The Republic of Ireland’s recent friendly against Mexico in New Jersey brought my mind back a few years.
The game was played in the same stadium in which Ireland defeated Italy in the 1994 World Cup and it brought back memories of that day when Ireland got the better of an Italian side that finished overall runners-up in the tournament.
We were lucky to have Jack Charlton in charge and a team comprising of such names as Bonner, Houghton, McGrath.
It’s June 1994, the place: Giants Stadium; and the opposition is Italy. World Cups don’t get better than this. We had the famous Packie Bonner in goals and Ray Houghton, a first generation Donegal man, playing a big part in that game
No one gave us a chance and they were probably right but when the ground in New Jersey began to fill up, we realised there were more Irish than Italians in the ground. We had two proud Donegal men playing for Ireland and they were to prove invaluable.
The man of the match was the superb Paul McGrath. His career was one which I followed closely. He was always so powerful in that Ireland shirt.
My last meeting with him was at another Ireland match Ireland against Latvia in the Aviva stadium four years ago. I was so proud to have met him after the match and have my photo taken with him. I ended up in intensive care in Dublin that night after a fall on my way home.
But back to ‘94, and among my companions on that trip to the USA was Fr. Charlie Deeney from Ard O Donnell in Letterkenny who said Mass for all the Irish fans who were gathered in Florida that day.
My memory was of Fr.Charlie saying the open air mass in the hotel grounds. Irish flags were draped from the hotel’s windows. My wife Mary, and Eddie McGettigan from Kilmacrennan did the readings.
The heat was so intense that Fr.Charlie was sweating profusely in his priestly garb that he had to shorten the mass. It was a special moment in the hearts of those Irish fans and they all appreciated the effort Charlie made on their behalf.
Going back to the Italy match, to be in the stadium that day with my wife and my father when the final whistle blew was one of the greatest highlights of my life. We had actually beaten the mighty Italians in a World Cup. I was also in the company of other great Irish fans, the late Donal Costigan who had been a Customs man in Lifford at one time, and Fr Willie McAteer and and the late Kevin Kennedy.
How important those days were and the words ‘cherished memories’ come to mind when I recall them. No knock to the head will erase those memories as they are deep-seated and painted brightest in my mind.
Rev it up and here we go!!