Monday 26 September 2016

The Croker roar and Zinedine Kilbane - Irish football's 30 best moments from the last 30 years: 30-26

Published 30/05/2016 | 14:58

We are just two weeks away from Ireland's Euro 2016 opener against Sweden at the Stade de France, where Martin O'Neill's men will have the opportunity to add to the Boys in Green's memorable history at major tournaments.

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Ireland took part in their first major tournament 28 years ago, but the journey towards Euro 88 qualification began two years earlier in 1986.

Independent.ie is using the next two weeks to look back on some of Irish football's greatest moments of the last 30 years.

Today, we are bringing you the first five from the list. We hope you enjoy looking back on some amazing times for Irish football.

30. Liam Brady scores the winning goal against Brazil (1987)

It was fitting that on the day Ireland recorded a win against the world's most flair-filled team, it was the nation's most skilled footballing practitioner who struck the decisive blow.

It isn't an exaggeration or an insult to say that Ireland generally don't produce players like Liam Brady - the midfielder's technique and skill was at such a transcendent level that it would be wishful thinking to expect the national team to be filled with countless players like him.

In May 1987, Ireland were about halfway through qualifying for their first ever major tournament and were given the chance to test themselves against Brazil at Lansdowne Road.

It wasn't a vintage samba side, with Brazil failing to advance to the final four of either of the previous two World Cups, and when you compare the two line-ups, Ireland arguably had the greater star power.

Brady was still the biggest name in the Irish team, although at 31, his powers were on the wane. Still, the West Ham midfielder stepped up for the game's decisive moment as he turned to his left before pulling the ball the opposite direction and into the corner, completely bamboozling Carlos Gallo in the Brazil goal in the process.

 

Unsurprisingly, the 1-0 win remains Ireland's only victory against the five-time world champions, and it was a perfect opponent for Brady to score his final international goal against.

29. John Aldridge's brace seals Ireland's qualification for a first ever World Cup (1989)

John Aldridge is rightly regarded as an Irish football legend but there was a time early on in his international career where he really struggled for form in the green jersey.

Although Aldo was banging in goals with his club when he made his Ireland debut in 1986, it took him a long time to find his feet on the international stage.

It took Aldridge 20 games to score his first international goal, and another seven before he finally netted in a competitive match.

Ireland travelled to Malta for their final Italia 90 qualifying game knowing that a win would guarantee them a place at their first ever World Cup.

Malta were the group whipping boys but after beating them by just two goals in Dublin, Jack Charlton's men knew a strong performance was needed to avoid dropping crucial points in Valletta.

Thankfully, Aldridge rose to the occasion - literally. After 30 minutes he met a flick on from a corner powerfully to head Ireland in front before dispatching a penalty with just over 20 minutes left to seal Ireland's qualification.

 

Because of Hungary's defeat to Spain, Ireland would have qualified regardless of the result against Malta but Aldridge's brace was still memorable.

That win over Malta was the start of a more prolific goal-scoring run for Aldridge - after scoring just three times in his first 27 caps, he found the net 16 times in his next 24 games, 15 of which came in competitive fixtures.

28. Sean St Ledger earns the Croke Park roar v Italy (2009)

For three minutes, Sean St Ledger was the hero.

The defender stooped low to head in Stephen Hunt's cross for his first international goal that looked to have earned Ireland a memorable 2-1 win over Italy, which would have given Giovanni Trapattoni's side a great chance of qualifying automatically for the 2010 World Cup.

It was the most memorable moment that the Irish team had at Croke Park, with the stands erupting with the sort of noise that had previously only been heard at Lansdowne Road.

Unfortunately, Alberto Gilardino had other ideas and equalised for Italy three minutes after St Ledger's brilliant header. Ireland didn't get the win but even looking at the video of the goal seven years later is enough to remember how Croke Park exploded with joy because of Irish football.

 

27. Roy Keane leads from the front against Portugal (2001)

Portugal's visit to Lansdowne Road was a huge test for Mick McCarthy's Republic of Ireland side during the 2002 World Cup qualifiers.

A Matt Holland screamer earned the Boys in Green a priceless point in the away fixture earlier in the campaign but a star-studded Portugal side led by Luis Figo would test McCarthy's men to the limit at a packed Lansdowne Road in the summer of 2001.

Thankfully for Ireland fans, Roy Keane, as he did on so many occasions throughout his career, stepped up his game when it was required.

He was everywhere, even popping up at a crucial moment in the box to turn a deflected shot to the net for the game's opening goal. Figo headed home an equaliser but the 1-1 draw put Ireland in a strong position as the qualifiers reached their conclusion.

26. Kevin Kilbane runs the show at the Stade de France (2004)

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It was a performance good enough to spawn the eminently repeatable nickname of 'Zinedine Kilbane', as an Irish fan favourite stepped up to run the show against one of the heavyweights of world football.

Nobody knew quite what to expect when Kevin Kilbane was picked to partner Roy Keane in the heart of the Irish midfield for a key World Cup qualifier against France in Paris back in 2004, but the Sunderland player certainly exceeded the expectations of even the most wildly optimistic fans.

Up to that point, Kilbane had spent the majority of his Irish career on the left side of midfield, but manager Brian Kerr opted to play him in a central role as Ireland looked to continue their strong start to the qualification campaign, after a home win over Cyprus and an away draw with Switzerland in their first two outings.

France had performed poorly at the previous summer's European Championships, getting upset by Greece at the quarter-final stage, but they still had enough quality in their side to be firm favourites for the visit of Ireland.

But from the opening whistle, Kilbane led the Irish effort, as he broke up French attacks like a top-class defensive midfielder and raided forward with a series of slaloming runs that caused panic in the opposition defence.

Unfortunately, like a few of moments on this list, a great Irish performance wasn't ultimately rewarded with a win as the game ended scoreless but leaving the hardest away trip of the group with a point buoyed Ireland's qualification prospects, even if the team eventually came up short of a playoff place.

Regardless, the famous display in Paris endeared Kilbane further to the Irish faithful as he gave his most complete performance in an Ireland jersey.

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