Mick Byrne was in bed, fast asleep when the first bullet of the revolution was fired.
Woken by the roars of his son, Thomas, he remembers "pretty much falling down the stairs in a panic" at his home in Farnham Drive, Finglas.
It was the evening of November 11, 1987 and a Scottish footballer had just scored against Bulgaria in Sofia. Gary Mackay's 86th-minute winner was about to send the Republic of Ireland to their first ever major finals tournament, Euro '88.
For Byrne, Irish team physio since '73, the goal unleashed a zeitgeist he never imagined remotely possible.
"Thomas started screaming and I got an awful fright," he reflects now. "I thought something was after happening. I'm not joking you, I didn't know where I was. We didn't expect it you see. We never even gave it a thought that Scotland could win in Sofia. You just felt that those Eastern-Bloc countries had the pull at the time.
"John Giles had brought me in and never in a day did I think we'd reach the peaks we reached after that."
Extensive Byrne came from a GAA background with Clanna Gael, but had extensive League of Ireland experience with Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne and Athlone too. Under Giles and, subsequently, Eoin Hand, his role with Irish squads came to stretch far beyond the physio's table into a broader, more holistic responsibility.
Giles and Hand trusted him implicitly, encouraging the strength of his dressing-room relationships with the players. But, when Jack Charlton replaced Hand in '86, the FAI initially insisted on a change of physio.
"I was never officialdom you see" Byrne explains. "The players knew that. I had a lot of them growing up, fellas like Frank (Stapleton), Liam (Brady) and Dave (O'Leary) who were on a fantastic Under-15 team for Billy Young that drew with West Germany at Dalymount.
"I was a players' man, I wasn't a lick-a**e. I hated officialdom to be honest with you. And, when Jack was appointed, the secretary of the FAI - Peadar O'Driscoll - said there was no way they were appointing me.
"But Jack stood by me. The great thing about Gilesey and Eoin and Jack is that they understood that. So the FAI were never allowed interfere with me.
"I never feared the sack as a result and that helped me an awful lot. I could say what I wanted to say, never had any qualms. Even with Jack. He knew I had his back, but I had the players' backs too. They were my life and every manager I had understood that. So I could go eyeball-to-eyeball with him.
"I remember one day we had an argument over a particular player and I stormed out, slamming the door behind me. And Jack just came down the hall behind me, into the treatment room, put his arm around me, said nothing, then walked back out again."
Byrne's memories of Euro '88 are framed in the context of a group of players just beginning to appreciate the breadth of possibilities opening up before them. That and of a manager maybe far more detailed in approach than those outside the camp ever truly understood.
Entering the players' tunnel maybe half an hour before the opening Stuttgart victory against England, Byrne is famously remembered for roaring to Irish fans: "We'll do them for yiz today!"
He felt, he says, not a shred of apprehension.
"I know Packie, in fairness, had to work overtime that day," he remembers now. "But look at the team we had. Look at who they played for. We proved we were better than England on the day.
"And I'll always remember the look on poor Bobby Robson's face after, walking off the pitch. But we had a great team. Like we were brilliant the next day too against the USSR, should have won by three or four but the referee that day was horrible.
"Then a freak goal beat us against the eventual winners (Holland), the ball hitting a sprinkler or whatever it hit before spinning in. But the players were walking on air after that tournament. It gave them a sense of belief that they belonged on that kind of stage.
"And Jack, honestly, he was so clever. There was a reason for everything we did under Jack. He knew how the players on the opposition tied their laces."
For Byrne then, Euro ’88 was the launch-pad. A point of intersection between an historic mindset of weary fatalism and the sudden realisation that Ireland had a team equipped to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best.
It became an assertion of something else too. A dressing-room unity that would come to transcend personal tension or complaint.
During Italia ’90, some of the Irish team’s accommodation proved hopelessly sub-standard, especially their base outside Palermo for the group games against Egypt and Holland. According to Alan McLoughlin’s autobiography, Frank Stapleton joked that the IRA had considered blowing up the Hotel Portorais, only to discover it had already happened.
Chosen by Charlton’s assistant, Maurice Setters, the hotel – incredibly – had neither air conditioning, appropriately-sized beds or a kitchen that could be trusted to feed elite athletes. And so, just as happened at the team’s pre-tournament base in Malta, logistics officer, Eddie Corcoran, found himself appointed the team’s chef.
For Byrne, the players’ reaction to their surrounds defined their spirit.
“I’m not joking you, we had a terrible time in Palermo,” he remembers. “Never mind the lack of air-conditioning, the beds were too small. Oh my God, it was a horrible place. Cas’s (Tony Cascarino’s) feet were nearly out the window and two of the lads were sleeping on camp beds.
“But the great thing was that they never let the conditions get to them. For me, that was the inner secret of that team. If someone was ever moaning, they’d be let know all about it by the others. By Jack too. Other teams that I know of would nearly have gone on strike if they faced those conditions. Our lads just got on with it.”
Byrne remembers being afraid to watch the penalty shoot-out against Romania in Genoa and recalls an equally anxious Charlton beseeching fans behind the dugout for “a smoke”.
When Dave O’Leary, somebody he considered a family friend, stepped up to take the decisive kick, Byrne was thinking: “Oh my God, is a defender going to take the most important penalty we ever had?”
He says he found it difficult personally dealing with O’Leary’s consistent absence from Jack’s preferred starting eleven. “I know his family were terribly hurt over it, he was one of the finest players we ever had,” Byrne reflects now. “It was just a pity. But look at who Jack had. Mick (McCarthy), Kevin (Moran) and, if need be, Paul (McGrath).
“The sad thing is you could see both sides to it.”
Four years later, Ireland would go to USA ’94 ranked the ninth best team in the world. If the heat of Orlando especially came to pre-occupy Charlton, Byrne remembers a team superbly primed for the conditions.
“When you talk about our team doctor (Martin Walsh), you’re talking about one of the best surgeons the Mater Hospital ever had,” he says now. “He had everything sorted out, down to the salt tablets. We knew all the fluids the lads needed to take on board to avoid dehydration.
“We didn’t have one case of dehydration in America. Tommy Coyne actually drank too much water (after the defeat of Italy), then the plane takes off and the blood kind of thins…. But Martin was onto it like a shot and we got him to bed soon as we got to Orlando.
“And I sat outside his room all night just to make sure he was ok.”
Johnny Fallon’s story with Ireland started, in a roundabout way, with Euro ’88, working at the tournament as a tour guide for the late Ray Treacy. Two years later, Fallon was at the Egypt game in Palermo as a fan “probably the worst game of the World Cup” and travelled to USA ’94 with his son, Mark.
Describing himself as “an average footballer from Cabra West”, Fallon was a trialist with Blackburn Rovers at 16 and would play maybe 17 games for Athlone Town in the League of Ireland.
An Irish football fanatic, he became Umbro’s rep with the Irish team from ’97 to ’08, “a dream job” as he puts it working with kit-man Charlie O’Leary initially and, from ’99, Joe Walsh.
Getting to the ’02 World Cup finals as part of the Irish backroom uncorked deeply personal emotions in Fallon.
He remembers bursting out crying the moment the final whistle went in Tehran, confirming Ireland’s place in the Far East. Two years earlier, he’d been part of a dead-of-night return to Dublin from Bursa, Ireland denied a place at the Euro 2000 finals on an evening of deep hostility.
Coming through the arrivals hall, he remembers a woman looking across at the crestfallen players while sweeping the terminal floor. And, in a thick Dublin accent, her declaration, ‘Ah yiz are only brutal!’
Fallon’s interest in history made him hugely excited about heading to Saipan. A voracious reader of books on the Second World War, he knew the awfulness of what happened on those islands in 1945; the Enola Gay taking off from Tinian with its murderous cargo for Hiroshima; the mass suicides from the cliffs.
He had other energies coursing through his body back then too though. Maybe pride more than anything.
Fallon was more than 20 years dry by then after some wild and reckless younger days. So it felt like personal vindication to be a trusted figure in Ireland’s story now. But then that row erupted in the Saipan Hyatt ballroom and, to this day, he feels only regret at how the flames rose unchallenged.
“The more I think about that mad eight minutes, we had big names in that room and not one of them spoke up,” he reflects now. “Not one of them said, ‘Listen Roy, just shut the f**k up!’ On the day, they were just rabbits caught in the headlights. And that bugs me, because I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen fellas going for each other in dressing-rooms.”
Byrne too looks back on those ruinous minutes only with deep sadness. “Horrible, absolutely horrible,” he declares. “My heart was reefed out of me. To see your best player ... the killing thing for me was that he went home on his own. I wasn’t there to bring him to the airport like I always did with any player who was sick or anything.
“The night of that horrible meeting, I’ll never forget it. I went up to see Roy and he said to me, ‘Mick, you’ve 22 other players to look after, go look after them!’ I’ll never forget that.”
For Walsh, the gallows humour of it all is what stays with him to this day.
Prior to that fateful meeting, a steel band had been playing in the ballroom, many of the players clapping and singing along. Ironically, just as McCarthy arrived, the song they were playing was ‘Stand By Me’.
The manager, naturally, asked them to leave but afterwards, a shocked silence hanging in the air, Gary Kelly broke the tension with a question.
“Can I ask something Mick?”
“Any chance we can get that f*****g band back in here?’
For both Fallon and Walsh, there was a core decency in that group they will, they say, always cherish. A decency faithful to the pioneering spirit of ’88. After their 1-1 draw with Cameroon, McCarthy suggested to Walsh that only the players who had not played would need to train the following day.
But the kit-man countered that he would leave out gear for all 22.
“I said to him, ‘They’ll all train Mick!” Walsh recalls. “They were that kind of a group. And, sure enough, half nine the following morning, all the players were down, going, ‘Where’s our gear Joe?’”
Byrne, Fallon and Walsh all agree today that, with a 100 per cent fit and happy Roy Keane present, anything would have been possible at that World Cup. “They still did wonderfully well,” says Byrne.
“Just lovely lads,” says Walsh.
“It felt like a club side,” says Fallon, who subsequently became godfather to one of Kevin Kilbane’s children. “I used love seeing the way they conducted themselves, being so mannerly to hotel staff, that kind of thing. Everybody respectful. Nobody going around with their head up their a**e.
“If they were, they’d be quickly knocked down a peg or two. Mick was the same. When you’d come home from an away trip and be going back into the real world which, for me, might be someone giving out to you about two pairs of socks being missing from a kit, my phone would always ring after a couple of days. And it’d be Mick. ‘Great job Johnny, well done, see you soon!’ Could you imagine Martin O’Neill making that call?
“Not in two million years.”