportsview: There's always another day

BY LIAM O COILEAIN

Despite its nine-year vintage, `'Who put the ball in the English net?'' is as familiar a cry to Irish soccer supporters today as it was when Ray Houghton headed the ball over Peter Shilton's despairing reach in Stuttgart during Euro `88.

That magical moment, that has since taken on mythic proportions, marked the real beginning of the good times under Jack Charlton, the start of the rollercoaster ride into unknown but always exciting territory. Along the way there was success and failure, unprecedented national fervour, and always, passion. That passion had been sporadic during this World Cup campaign from Mick McCarthy's Irish side, but pride, if not glory, was salvaged last Saturday in a rain sodden stadium in Brussels.

Whatever the result, it was a great football occasion. There was no little irony on the night, well, Greek tragedy really, as that man Houghton scored almost a carbon copy of his Stuttgart score. How we roared, as it seemed the Gods were about to smile on us all over again. In the end, it was just not enough, but the effort could not be faulted and the fans could go home with heads held high, having arrived surely fearing the worst.

In a way, this match also marked the banishing of the last traces of the Charlton era. Ray Houghton's twin strikes mark the boundaries of a period of Irish soccer graced by some of the most talented Irish players ever, and certainly the most cohesive team. It will probably mark the end of the international road for three of the last stalwarts, Houghton, Andy Townsend and Tony Cascarino. They leave having earned total respect and admiration, but they also depart having, in one final hurrah, shown some of the new boys how to dig deep for their country. On the night, a totally committed performance was no compensation for a lack of strength in depth, but if the younger players can take anything from the game besides their disappointment, it must be that awareness of the level of commitment that they must emulate.

And while next summer will not see a `Davy Keogh says bonjour' banner in Paris, the Irish squad has great potential for the future and youth on its side. A rash of promising young men are straining to break into the international squad. In years to come, Shay Given, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff could be the poster boys of World Cup success. Who knows? If the Charlton years taught us anything, it is that hope springs eternal and self belief goes a long way.

 


And finally, a word of congratulations to the Dublin footballers, who, like the Spice Girls, are still managerless, but managed to record their first league win over Wexford in Enniscorthy. Caretaker bosses Lorcan Redmond and Chris Kane can take some comfort from the ending of the points drought. Wins too for Meath, Tyrone and Down and also for Derry who crushed London. Donegal continued their unbeaten run against Armagh in a match which saw four players sent off. Cork defeated Clare to avenge last summer's defeat and Offaly beat All-Ireland champs Kerry.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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