Wednesday 13 December 2017

John Giles: Miracle Match in ‘63 points the way for Martin O’Neill and Ireland

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The Ireland team that took on Austria at Dalymount Park in 1963
The Ireland team that took on Austria at Dalymount Park in 1963
John Giles

John Giles

THE last time Ireland beat Austria was in 1963 at Dalymount Park and I was there. But it was a 0-0 draw in Vienna a few weeks earlier came to be known as the ‘Miracle Match’.

In an echo of today’s ongoing problems with Ronald Koeman and Everton over the release of players, Ireland travelled to Vienna with a skeleton crew.

English clubs refused to release players and men like Noel Cantwell, Joe Haverty and Tony Dunne were not released by their clubs.

That meant that the selection committee had to scratch around for a squad and picked a mix of very young lads and some who hadn’t played international football for some time.


When we set out for Vienna, I doubt there was anyone in the group that was confident but the reality was that this state of affairs was the norm for the time.

Those picking the squad and team had no idea what they were doing. In fact, if you put a few quid into a League of Ireland club in those days, you could easily have ended up as a selector - whether you knew anything about football or not.

My memory of the game in Vienna is vivid. I woke up to grey skies and a steady downpour which turned the pitch into an absolute quagmire.

I remember seeing Willie Browne’s boots, rubber soles with worn down rubber studs and wondering how he was going to manage – but he did. Willie was the last amateur to play for Ireland and this was his first cap, a baptism of fire if ever there was one.

As it turned out, we played very well and might have even won the game. I remember Amby Fogarty had a shot which was brilliantly saved late in the game.

But I cannot underline enough the fact that this was a remarkable draw to get in some of the most difficult circumstances any Irish team has had to cope with down through the years.

Whatever it is about Vienna, Ireland have always struggled there and that was largely because they had really good players all playing a high club standard and they were always very well drilled.

They had a consistency about their team selection as well, even though I’m sure they would have the same committee structure picking it.

Alf Ramsey only managed to wriggle out from under that weight in 1969 and we followed suit shortly afterwards but when we played Austria in 1963, they were Irish football’s Dark Ages.

We had no comeback whatsoever if an English club manager refused to release players and that is nicely illustrated by the fact that for the return game in Dalymount Park on October 13 1963, just a few weeks after the 0-0 draw, we had all our big names back.

Cantwell, Dunne and Haverty were all back in and Ireland won the game 3-2, the last time we’ve beaten Austria, home or away, competitive or friendly.

There was a huge crowd at Dalymount Park that day and I remember them having terrible trouble keeping the crowd off the pitch.

I think there were three separate invasions and the final one came at 2-2, when Ireland were awarded a penalty.

Cantwell stood over it for an age while they tried to clear the pitch and showed steely nerve to find the net and send Ireland into the European Championship quarter-finals.

I’ve returned to this game in advance of Martin O’Neill and Ireland’s trip to Vienna to show how very different it was and how far we have come in the intervening period.

But it is interesting to see that old, selfish habits among clubs remain strong and Koeman is the perfect example of that.

At least we now have rules to govern it. By the looks of things, James McCarthy was always going to be injured for this one and personally, I’m very pleased to see Harry Arter as the likely replacement.

I think he will bring more to Ireland’s midfield than McCarthy and while I am concerned that this Austria team might have a very good performance in them, I think O’Neill can win the point he needs.

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