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Stapleton: 'We were within minutes of the semis'

Stars of the Charlton era reunite to raise money for Liam Miller fund

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BUNKERED: Former Ireland international Frank Stapleton plays from a bunker onto the eighth green during the Jackie’s Army Squad Reunion at The K Club, Straffan yesterday.  Photo: Sportsfile

BUNKERED: Former Ireland international Frank Stapleton plays from a bunker onto the eighth green during the Jackie’s Army Squad Reunion at The K Club, Straffan yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

BUNKERED: Former Ireland international Frank Stapleton plays from a bunker onto the eighth green during the Jackie’s Army Squad Reunion at The K Club, Straffan yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

He turned 83 the last time he celebrated a birthday, so it's no surprise that the legs aren't as strong as they used to be.

That's why Jack Charlton was ferried around by a golf cart while his charges, the ones who played for him as the Republic of Ireland in the heady times of 1988, 1990 and 1994, knocked a golf ball around.

There's no doubt that Charlton was still the focus of attention as two dozen ex-Ireland players gathered at the K Club over the past three days, to pay tribute to Charlton but also bring in revenue for the Liam Miller Fund.

"Jack looks great, he's 83. He was out in the buggy today. John, his son, was driving him around and he was passing comments and enjoying himself, maybe not as loud as he used to be," says Frank Stapleton, a player who had more than one falling-out with Charlton with Ireland but who still retains a fond memory of the man and the time.

thrill

"The big bonus was Jack travelling. That has made it special for everyone. It's really buzzing now, it is like we are all back in the team again. The lads are just full of energy for it," said Niall Quinn.

"It is amazing, 32 years since Jack was appointed, 30 since Ray Houghton's goal against England.

"We have players here from all of the teams, from Gerry Daly who only played a bit for him at the start to the lads in 1994 like Tommy Coyne and Alan Kernaghan and Jason McAteer. It's a real thrill."

There was a sad note behind the reunion at the K Club with Liam Miller's passing, this event contribution to the fund. A glass was also raised to the departed, like the late Tony Grealish, whose Ireland career ended before Charlton took over but was still thought of.

From the Euro 88 squad came Packie Bonner, Chris Hughton, Mick McCarthy, Kevin Moran, Ronnie Whelan, Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, Frank Stapleton, Tony Galvin, Liam O'Brien, Kevin Sheedy and Niall Quinn.

Throw in those who went to Italia '90 (Steve Staunton, David O'Leary, Andy Townsend) and the crew of '94 (Terry Phelan, Alan Kernaghan, Tommy Coyne, Jason McAteer and Eddie McGoldrick) and you have a very impressive guest list.

There was also a presence from those who did their best for Charlton before the success came, Gerry Daly (who scored the first goal of the Charlton era) and Mark Lawrenson. The group enjoyed a level of success that the current Ireland supporter can only envy.

"When you achieve something for the country, and at club level, the reaction is more later than at the time.

Fantastic

"When you come home to Ireland people remind you of things. It was a great era. We had a fantastic time. We didn't think it was going to go as high as it did," added Stapleton, now 62, who had Euro '88 down as a highlight.

"I was captain and in our first game, we beat England. There were eight teams, we weren't supposed to get a point and we were within minutes of the semi-finals. From that, we kicked on.

"Look at what the team that we had back then with Jack. The players came from Celtic, Manchester United, Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal and other top clubs of that time.

"Jack, and Eoin Hand before him, had a good group of players, once we made the breakthrough, there was continuity for further success. Nowadays, there are one or two of our players from the top teams so it's a little unfair to make comparisons. So I feel that comparing us to this team is not right.

"Unfortunately, it's becoming more difficult for us.You have to wait for another band of players coming through. I think it's a difficult job when you've got good players, and when you're waiting for good players, it's even more difficult."


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