The death of Ireland’s favourite Englishman Jackie Charlton allowed many to reminisce on one of Ireland’s greatest summers 30 years ago, thanks to the Irish national football team’s performances in the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. Charlton also presided over the Euro 88 and the 1994 World Cup finals.
Ireland’s success on the pitch had serious cultural significance. It was not cool to be Irish in those days, as Ireland had a reputation for terrorism, domestic corruption and a general acceptance of mass emigration. The success also allowed simply playing football to be more culturally accepted, especially in schools, or in any areas outside the major cities. It is worth remembering that the GAA, the organisation in charge of Ireland’s two national sports only withdrew a ban on playing both GAA and football less than twenty years previously.
Jackie Charlton’s decade in charge of the Irish national team was often maligned by mainly the British media for the aggressive use of the so-called “Granny Rule.” Often mocked for being England’s B Team, it must be said that the Granny Rule wasn’t really a problem until Ireland started winning. Only six of the 22 man squad were born in Ireland, and the symbolism that the children and grandchildren of Irish emigrants putting Ireland on the world map was not lost on some. In Part 1 of the review of the men who helped bring one of Ireland’s greatest summers, here are the details from number one to eleven of that great squad.
Pat Bonner – Burtonport, Co. Donegal – Glasgow Celtic
Italia 90 will always be memorable for “Packie” thanks to his penalty save from the Romanian Daniel Timofte. A Glasgow Celtic legend, Bonner only ever played for the Glaswegian giants, and is the clubs fifth highest appearance maker.
Bonner made his international debut in 1981, but only really claimed the Irish number one jersey as his own when Jackie Charlton arrived onto the scene in 1986, and would hold onto the first choice status until the Euro 96 qualifying campaign when Allan Kelly began to gradually replace Bonner. Will be forever remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest goalkeepers, maybe the greatest. He would later go on to become a goalkeeping coach for Ireland.
Chris Morris – Newquay, Cornwall, England – Glasgow Celtic
The man who was due to take the sixth penalty in that penalty shootout against Romania and the second Celtic player in the squad, the reliable, Cornwall born right back actually began his professional career under the tutelage of Jackie Charlton at Sheffield Wednesday, where he would spend his first five years as a professional footballer, before transferring to Celtic in 1987 for £125,000.
Morris qualified for Ireland thanks to his Monaghan born mother and made his international debut against Israel in 1987. He would go on to play every Irish game in Euro 88 and Italia 90. His 35th and final Irish cap came against Wales in the failed Euro 92 qualification campaign and Morris finished his professional career in Middlesbrough in 1997. Now back at Cornwall, Morris has taken management of his family run Cornish Pasties business.
Steve Staunton – Drogheda, Co. Louth – Liverpool
The youngest member of the squad and an Irish legend on the field, with over 102 caps for the national team, Staunton is the only Irishman to have played in three World Cups, captaining the 2002 squad following the Saipan dismissal of Roy Keane. Staunton was also a talented Gaelic footballer as a youngster, and his professional career will best be remembered as being a solid left back for Liverpool and Aston Villa, whom he played for in two different stints for each club.
Off the field, Staunton’s career hasn’t been so successful, most notably an incredibly disappointing spell as manager of Ireland when failing to qualify for Euro 2008, including a very embarrassing 5-2 defeat to Cyprus. Furthermore, as of 2016, Staunton was declared bankrupt after failed business investments.
Mick McCarthy – Barnsley, Yorkshire, England – Millwall
Ireland’s greatest Yorkshireman, McCarthy was captain of the Irish in Italy and was known as “Captain Fantastic”. McCarthy qualified for Ireland thanks to his Tallow, Co. Waterford born father and made his international debut in 1984. McCarthy played every game of Euro 88 and Italia 90 and retired from international duty in 1992 after earning 52 caps.
At the time of Italia 90, McCarthy had just moved on loan to Millwall from a brief spell in France, but couldn’t help to prevent the Lions from top flight relegation. He also had successful stints at home town club Barnsley, Manchester City and Celtic. Of course, modern day readers remember McCarthy better for his managerial career which included two spells in charge of Ireland, most famously of all qualifying for the 2002 World Cup and that argument with Roy Keane. Most recently, McCarthy handed over the Irish managerial role to Stephen Kenny following the Coronavirus pandemic.
Kevin Moran – Dublin – Sporting Gijon
One of Ireland’s greatest all-round sportsmen, as well as playing for Manchester Utd for ten years, Moran also won two All-Ireland Gaelic Football championships for Dublin. Unfortunately, he was also the first man to be sent-off in an FA Cup final in 1985. At the time of Italia 90, Moran had just completed two seasons in Spain with Sporting Gijon and was about to complete the final four years of his career with Blackburn Rovers where he would become club captain and earn promotion to the Premier League.
Moran’s Irish career spanned 14 years, beginning in 1980 and finished as an unplayed member of the USA 94 World Cup squad. The tough central defender was a key member of the Euro 88 and Italia 90 squads, and played on 71 occasions for Ireland. After retirement, Moran began a sports management company with well known agent Paul Stretford, called Proactive Sports.
Ronnie Whelan – Dublin – Liverpool
The second Dublin born player in the squad, Whelan was voted as the 30th best player for Liverpool in a fan poll conducted in 2006. Whelan was an intelligent midfielder who spent 15 years at Anfield, and came into Italia 90 winning the league championship; the last league championship Liverpool would win until this year.
It has been argued that Whelan’s potential was underused during the Charlton era as the tactics employed did not suit Whelan’s skilful play. Indeed he only made one substitute appearance in Italia 90. Nevertheless, Whelan won 53 caps between 1981 and 1994, and gave us his best moment in a green jersey with a spectacular volley against the USSR in Euro 88.
Following retirement, Whelan had a brief period as manager at Southend Utd and a few Greek and Cypriot clubs, before becoming a regular on the After-Dinner Speech scene and a regular television pundit on RTE.
Paul McGrath – Greenford, Middlesex (London), Aston Villa
Probably Ireland’s most adored sportsman and a superb centre half in his day. McGrath’s heroic performances for Ireland, Manchester Utd and Aston Villa contrasted greatly with the personal demons in his private life. The son of an Irish mother, and a Nigerian father, McGrath’s childhood was spent with different foster parents and orphanages in Dublin as his mother was worried about the social acceptance of raising a mixed-race child out of wedlock.
Spotted playing for Dublin side St. Patricks Athletic, McGrath would go on to win the FA Cup in 1985, and the PFA Player of the Year in 1993. McGrath played 83 games for Ireland, playing in midfield during Charlton’s early years before moving back to his natural defensive position. “God” as he was called, was known for his speed, strength and quick reading of the game, despite a dodgy knee which hampered his training. McGrath played every minute of Italia 90 and his performance against Italy in 1994 will forever be remembered as one of the greatest in an Irish jersey.
Alcoholism problems have been well documented with McGrath throughout his life, but the 60 year old now finds himself in a happier stage of life. His autobiography “Back from the Brink” was a best seller and prize winner. These days, McGrath is happily settled in Co. Wexford, and is a patron of the Acquired Brain Injury Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Ireland.
Ray Houghton – Glasgow, Scotland – Liverpool
As of 1990, Houghton was playing alongside Ronnie Whelan at Liverpool and was one of Jackie Charlton’s most trusted lieutenants, running up and down the right wing for Ireland. The diminutive winger will be remembered for two of Ireland’s most treasured sporting moments; That header against England in Euro 88 and the left footed half-volley swing against Italy in the 94 World Cup.
Recruited whilst playing for Oxford Utd, Charlton was initially unaware of Houghton’s Irish routes, but was notified by his original target, John Aldridge that Houghton did indeed have an Irish background due to his father being from Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Charlton would leave Oxford that day with two new players, and Houghton would make his international debut against Wales in 1986 in what was Charlton’s first match as manager.
Houghton, who also had successful club spells with Fulham and Aston Villa played from the beginning to the end of the Charlton era, representing Ireland 73 times, with his final appearance being in the 1998 World Cup qualification playoff defeat to Belgium. These days, Houghton works as a regular TV commentator for RTE, and as an ambassador for the FAI (Football Association of Ireland).
John Aldridge – Liverpool, England – Real Sociedad
The moustached Scouse striker was playing in the Basque country during Italia 90. Aldridge is the last player to have played for Ireland under the Great-Grandparent rule, and his Irish eligibility has come under scrutiny, all of which is denied by Aldridge.
The maternal great grandmother in question was Mary Mills, who emigrated to Liverpool from Athlone. Controversy stems from whether Aldridge travelled with a British passport or not from before 1996, although Aldridge has been adamant he was issued with an Irish passport before he made his debut in the same match as Ray Houghton in 1986.
Aldridge, who was goalless in Italia 90 would go onto score 19 goals for his adopted country. “Aldo” would finish his playing career with Tranmere Rovers followed by a successful management period at the same club. Nowadays, as well as working the Dinner Circuit, Aldridge is a radio pundit for Liverpool FC, and works for the clubs in-house channel.
Tony Cascarino – St. Paul’s Cray, Kent, England – Millwall
The most infamous footballer to be eligible for Ireland, the journeyman forward revealed in his 2000 autobiography that he found out in 1996 that he had no genetic link to Ireland whatsoever. It was revealed to Cascarino in 1996 that his mother was adopted, however Cascarino qualified for Ireland because his adopted grandfather Michael O’Malley came from Westport in Co. Mayo. Cascarino’s “loose” ties with Ireland certainly gave critics of Ireland’s application of the Granny Rule a lot of impetus.
On the field, Cascarino was a tireless workhorse always reliable for a goal. The then Aston Villa front man was one of the scorers of a penalty in the last-16 shootout against Romania, and ended up scoring 19 goals for his adopted country, just like John Aldridge.
The summer of 1990 was an important time for Cascarino as he transferred clubs from boyhood idols Millwall to Aston Villa. His career enjoyed an Indian summer as he later found success in the French leagues. Cascarino represented Ireland on 88 occasions, finishing with a losing effort to qualify for Euro 2000 against Turkey. In more recent times, Cascarino is a regular contributor to Talksport Radio.
Kevin Sheedy – Builth Wells, Wales – Everton
Forever remembered by the Irish for his iconic left footed strike against England in Italia 90, the first ever Irish goalscorer in a World Cup. Sheedy was also a scorer in the Romania penalty shootout. He qualified for Ireland due to his Co. Clare born father, and would play for Ireland for nine years from 1984 until 1993, winning 46 caps in the process.
Sheedy was the first player in 20 years to transfer across Stanley Park from Liverpool to Everton, where he would achieve most of his club success, winning two league championships and also scored in the Everton’s victorious European Cup Winner’s Cup final in 1985. After Italia 90, Sheedy would spend two more years at Everton before gaining promotion to the Premier League with Newcastle Utd in 1993. Sheedy’s post playing career involved spending many years as John Aldridge’s assistant manager at Tranmere Rovers, and has now spent over a decade as an academy coach at Everton.