Italia 90: Kevin Sheedy recalls that long walk to penalty spot

‘I felt that it was important for us to get off to a good start, so as soon as the whistle went I said to the lads, I’ll take the first one’

Packie Bonner makes his save during the shootout against Romania. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Packie Bonner makes his save during the shootout against Romania. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

“It seems like it was yesterday,” says Kevin Sheedy. “The goal against England, the penalty against Romania and the quarter-final against Italy were all massive highlights of my career. Magic memories but for them to be from 25 years ago is quite frightening really.

“That said, I’m having a double knee replacement. They’re both shot to pieces. So it’s ironic, the World Cup 25 years ago and now, the perks of the job.”

Just making it to Italy was a thrill, says the former Everton star who remembers growing up watching World Cups, delighting in the great Brazil teams and daring to dream that one day he might play on the same stage. When his chance did come, Sheedy had a rather eventful few weeks.

“I felt very fortunate just to play,” he says, “but then to score what was a very important goal for us. Obviously it’s one of those things that nobody can ever take away from you . . . scoring Ireland’s first ever goal at a World Cup.”

Penalty shoot-outs, he says, are all about “who fancies it” on the day and, famously, not many did that day in Genoa. Sheedy, though, felt he had a responsibility to step forward first.

“There was probably about a 15 minute delay from the final whistle before things get started again and as an experienced penalty taker I didn’t want to leave it to the last one in case the other lads didn’t score. I felt that it was important for us to get off to a good start, so as soon as the whistle went I said to the lads, I’ll take the first one.

“Hagi went first and took a good penalty. After that, it’s a really long walk from the halfway line up to the penalty spot but I knew the goalkeeper has to dive on the first one; very rarely would they stand still and I kept it high down the centre. It was a great personal moment for me.”

Later, when Dave O’Leary volunteered to take the fifth, “I just leaned in to give him a bit of advice, just the basics of what I knew for myself: pick your spot, don’t change your mind and hit the ball cleanly. He held his nerve brilliantly; hit a good one and we were through.”

Less well remembered, he acknowledges, is his role in the goal that put Ireland out a few days later.

“Jack’s philosophy was not to put the ball at risk,” he says. “I got the ball in a good position. Aldo [John Aldridge] was an experienced striker and I played the ball into his feet but Baresi, the quality defender he was, just put his tow between Aldo’s legs and nicked the ball. It went to Donadoni, who ran half the length of the pitch then shot, and the ball broke to the last person you’d want it to break to, Schillaci. The rest is history.

“Jack was complaining to me that he thought I should have put the ball in behind, but in my view that would have been just giving it straight back to them. Certainly if I was in that position again I’d do exactly the same because I was a footballer that wanted to keep the ball. I’d do exactly the same ball and hope that John would do a little bit better in the situation.”

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