Always look on the bright side
By Liam Mackey
Ahead of our departure for Poznan, we caught Poland’s dramatic 1-1 draw with Greece on television in Sopot last night.
The town had been building up for the big one all week, every other car and house flying the red and white colours. By the final whistle, and after a short but torrential thunderstorm had temporarily knocked out transmission in these parts, the fans were looking as bedraggled as the bunting, having been put through the emotional wringer over the course of 90 minutes.
Having done our bit of suffering in solidarity with our hosts, it’s now Ireland’s turn to make their debut at Euro 2012. And we can only hope things go better in the Municipal Stadium for this generation of the Boys in Green than they did for the old boys who made the trip to Poznan 21 years ago.
In light of the current debate as to what extent, if any, Giovanni Trapattoni might tweak his formation and tactics over the course of the next eight days, it’s interesting to recall that Jack Charlton chose the same venue to break with his own pretty rigid adherence to 4-4-2 for that 1992 European Championship qualifier.
With Roy Keane having burst into the senior team, Charlton had fresh options in the middle of the park and, on that October night in 1991, elected to set his team out with five across the middle and Tony Cascarino as the lone front man. With Denis Irwin secure at full-back, Chris Morris was pushed forward into an unaccustomed position on the right flank but, by virtue of the abundance of talent available, the rest of the midfield pretty much picked itself: Keane, McGrath, Townsend and Sheedy. Read it and weep.
Right from the off, the visitors rocked the home side back on their heels, Keane and Townsend given licence to raid through the middle. Paul McGrath’s 12th-minute goal was cancelled out by Poland just short of the hour mark, but the Irish continued to press forward, seemingly making the game and the three points safe with a quick brace courtesy of Townsend and Cascarino in the 64th and 68th minutes.
But back came Poland again in the 77th minute to make it 2-3. It was nerve-wracking stuff for Ireland now, yet they were still on the brink of an away win of potentially huge significance when, with just four minutes remaining, calamity struck.
A big booming cross came in from the right, Packie Bonner called keeper’s ball, Kevin Moran ducked his head to let him collect — and Polish striker Jan Urban threw himself into the big space between the two Irish players to head the equaliser.
Sitting next to me in the press box that night, my Burgh Quay colleague Charlie Stuart wrote that it could prove to be one of the costliest goalkeeping calls in Irish football history. And he was right. A month later in Istanbul, in their last game of the qualifying group, Ireland put on a five-star display in incredibly hostile surroundings to beat Turkey 3-1, but it was all to no avail — on the same night back in Poznan, a Gary Lineker goal salvaged a 1-1 draw for England which was enough to see them pip Ireland by a point to secure qualification for Euro ’92.
Your correspondent had only recently joined the ranks of the football press corps at that point. The celebrated 1-1 draw with England at Wembley had been my maiden voyage with the Sunday Press, Poznan only my second away trip. You could certainly call it an eventful introduction to the ups and downs of covering Ireland from the press box.
But it was in Poznan too I learned that, even on the bad days, the job could raise a smile. On the morning after the hard night before, Irish fans turned up in numbers at the team hotel, forming two lines in the lobby either side of the front door, in effect creating a human corridor through which Jack and the players would have to pass to make their exit.
After blowing a 3-1 lead, it must have seemed to the squad that they were going to have to run a gauntlet, but the Green Army had something entirely different in mind. When he first appeared, Jack’s face was still looking as thunderous as it had been at the final whistle the night before but now, suddenly, he was hearing people whistling a merrier tune. And then came the words, cheerfully bellowed out as one by the guard of honour: “Always look on the bright side of life, do-doo, do-doo,do-doo.” By the time he’d reached the door, Charlton was cracking up, a grin splitting his face from ear to ear.
A nice memory, to be sure, but on our return to Poznan I think we’d all much rather have the smiles without the frowns tomorrow night.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reservedHome