Ireland’s do or die games: The nights we did - and the nights we died
From McAteer against the Netherlands to, yep, Henry against us (and the rules)
2009: Thierry Henry and Richard Dunne. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
With both sides having beaten each other in the group, Ireland and Spain met in Paris for the right to play in the 1966 World Cup. Famously the FAI agreed to the Parc des Princes as a venue on the basis that they would get a bigger chunk of the gate receipts, the upshot being the virtually complete absence of any Irish fans in the ground. A goal 11 minutes from time by Spanish winger Ufarte was the difference and Spain went to the World Cup at the expense of an Ireland team that included Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy.
Kiev/Bern, May 18th/21st, 1975 – Soviet Union 2 Ireland 1; Switzerland 1 Ireland 0
Ireland had got themselves into the box seat in Group 6, beating the USSR at home with a legendary Don Givens hat-trick, taking a point away to Turkey and then beating the Swiss at home. All they needed was a point out of these two away games in the space of three days and qualification was theirs to lose. In front of 84,000 people in Kiev, they went 2-0 down early on and could offer only a late Eoin Hand goal in reply. The following Wednesday in Bern, a mix-up between Hand and Terry Conroy in defence gifted the Swiss a goal and Ireland were goosed.
Belfast, November 17th, 1993 – Northern Ireland 1 Ireland 1
Has there ever been a night like it? Qualification was on a knife-edge as Jack Charlton took his side up to Windsor Park for the last game in Group 3. Ireland, Spain and Denmark were much of a muchness all the way through and with the latter two meeting in Seville, all three had their fate in their own hands. When Ireland went 1-0 down to a thumping Jimmy Quinn effort with just 16 minutes left, Spain and Denmark were all but through. It took an immortal strike from Alan McLoughlin four minutes later to send Ireland to the USA.
Liverpool, December 13th, 1995 – Netherlands 2 Ireland 0
One team was slightly unlucky to be in this play-off – and it wasn’t Ireland. This was the end of the Jack Charlton era, and the campaign had included the 0-0 draw with Liechtenstein. The Dutch had come second in a three-way ding-dong with the Czech Republic and Norway and had a goal difference of +18 to our +6. They dealt with us unfussily, a couple of Patrick Kluivert goals putting a full-stop on the glory days.
Having drawn the first leg in Dublin 1-1, Mick McCarthy’s side were underdogs heading to the Belgian capital at the end of his first campaign in charge. They went behind to a Luis Oliviera goal in the first half but got back into it with the last great pop-up intervention of his career from Ray Houghton after half-time. The killer was that the Belgian winner came from a throw-in that was flagged the wrong way. Ireland switched off and it fell to Luc Nilis to knock Ireland out.
Skopje, October 9th, 1999 – Macedonia 1 Ireland 1
We were through. It was done. It was dusted. Mick McCarthy’s side were 1-0 up in injury-time in the final game of Group 8 and all they had to do was defend one last corner and they were going to the Euros. When out of the clouds came Goran Stavrevski, steaming in from the edge of the box unmarked. The draw dropped Ireland from first to second in the table. They were knocked out by Turkey in the play-offs on away goals, but this was the night where qualification slipped through their fingers.
Lansdowne Road, September 1st, 2001 – Ireland 1 Netherlands 0
The play-off that actually qualified Ireland for the 2002 World Cup came a couple of months later in Tehran but nobody will ever forget this day. The crunch game of all crunch games. A qualification campaign that presented McCarthy’s team with the Netherlands and Portugal to overcome boiled itself down to this one, a raucous Saturday in the old shack. Roy Keane’s tackle, Louis Van Gaal and the four strikers, Jason McAteer’s goal. A day of days.
Lansdowne Road, October 12th, 2005 – Ireland 0 Switzerland 0
It had been a bitty campaign for Brian Kerr’s Ireland, ruined in the main by two draws from winning positions against Israel. There was still a chance to make it to a play-off, though, if they could beat Switzerland at home. Roy Keane and Damien Duff were missing and it showed – a huffing, puffing Ireland display never really amounted to very much. Shay Given had more to do with the 0-0 scoreline at the end than Robbie Keane, who was subbed off with 25 minutes to go. A campaign that fizzled out. Kerr never got the chance to steward another.
Paris, November 18th, 2009 – France 1 Ireland 1 (France go through 2-1 on aggregate)
The Thierry Henry game. Don’t really need to say much more than that, do we? A 1-0 win for Ireland in normal time forced the extra half-hour. A French free-kick. Ireland defenders gone missing. Henry handles once, handles twice, crosses into the six-yard box. William Gallas nods home. France get to the World Cup. Ireland go out. Not before asking to be the 33rd team, of course. And wheedling €5 million out of Fifa. A squalid business all around.
Remarkable for the simple reason that it’s usually been us on the wrong side of these kind of nights. Ireland made the play-offs after a very respectable campaign, the highlight of which was Richard Dunne keeping the Russians at bay single-handedly in Moscow. The upshot was that we drew Estonia and were able to go to Tallinn and beat them out the gate. Keith Andrews scored an early away goal before Jonathan Walters and Robbie Keane (2) ran up the score in the second half. It meant the Dublin leg was a carnival (the Euros themselves, not so much).
Dublin, October 15th, 2015 – Ireland 1 Germany 0
Qualification came via the play-offs against Bosnia the following month but this was the result that made the Euros possible. The Germans came to Dublin presuming they would walk the tie but Ireland were immense. James McCarthy had his best ever game in green, and when it came to the time to go and win, Shane Long bore down on goal with a hell of a lot of thinking time but still managed to send the place into orbit.
The least said about the eventual play-off – a decent scoreless draw away to Denmark before the, eh, not-so-decent 5-1 defeat back in Dublin – the better. At least James McClean and the rest of them will always have Cardiff. Ireland went into Wales’s back yard knowing that a draw wasn’t going to be enough. It was win or nothing. They went to Cardiff aiming for a 1-0, not a penny more. Shane Duffy and David Meyler were immense and in the night’s one shining moment of quality, McClean came blazing on to a Jeff Hendrick cross, into space left for him by a lovely Harry Arter dummy, and buried a right-foot (!) shot into the bottom corner.