Sunday 18 March 2018

What became of Jack's boys in green?

From pasty-maker to business tycoon, whatever happened to the Italia 90 ­heroes? John Meagher reports
Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates after his side qualified for the quarter finals of Italia 90
Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates after his side qualified for the quarter finals of Italia 90

The game is etched on the minds of anyone old enough to remember it. Rome's Olympic Stadium, Italy's azure shirts, our away strip, that herculean effort to beat the hosts, Toto Schillaci's inch-perfect finish, Paul McGrath's efforts to stop the shot, the post-match walk of honour around the running track, Jack Charlton and Charlie Haughey.

Every football fan will have dreamed of what might have been had Ireland beaten Italy that June 30, 1990 night and secured our place in the last four of our first-ever World Cup. But they were heroes anyway.

Jack's boys were given an ecstatic welcome home, and many remain household names to this day.

A few are less celebrated, however, and don't pop up on our television screens with any regularity.

Some were coming to the end of their careers just as the Premier League was about to begin.

Others got a glimpse of how significantly footballers' wages would increase.

But few were still playing when the money went supernova and even run-of-the-mill players could make as much in a week as the average industrial job paid in a year.

If the Irish are said to have the gift of the gab, that's certainly been borne out by the sheer number who make their living from punditry today. A few have tried management, with varying degrees of success. Others have displayed an entrepreneurial streak. Some have struggled.

Here's what became of the starting XI from that memorable game 27 years ago:

Packie Bonner, 56

The Donegal man went on to play 80 times for the Republic of Ireland, a then record for a goalkeeper, but such a haul was well and truly smashed by fellow county man Shay Given who bagged 120 caps.

The lifelong Celtic player still lives in Glasgow and worked as a goalkeeping coach and FAI technical director during Brian Kerr's tenure as Ireland manager. He occasionally works as a pundit for TV3 and his revealing memoir, The Last Line, was published last year.

Chris Morris, 53

Sometimes thought of as a forgotten man of Irish football, Morris qualified for Ireland thanks to his Monaghan mother, and the Cornwall native played every game at Italia 90. His club career was comparatively inauspicious, however. In 1992, he joined Middlesbrough from Celtic before retiring five years later. His post-playing career has been markedly different from his team-mates. Shortly after hanging up his boots, he joined his parents' company, Morris Pasties, and he continues to develop this thriving business. He is also involved with the Football Association at grassroots level.

Steve Staunton, 48

The Dundalk-born defender was just 21 during the 1990 World Cup and his subsequent playing career would include two stints at Aston Villa, a second term at Liverpool and appearances for Crystal Palace, Coventry City and Walsall. He was a shock appointment as Ireland manager in 2006 and he failed to make much impact, except for an initial press conference when he introduced himself as "the gaffer". After a brief stint as manager of lower-league Darlington, he scouted for a handful of clubs, including Sunderland. Last year, he declared himself bankrupt, having made some unwise investments.

Mick McCarthy, 58

The only member of the starting XI still involved in high-level management, the captain on that fateful day in the Stadio Olimpico enjoyed a controversial stint as Irish manager - guiding us to the 2002 World Cup (the last time we got to football's greatest tournament) and having a very high-profile fall-out with Roy Keane. Is there anyone out there who is unfamiliar with what happened in Saipan? McCarthy managed Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers after the Irish job and has been at the helm at Ipswich since 2012. His contract runs until 2020.

Kevin Moran, 60

The Dubliner was a veteran by the time the World Cup rolled out, having made his professional debut in 1975, yet he played at the highest level for another four years. After he quit playing, he immediately went into business and co-founded Proactive Sports Management with Paul Stretford, who would go on to be Wayne Rooney's agent. The company subsequently rebranded itself as Formation Group PLC and expanded into the property market both in Britain and Ireland.

Paul McGrath, 57

One of the few people to truly deserve the soubriquet of National Treasure, 'The Black Pearl of Inchicore' had a high-profile battle with alcoholism after his career ended. He pulled no punches in his warts-and-all autobiography Back from the Brink (which was ghostwritten by Irish Independent chief sports journalist Vincent Hogan) and his is celebrated for his extensive work with charities, including Acquired Brain Injury Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Ireland.

Ray Houghton, 55

One of the most in-demand pundits of his generation, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa midfielder, who will forever be remembered for those goals against England and Italy in 1988 and 1994 respectively, provides analysis for RTÉ and works extensively with Sky Sports and TalkSport in the UK. The Glaswegian has also worked with video game development company Sports Interactive as a consultant on their PC and Xbox 360 game Football Manager.

Kevin Sheedy, 57

The man "who put the ball in the English net" as the popular terrace chant from the time had it, is most synonymous with Everton as a player (although he first signed for arch-rivals Liverpool) and he still plies his trade with the Toffees. He is a coach in the Everton youth academy, managing the side's U-18 squad, although he has senior managerial experience too having briefly been assistant manager at another Merseyside club, Tranmere Rovers.

Andy Townsend, 53

No sooner than Italia 90 ended that Townsend was making a big-money move from Norwich to Chelsea, and over the next 10 years, he took in three other clubs: Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion. Few were surprised when the loquacious man from Kent took up punditry, and for years he was one of ITV's principal analysts. Many will remember (not always with fondness) a gimmicky segment he did for the broadcaster in the early 2000s called 'Tactics Truck'. After parting company with ITV a couple of years ago, he has appeared for several broadcasters including comparative newcomers BT Sport.

John Aldridge, 58

He may have been with the all-conquering Liverpool side when he played in the World Cup, but he would never play in England's top division again, having signed for Spain's Real Sociedad, and then returned to the second tier with Tranmere Rovers. He was player-manager at the Merseyside club for two years and continued at the helm for a further three years once he had retired from playing. Today, 'Aldo' is a pundit for one of Liverpool's biggest radio stations and he demonstrated a sense of humour, too, when he took part in RTÉ's Charity You're a Star in 2006.

Niall Quinn, 50

The striker came of age during the first dozen years of the Premier League, when he played for Manchester City and Sunderland. His association with the latter club would continue until 2012, during which time he served as chairman - and, for one match only, manager. Quinn had headed up the Drumaville Consortium of wealthy Irish businessmen and it was he who had brokered the deal to take a controlling interest in Sunderland. His entrepreneurial spirit was also evident when he founded Q-Sat, an internet supplier targeting rural areas. He also finds time for punditry and is a common presence on Sky Sports.

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