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'It meant so much to everybody'

Pat Devlin remembers the magic of Italia 90

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Steve Staunton in action against Guiseppe Bergomi of Italy during the FIFA World Cup 1990 quarter-final at the Stadio Olimpico

Steve Staunton in action against Guiseppe Bergomi of Italy during the FIFA World Cup 1990 quarter-final at the Stadio Olimpico

Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Former Ireland manager Jack Charlton has passed away at 85 years of age. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Former Ireland manager Jack Charlton has passed away at 85 years of age. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

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Steve Staunton in action against Guiseppe Bergomi of Italy during the FIFA World Cup 1990 quarter-final at the Stadio Olimpico

1990 is widely regarded to be one of the most special years in Irish sport. From a local perspective, Baltinglass made history by becoming the first - and so far, only - team from Wicklow to climb to the top of the GAA club mountain by winning the All-Ireland Senior Club Football Championship.

Meanwhile, the pioneering Wicklow ladies' won the national Junior championship after just four years of being an outfit.

For Pat Devlin, the summer of 1990 made for a particularly unique one. On May 13, he guided Bray Wanderers to a historic FAI Cup triumph over St. Francis' in front of a record-breaking attendance of 29,000 people in the first domestic cup final to take place at the old Lansdowne Road.

A couple of months later, he was in Pennsylvania, watching Jack's Army capture the hearts of the Irish nation at the World Cup in Italy.

He watched as goals from Kevin Sheedy (vs England) and Niall Quinn (vs the Netherlands) sealed their passage to the knock-out phases.

Much like his compatriots back home, he held his breath as David O'Leary scored the winning penalty against the Romanians, and he grieved when Salvatore Schillaci cemented his place as a lifelong pantomime villain when he broke Irish hearts in the quarter-finals.

It was a remarkable, unforgettable, and iconic summer for those who got to travel to Italy to cheer the Green Army on, and for those who were sang 'The Fields of Athenry' in packed pubs up and down the Emerald Isle. Funnily enough, Pat Devlin had planned on making the trip over the tournament, only for stateside commitments to snatch that opportunity from his grasp.

'What happened was that I used to go to America every summer. I used to go out coaching. I had a commitment from a year before so I said, 'look, I will honour that commitment.' I was going to go to Italia '90 but I said that I would honour it. A few of the lads came over with me. We just had an absolute fantastic time,' he told the Wicklow People. 'We coached in Pennsylvania, we coached in New Jersey, up-and-around New York and Connecticut, and even as far down as Florida.

'We were out there coaching and doing a job, and we wanted to do it the best we can which we did, and then obviously there are the distractions. Obviously, first and foremost, we are in the middle of Italia '90, so we have to make sure we are supporting the team.'

There was a deeper personal connection between Pat and the squad that Jack Charlton took to Italy. Having spent a few years working as a scout for Liverpool at the height of their powers in the late 1980s, the Dubliner had become familiar with the strong Merseyside contingent of the national squad, including Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge. His time with the English juggernauts that would win their 18th - and to date, last - league title that same year, allowed him to form relationships that meant that the World Cup had an extra dimension of meaning for him.

'Everybody had an interest in it. Overnight, they became real celebrities. They became part of the folklore, of the history of soccer in Ireland. I was fortunate enough to be in Japan, I was fortunate to be in the States. I went all around the world with the (Ireland 'B') team, but I have to tell you that 1990 - although I wasn't there in person - we were all there in spirit, all the people were there in spirit. It was just an unbelievable tournament and an unbelievable time. It meant so much to everybody.

'When you are involved in football, the most important thing is that you hope people develop and get to the highest level they can. For anyone, in any sport, to make it to the full international stage is just a great achievement. They must take a bow themselves.

'In those days, we had four or five Liverpool players on that team and Liverpool were dominating in those days. We had top players at the top of the game, and it wasn't easy to make it. They were there on merit and they fully deserved their opportunity. It was a fantastic achievement, but we could have gone that little bit further. That little bit of luck was missing.'

Devlin is a traditionalist when it comes to the romance that is boasted by international football, a viewpoint that was shared by all of those players with whom he worked before they became instant legends that fateful summer. While there is an essence of regret that Ireland weren't able to get past Italy in Rome, despite the squad's obvious talent and ability to do just that, just being able to wear the green jersey and have the fabled crest rest up against their hearts was what mattered the most to those players.

'When I look back on the players, the likes of Packie Bonner, Steve Staunton, Kevin Moran, Townsend, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge. They were just spectacular players and a tremendous group of people. I remember all of the staff really. They were all great people. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and gave everything for the Irish.

'First and foremost, anyone putting on an Irish jersey is as proud as you could ever be. It is just this unique thing. It is hard to explain. All they all want to do is do their past and they did. They never bragged about it. They never looked down on anybody. They would expect people to treat them in the same manner that they themselves were treated.'

Italia '90 was one of two distractions for Devlin that summer. As he was running coaching sessions in schools with the likes of Colin Phillips, John Ryan, Martin Nugent, Des Roche, and Richie Parsons, all of whom were among those who had travelled over with him, they were being drawn against Trabzonspor in the qualifiers for the 1990/91 European Cup Winners' Cup. It made for the unusual sight of a First Division Irish side welcoming the six-times Turkish champions to Tolka Park. Better yet, that same second-tier club would secure a respectable 1-1 draw against Trabzonspor in the first-leg in Dublin before ultimately succumbing to a 2-0 defeat in the second game.

The ties against Trabzonspor, which took place on August 19 and September 4, came a few months before Pat brought to an end the first of his four total reigns in charge of Bray Wanderers, and it was one that he still cherishes to this day. Just five years after the club entered the League of Ireland, they became the first club from the second tier of Irish football to win the FAI Cup when they bested unlikely finalists St. Francis' in the old Lansdowne Road. It made for an especially emotional day for Devlin, who had lost his mother the year before.

Even now, that remarkable year that was 1990 remains one that resonates for the 67-year-old Director of Football at Cabinteely FC.

'There were lots of different things going on in my personal life but, from a club point of view and a Bray Wanderers point of view, to get into Europe and win a major trophy after just five years only coming into the league, it was a great credit to everyone involved - the directors, the players, the staff, they were just unbelievable. They were all fantastic. We were all together. It wasn't the Pat Devlin show, it wasn't the John Ryan show. We were all together and everybody benefitted from it. We are still in contact with one another.

'It was just brilliant for Bray. I will never forget the drive back from Lansdowne in the open top bus, all the way to the suburbs of South Dublin, and everyone out clapping us and cheering us. When we hit the Royal Hotel in Bray, the crowd was just incredible. It was just a special, special time, with special, special people.

'Football really took off in the country. It was always strong for the people who were involved, but it just got such notice in our own country and worldwide, and the Irish reputation that they developed for themselves at that particular time, especially as fans and travelling fans, was just unbelievable. All it was, was a sing-song, pints of Guinness, and pints of this-and-that. Everybody was treated well. The players socialised with the fans, the fans socialised with the players. It was just an unbelievable time. It is sadly missing these days. You don't get that opportunity to mix as we did in those days.'

The pause on sport as a result of COVID-19 has meant that sports journalist right around Ireland have very little to do other than look back on when pastures were greener. Fortunately, with it having taken place almost 30 years ago, Italia '90 - as has been the case already - will receive a lot of that attention, which will allow for men and women such as Pat to relive some of the memories that made it one of the greatest summers in Irish sporting history.

Online Editors