When Ireland line out in Poznan on June 10th, it will be 24 years since our first appearance at the European Championships. Packie Bonner and Tony Cascarino were among the pioneers in those first breakthrough moments for the Republic. Speaking to Póg Mo Goal, they cast their minds back to those heady days before wondering, like the rest of us, what lays in store this summer. Part 1 features Packie Bonner.
Aware that the man before them is a giant in the footballing history of Ireland, some children hang on his every word. Packie Bonner asks one eight year old: “What position do you play?” and the kid replies: “goalkeeper.” The legendary Donegalman advises: “Ah no, you don’t want to play in goals.” He later explains that goalkeepers, especially today, need to have all the skills. “Young players should not start playing in goal before 12 years of age, which was when I started.”
The decision to step between the posts as a boy would prove a pivotal moment for his country’s sporting future.
With Giovanni Trapatonni’s Boys in Green about to emulate Bonner and the original Green Army by sharing the stage with the best in Europe, we are taken back to glorious summer of Euro 88 and the footballing revolution that was about to ignite.
Bonner’s performance against England is the stuff of legend at this stage but it was the match against the Netherlands, which the Dutch won with a hugely lucky goal from Wim Kieft just eight minutes from time, that sticks in the craw.
Ireland’s 1-1 draw with the Soviet Union is regarded as possibly the best performance of the Charlton era. When asked if that was a case of Ireland’s players revolting against Jack’s rigid tactics of pinging the ball into the corner, everyone pushing up and pressurising the full backs, Packie disagrees:
“No, no. Jack had the tactics spot on that day. The Russians played with a sweeper, which was a totally different system to the Dutch. Jack told us that the sweeper plays the ball out to the wide man and as soon as you press the ball, they’ll play it back to the sweeper, who’ll immediately shift it to the other side, leaving gaps in your midfield. Then once they get the space, the Soviets will start running into it. Jack brought the striker back into midfield to press the sweeper so that the sweeper had no pass wide.”
Despite the passage of time, the details remained etched in the mind of the man from the Rosses.
“If you look at the game carefully, you’ll see that the sweeper was forced to pass the ball back to Dasayev in goals and then he had to play it long which was playing to our strengths. Our tactics were spot on and that was thanks to Jack. We grew in confidence and when we got on the ball, we played with great confidence.”
Ray Houghton billowing the English net in Stuttgart illustrates how crucial it is that Ireland get off to a good start at Euro 2012 against Croatia in the opening game. If Ireland lose that clash, could the campaign effectively be all over for the Boys in Green?
“It’s important not to lose it but the fact that Spain are in the group is possibly a good thing because they are capable of beating all the other teams. If they beat Croatia for example, that’ll help us. Croatia will be thinking the same as us though – that the opening game is their best chance of getting a win. In most tournaments the first game is vital. But I also think we’ve a chance against Italy. I think they’re afraid of Giovanni Trapatonni and he could pull something out of the hat.”
What about those who have criticised Trapattoni’s time in charge of the Republic, particularly his unwillingness to attend club games?
“He’s done very well to get us qualified. There’s plenty teams would love to be in our position. Maybe because of the language barrier things are a bit more difficult. The players understand him though and are behind him and that’s the main thing. You don’t get to this point without the players having full belief in their manager. He has also created a real team spirit in the camp which is a real Irish quality.”
So what would be a successful European Championship campaign for Ireland?
“I think a fantastic performance would be getting through as runner-up and I think there’s a real possibility we can do that. Italy aren’t as good as they were and Irish teams have always battled hard and gotten out of their group in major championships – except in Germany (Euro ’88) which was of course, very unlucky.”
If Trapattoni does manage to lead Ireland to runner-up in our group, we would likely face England in the quarters. Was Packie’s memorable display against the English at Euro ’88 his best game.
“Well, I was certainly kept busy. We scored after six minutes and from then on we were holding on. In the second half, Hoddle was spraying balls around for Lineker so I had plenty of saves to make, so yeah, I would think that game was my best performance.”
Prior to his move to Scotland, his ambition had been to go to Thomond College in Limerick and to become a PE teacher. He had played five games for Donegal at senior inter-county level as a 17 year-old and he believes he could have starred at midfield or corner forward.
He moved to soccer, however, and the rest is most certainly Irish football history. And if he hadn’t made the choice to step between the sticks, what position might he have picked?
“I like to see the whole game in front of me. If not a goalkeeper, I’d say holding midfielder.”
Packie Bonner and Tony Cascarino joined Miss Cork Susan Brosnan to reveal details of Supervalu’s fabulous Euro 2012 competition.
SuperValu is offering one lucky family the Trip of a Lifetime to attend Euro 2012. The lucky winners will travel across Europe in a luxury camper van from Paris to Poznan. Over the two week adventure the winning family will visit some of Europe’s top holiday attractions, from Disneyland Paris to Europe’s largest water park, Tropical Island and with tickets courtesy of Kia Motors, cheer alongside the green army at to two of Ireland’s UEFA Euro 2012 matches.