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Irish soccer has a night to savour

FROM THE ARCHIVES:  Tommy Coyne makes an emotional comeback to secure a famous victory over Holland in Tilburg in April, 1994…

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Tommy Coyne makes an emotional comeback to secure a famous victory over Holland in Tilburg in April, 1994, as  Peter Byrnereports 

A NIGHT to savour in Irish soccer yielded Ireland's first win over Holland in 14 years in Tilburg last evening when a team cobbled together in the most urgent circumstances brought the home team to heel in a manner which augurs well for the World Cup finals in just under two months' time.

Fittingly, it was Tommy Coyne, piecing together one of the more emotional comebacks in international football, who obtained the decisive goal 10 minutes into the second half. It is 12 months almost to the day since Coyne quit football when his wife, Alison, died shortly after the birth of their third child.

Eventually, he was persuaded to relaunch his career in October, but only after Tranmere Rovers had agreed to transfer him back to his native Scotland to join Motherwell.

His return to the Ireland fold came a lot more recent still but the manner in which he pounced to reduce the Dutch contingent in an attendance of 12,000 to silence showed Charlton that he may yet present a viable alternative to John Aldridge.

It was a perceptive first-time pass from Ronnie Whelan, perhaps the brightest luminary on a night of some convincing individual performances in the Irish team, which induced the fatal error in a Dutch defence which had survived perilously on at least two earlier occasions.

Whelan whipped the ball between the two central defenders Frank de Boer and substitute John de Wolfe and suddenly John Sheridan was in space and bearing down on Ed de Goey's goal.

Wisely, as it transpired, Sheridan decided against going it alone and when he turned the ball back across the face of the six-yard area Coyne and Steve Staunton were queuing up to convert it.

From there on, Ireland protected their advantage well. True there was one moment of undeniable good fortune when with the game already in injury-time Ronald de Boer made the glancing header from Marc Overmars's cross only to see the ball run along the face of the crossbar before being hustled to safety.

In that moment the Irish knew the luck of the brave but it ought to be measured against an incredible escape for the Dutch within 11 minutes of the kick-off. On that occasion Andy Townsend set up the chance for Coyne only six yards out but the shot was fired straight at the Dutch goalkeeper.

Holland, by comparison with the Irish, had almost all their big-name players in action with the notable exception of Ruud Gullit.

True, Dick Advocaat, their manager, withdrew three senior players - Ronald Koeman, Wim Jonk and Dennis Bergkamp - at a stage when the game was still scoreless at half-time, but not even the most dedicated Dutch fan would deny that the Irish had been the more likely team up to that point.

In all, Packie Bonner was required to move at full stretch on no more than three occasions and even in the second half when they sensed that time was running out, Holland were still incapable of conjuring up the skill to unlock a splendid Irish defence.

In an effort to fill the gaps which tiring limbs were beginning to leave, Jack Charlton introduced three replacements - Jason McAteer, Alan McLoughlin and Owen Coyle (for his first cap) - in the last 20 minutes and it had the effect of dampening down any possibility of the Dutch taking fire.

On a night when many Irish players looked adversity in the eye, none I thought did better than Whelan.

Playing directly in front of the back four, Whelan put Bergkamp out of the game in the first half and was at all times available to lend his experience to the task of closing off the gaps.

He will scarcely oust either Roy Keane or Andy Townsend for the opening game against Italy in New Jersey but if a holding operation is needed, the wily Liverpool player is surely the man for the job.

There was much merit also in the performance of Sheridan, who marked his return to the team with a splendid 90-minute performance.

His newly discovered capacity to track opponents stood him in good stead, and on occasions he hit some glorious passes.

Steve Staunton, if not quite 100 per cent fit, complemented him well and at the back there were truly some outstanding contributions.

Like Whelan, Kevin Moran is struggling to convince Charlton that he warrants a place in his best World Cup XI, but judged on this performance, there are many who would argue that he would enrich the team.

He again showed himself a man for the big occasion and by his physical presence did much to sap the threat from the home attack. Alongside him Phil Babb did well but it seems that he is intent on presenting Charlton with an unenviable choice.

On the one hand he brings urgently needed mobility to the back four, but as yet he lacks real strength in the tackle. And it remains to be seen how Charlton equates those two facts of football life.

Both full-backs, Gary Kelly and Terry Phelan, were quite superb, notably Phelan, whose contribution was certainly not that of a man who had been out of the game for the last six weeks.

His pace, like that of Kelly, enabled him to retrieve a couple of dangerous situations and judged on this form it is difficult to see how Manchester City can exclude him from Saturday's Derby meeting with United at Old Trafford.

Of the Dutch it can be said that they never performed to pedigree.

Even with a full complement in the first half, they were strangely lacking in purpose, and with the exception of three or four occasions never succeeded in stringing together those passes which in earlier meetings had tormented the Irish.

HOLLAND:De Goey; Vlackx; F de Boer, R Koeman, Davids, Jonk, Rijkaard, Overmars, R de Boer, Bergkamp, Roy, Substitutes: Winter for Jonk, De Wolf for Koeman, Taumont for Bergkamp (all 45 mins).

REP OF IRELAND:Bonner (Celtic), G Kelly (Leeds), Phelan (Man City), Moran (Blackburn), Babb (Coventry), Whelan (Liverpool), Townsend (A Villa); McGoldrick (Arsenal); Coyne (Motherwell), Sheridan (Sheff Wed), Staunton (A Villa). Substitutes: McAteer (Bolton) for McGoldrick, McLoughlin (Portsmouth) for Phelan, Boyle (Bolton) for Coyne .

Referee:H Sttrampe (Ger).