Friday 21 September 2018

Denmark's Dublin rout marked the day when Ireland hit rock bottom

Ireland's Jim Beglin. Photo: Ben Radford/Allsport
Ireland's Jim Beglin. Photo: Ben Radford/Allsport
David Kelly

David Kelly

Perhaps it was when the arse fell out Eoin Hand's trousers in the back of a Lada that he knew the game was up.

It was September 1985 and, already, after two failed campaigns when conspiratorial referees had denied one of the finest Irish squads their place at successive major tournaments, Hand had offered to tend his resignation following a dis-spiriting Dublin goalless draw with Norway.

Bob Paisley was primed as a certain J Charlton was otherwise engaged at Newcastle. Oh, those sliding doors of history, eh?

Hand soldiered on and his team roused to beat Switzerland, recovering the form that had seen a wonderful Mickey Walsh goal down the USSR on the opening day.

And so he started out on the trip to Moscow, scouting for the final two ties against the hosts and Denmark, both must-win games, with hope in his heart but finished it with no arse in his trousers.

A loose spring in a taxi was the culprit but that was not the only travesty to assail him; the FAI forgot - or didn't bother - to either accredit him or accommodate him.

Denmark's manager Sepp Piontek, a gracious man, loaned him a pair of Danish tracksuit bottoms and so, he sat, soaked and freezing, half in a suit and half in a garish red tracky. Such was the lot of Irish management.

Bequeathed

It would be the only favour bequeathed by the Danes.

Already, in Copenhagen, they had comprehensively dismissed an Irish side, one heaving with Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal players but weighed down by significant club commitments and the terror of Heysel.

One of them, Liverpool's Jim Beglin, made his World Cup debut. He didn't lose the arse on his trousers but got a pat on his backside from Preben Elkjaer.

"I managed this manoeuvre around him and Michael Laudrup and he gave me a pat to say, you know, well done. It was a poor night for us but I was voted Irish man of the match by the supporters so personally it went well for me.

"I hadn't expected to play so considering the circumstances, it was a good experience. They were very fluid. I remember they would just pop up everywhere, once they won the ball they were lightning fast."

Ireland competed well for 20 minutes but were hampered by error.

"Poor old Tony Grealish gave away the ball with a loose pass and that undid us and once they got the opening goal, the night became electrically charged. Everything felt quicker. They were really clicking at the time."

Dublin was worse. Much worse. It began promisingly enough with Frank Stapleton's seventh-minute goal but suddenly lurched downhill.

"I knew that this was my last game and I do remember thinking should I do something different?" recalls Hand.

"I had O'Leary, Lawrenson and Moran as centre-backs and pushed the full-backs on. But the two markers weren't used to having a sweeper and the movement of the Danes just destroyed us."

"They exploited that space between outer centre-backs and wing-backs," says Beglin, who played again in a game notable for a stunning John Sivebaek goal.

Ron Atkinson was sufficiently moved to barge into his dressing-room after the final whistle to sign him for Manchester United.

"I'm happy to admit playing a part in John getting the move," smiles Beglin, "because I made him look really good.

"It hit me on the knee, he got really lucky. It had top-spin on it and went over Seamus McDonagh's head. It was a fluke!"

But the result wasn't.

"The wheels came off," adds Beglin. "They put us to bed. It was terrible. Once they scored, we had no inkling of a response and it kept unravelling.

"The place was half-empty. There was no belief in our performance. It was just very, very dejected. Very down. I just wanted to get out of there. It was the lowest point."

Hand, whose mother was verbally abused, whose son had his bicycle tyres slashed, abdicated in relief.

"Something needed to change," adds Beglin. "And obviously it did and great things came after that."

By introducing Mick McCarthy, deploying Mark Lawrenson and Paul McGrath in midfield and a pressing style, Hand played his part in presaging a history he would shamefully be erased from.

Irish Independent

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