Italia 90: Des Cahill experienced the drama first hand
‘It was just an unbelievable time. Everyone had such fun and there wasn’t a care in the world’
Des Cahill covered Italia ’90 for RTÉ Sport
It was from a prime media position that RTÉ Sport reporter Des Cahill watched the events of Italia ‘90 unfold. It’s something he’s well used to, having covered Olympic Games, Ryder Cups, European Championships and many more major sporting events, but the World Cup in 1990 ranks for him as the most memorable.
“At Euro ‘88 there hadn’t been as big a support base. Italia ‘90 brought the massive support that’s been well documented and it grew with each match as more people flew out on extra planes,” he says.
Those thousands of Irish fans inside the Stadio Luigi Ferarris in Genoa could hardly watch as David O’Leary stepped up to take the fateful penalty. But for Cahill, who was down in the tunnel waiting to interview managers and players, there were other matters on his mind.
“I did the flash interviews with the managers for television. So I was in a very privileged position of watching the shootout against Romania from there. My wife was eight months pregnant and if Ireland won the penalty shootout they’d play Italy in Rome on Saturday and I was to go out to the Tour de France on the Sunday for another month. So I was watching the penalty shootout thinking if he misses at least I’ll make it home for a while.”
O’Leary, of course, got the better of Silviu Lung in the Romania goal meaning that RTÉ’s radio reporter would be spending a bit longer in the Italian sun before returning home for a day prior to a trip to the Tour de France the following week.
It was a time that nobody wanted to miss. Talk to anyone who was in Italy for that famous World Cup and everything will appear in a golden mist of nostalgia. For Cahill it’s no different.
“It was just an unbelievable time. Everyone had such fun and there wasn’t a care in the world.”
That feeling translated to the relationship between the team and the media, with the levels of access astonishing when compared to the modern game.
“Nowadays not only can the team not stay in the same hotel (as the media) but they put the media in a hotel far away. At Italia ‘90 their rooms were different but in Euro ‘88 I was in a room next door to Kevin Sheedy and Tony Galvin.
“Everyone just travelled together, there was no big fuss. You knew the players personally but there was no real desire for big personal stories about private lives or anything.
“At Euro ‘88 there was a mad party after we beat England and Ray Houghton was up singing ‘I Belong to Glasgow’. I started recording it and Ronnie Whelan stood up shouting ‘he’s recording it, he’s recording it!’ but nobody minded, there was no fuss.”
It’s interesting that that trusting relationship didn’t quite carry over to the England team who, even 25 years ago, were at the mercy of a tabloid media desperate for scandal.
“There was a big issue at the England training camp after one of the tabloids did a story about a member of the coaching staff and a scandal in their private life. I went over one day with Peter Thursfield (Irish Times photographer) because they were having an open training day. When we got there the gates were locked and the players were walking along the inside because the media was barred.”
Luckily for Cahill, his ability to forge relationships with players had extended to some of those in Bobby Robson’s squad.
“I was standing there locked out with the rest of the media but then Bryan Robson saw me. In the build-up to Italia ‘90 I’d done MC at an event with Kevin Moran and Robson and then that day he recognised me through the fence. So one of the backroom staff came over and asked me if I was the Irish reporter. I said I was so they told me to go down to the end, turn left and I’d be let in. So I was the only media there.”
Cahill thinks that those in Italy possibly didn’t quite understand the massive impact it was having at home at the time but the fans that couldn’t make it over were well aware of the festivities thousands of miles away.
“I was on the radio every day and every morning I’d be talking about the parties from the night before and one of the senior managers in RTÉ said to me that there was concern expressed that every day I was just reporting on drinking and parties! But everybody at home knew somebody out there so I became something like the social reporter.”
As for the Irish fans, one moment in particular stands out.
“I remember one day sitting outside a restaurant having coffee after training. We knew there was a load of fans coming up on mini buses to watch the players train. Then we heard a brass band coming around the corner and all these Irish lads are in the middle of it jumping up and down. But as the band continued around the corner there was a hearse behind it because it was playing for a funeral but the Irish fans just couldn’t resist jumping around once they saw a band.”
As he said himself it was, truly, an unbelievable time.