Tuesday 20 February 2018

'As soon as it left my foot, I knew it was in, I knew he wasn't saving it'

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

COMETH the hour, cometh the man – and boy, did Alan McLoughlin deliver in style.

The Republic of Ireland trailed to a 74th-minute Jimmy Quinn goal in the World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland at a hostile Windsor Park on the night of November 17, 1993.

Jack Charlton had just replaced, Ray Houghton with McLoughlin with the instruction, "get us a goal, son," when the North struck a potential killer blow.

However, in the 78th minute, Denis Irwin took a free-kick from the right flank and floated the ball high into the Northern Irish penalty area and it was partially cleared.

McLoughlin recalls: "To this day, I can remember watching the ball come in from Denis, and I can remember big Quinny (Niall Quinn), who tried to block out the space for me from the player who was coming my way.

"Whether Quinny sort of said to me to hit it as well, I don't really know, but he created the chance for me to hit the space and then it all happened as if it was in slow motion.

"I call it the zoning-in effect, that killer moment that you know the business has got to be done and then zoning out.

"Throughout my career, when I would take a ball on my chest, one thing I never did, or tried not to do, was to chest the ball up because if you do that, it takes time to come down.

"So, there was always a conscious effort on my part, whether I was going to volley a ball off my right or left foot, to chest it down quickly and then steady myself. Because of the angle the ball came at, I knew I had to take it on my left foot.

"It was a matter then, like a golf swing really, to try and hit through the ball. I hit it at the 'keeper and it worked away from him.

"As soon as it left my foot I knew that it was in – I knew he wasn't saving it.

"Then came the euphoria, the goalie and everyone dancing around me.

"Jimmy (Quinn) scored a wonderful goal as well. I know Jimmy very well and that goal gets lost in the story. It was a cracking volley from him.

"But the goal to me was the culmination of practice, calmness, all the things I wanted to happen to score that first goal for Ireland."

There were still 12 minutes to go and when that was over, another four agonising minutes elapsed before confirmation came through that Spain had beaten Denmark and that result ensured the Republic would go through to USA '94.

McLoughlin wasn't immediately aware of the implications. He had previously earned 14 caps without getting on the scoresheet.

Fate decreed that he would break his duck in match number 15 of his international career and, for all concerned, it was definitely worth the wait.

"The euphoria when it happened wasn't really about me scoring a significant goal. It wasn't about that.

"It was about scoring my first goal for the Republic, because I'd hit the bar twice, I'd hit the post once and I'd had a few scrambled off the line. I was desperate to get off the mark," he explains.

"The euphoria was, 'Jesus, I've just scored for my country' because I was a goalscoring midfielder. That was my trade.

"I scored lot of goals in my career and to be denied one at international level for so long and then to score this one was amazing.

"We restarted, and as the game was going on, I realised the panic on the sideline.

"As people gathered by the side of the pitch I realised there was something monumental going on. And then the final whistle went and there was another three or four minutes of a horrific wait.

"But I knew what it meant to me personally. It meant so much to score for Ireland and, then, what it meant for everyone after was terrific. It's one of the iconic Irish goals and I'm proud of it."

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