O'Leary and Bonner the heroes as Ireland make history and qualify for World Cup quarter-final
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Italia 90, we will be reliving all the action from that memorable World Cup
THERE HAS never been a moment in the history of Irish football like it. And the man who created it was the man who had been left out in the cold for so long by Jack Charlton and only brought into the side this time when Stephen Staunton had to retire injured just after the start of extra time, David O'Leary.
In the First penalty shoot-out of Mondial 1990 O'Leary slotted home his spot kick in so cool a manner that one could almost believe that the player did not know that the hopes of an entire nation, as well as those of us in the stadium in Genoa which has been taken over almost entirely by the Irish fans, rested squarely on his shoulders.
The nerves of the rest of us had been just about shattered by then. After 30 minutes of extra time the Romanian maestro Hagi had begun the penalty process, Kevin Sheedy, Lupu, Ray Houghton, Rotariu, Andy Townsend, Lupescu and Tony Cascarino were also successful.
Let's not forget those four Irishmen either and certainly not goalkeeper Packie Bonner, who dived to foil the effort of Timofte.
It seemed impossible that such a packed arena could suddenly go silent, but it did as O'Leary stepped up, then the hush was shattered, we were on our way to Rome.
I have always hated this penalty ‘solution’. Not anymore. I can understand how the Romanians felt; only glad we do not have to feel their anguish and bitterness at a climax which was, as agonising as it was dramatic.
Gave their All
Only once before have I ever used the term ‘carve their names with pride’. Now I'll gladly do it again. The Irish have given every ounce of their hearts and skills every minute of this campaign. But even they exceeded themselves this time.
It looked as if they were going to be wiped off the face of the World Cup map during an extremely dodgy first half hour, during which Charlton's tactical plans and options were disturbed after only 22 minutes when John Aldridge, in making a fierce tackle on Hagi, injured himself and had to retire in favour of Cascarino, and was booked into the bargain by the Brazilian referee.
Ireland did have one early chance, when Niall Quinn nodded down a long ball from Mick McCarthy, but Townsend took too long to get control of the ball and when he finally got in a left footer it was meat easy for Lung.
But really, it was the Romanians who were quite definitely running the show for most of that opening period. Sabau especially was showing lightning pace but Rotariu and Klein, marauding from midfield beside the playmaker Hagi, and Balint were not very much slower.
The Irish pattern had been seriously ruffled, but the fortress still stood. And the Romanians began to look just a little bit puzzled. Ireland discovered their usual rhythm to such an extent that preliminary fears of a possible rout were forgotten.
Indeed twice just before the interval they came very close to taking the lead, first when Cascarino got his head to a chip from Paul McGrath and Kevin Sheedy knocked it goalwords from close range only to see Lung effect a marvellous deflection.
Almost immediately it was McGrath again, initiating an opening for Ray Houghton to find Quinn and this time the header sailed barely wide of the upright.
Into the second half the flair of the Romanians clearly flickered in face of the Irish fire.
It was never extinguished by any means. Bonner still had to come to the rescue again twice in quick succession when he brought off spectacular saves from Raducioiu and then the almost irrepressible Hagi.
And again the big man defied our rivals just after the start of extra time when he got his fingertips to yet another drive from Hagi, the ball rolling around his left hand post.
But what more can one say really about these men, in green who have become men of gold.
REVIVED BY FANS
It is invidious to single out chaps like McCarthy, even this lion was near collapse towards the close of the extension of play in the strength-and-stamina sapping heat and humidity, only to be revived by an ovation from the fans.
Or like Paul McGrath although this gallant and thoughtful warrior was perhaps fortunate, having been shown the yellow card a bit earlier for a foul on Lupu, not to be sent off towards the close of extra time following a clash with Hagi.
Or like Sheedy, whose footballing brain was again a source of inspiration to his team mates, and a plague to the Romanians.
Or like Ray Houghton, this little man really defies all the logic of stamina and never more so than yesterday in the testing conditions.
One can truly say that we have a bunch of heroes here in Italy.
It was a gripping, emotional and nerve destroying occasion, but what a climax. And who is to say that the Republic did not deserve it.
Republic of Ireland: Bonner; Morris, McCarthy, Moran. Staunton; Houghton, McGrath, Townsend, Sheedy; Aldridge, Quinn. Subs: Cascarino for Aldridge (inj. 22 mins.); O'Leary for Staunton (inj. 93 mins).
Romania: Lung, Rednic, Andone, Lupescu, Popescu, Sabau, Hagi, Rotariu, Klein, Balint, Raducioiu. Subs: Lupu for Raducioiu (75 mins.), Timofte for Sabau (98 mins.). _Ref. — Jose Ramiz Wright (Brazil).