Liam Mackey: Now that's what I call a double bill

A word to the wise: the palatial Mackey Towers will be a strictly no-go area for an hour this coming Thursday night. Severe anti-social distancing will apply and we’re extending the exclusion zone around the house to a minimum of 10k.
Liam Mackey: Now that's what I call a double bill
30 October 1974; Republic of Ireland players, from left to right, John Giles, captain, Steve Heighway and Liam Brady on his senior international debut. European Championship 1976 Qualifier - Group 6, Republic of Ireland v Soviet Union, Dalymount Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE

A word to the wise: the palatial Mackey Towers will be a strictly no-go area for an hour this coming Thursday night. Severe anti-social distancing will apply and we’re extending the exclusion zone around the house to a minimum of 10k.

Nothing to do with the plague, by the way: at 9.30pm that evening, RTÉ 2 will be revisiting two of the greatest victories in Irish football history and under no circumstances are father and daughter prepared to have their respective nostalgia fests disturbed.

For keen young footballer Laila, the main attraction will be Ireland v Germany at the Aviva in 2015, the first game she ever attended. For her veteran Da, the marginally bigger pull will be the other half of a classic one-two: Ireland v the Soviet Union at Dalymount Park in 1974, by some distance the most memorable football-watching experience of my youth.

Laila was just seven when we brought her to that Euro 2016 qualifier five years ago, her excitement at the prospect - coupled with an innocent’s unassailable conviction that, obviously, Ireland were going to win – naturally a source of concern for an overly protective Dad.

So, as we approached the stadium, I was at pains to remind her yet again that, you know, the Germans really are pretty good – had I mentioned before that they actually put six past us last time they were in town? – so it might be better not to get her hopes up too high for an Irish victory against the reigning world champions.

She was having none of it, of course, and as I looked at her all decked out in her brand new green and white hat and scarf, I couldn’t help wincing at the thought that tears would surely flow at the end of this night.

And that’d be just me.

At which point we had to go our separate ways – yours truly to the press box, herself and her mum to their seats in the stands – all of us, I was pretty sure, marching to our certain doom.

Well, I think you all know what happened next: Darren Randolph’s booming kick-out, Shane Long’s electric sprint and explosive finish – has ye olde Route One ever seemed more beautiful? - and, at the final whistle, one of the greatest eruptions of joy and relief ever experienced in an Irish football ground.

And, no, I didn’t even mind that it was probably the night my own daughter joined the ranks of the multitudes who reckon that football writers haven’t the first clue what they’re going on about.

Flash back a further – gulp – 41 years from, 2015 to 1974, to another European qualifier and another October date with destiny, as Ireland took on the Soviet Union at Dalymount Park – and proceeded to crush the Red Empire three-nil.

A 15-year-old me was there to see it – not that, in truth, I actually got to see a whole lot, given that the old place was absolutely jammers and I had to stand on tippy-toe at the back of the heaving terraces just to catch an odd glimpse of the action.

No matter, sheer bliss it was to be there that afternoon when the crack Soviets – east European football teams were always 'crack' in those days - European footballer of the year Oleg Blokhin and all, crashed and burned under the thunder of Don Givens as the great striker claimed a famous hat-trick.

And if that wasn’t enough to seal its place in the annals, it was also the game which marked the Irish debut of a hirsute young fella by the name of Liam Brady, the apprentice playing with precocious brilliance alongside the master John Giles in the kind of midfield partnership that dreams are made of.

I’m not at all sure how I got home after the match – apart from walking on air, obviously – because before kick off, when I’d found myself stuck in the fierce crush of spectators piling into the ground, the 50 pence piece that was all I had to my name on the day, had slipped through a hole in my trousers pocket.

I remember the cold sensation as it slid down my leg and that by tilting my head downwards I could see it glistening on the ground beside my foot. But such was the unstoppable, glacier-like force of the huge crowd propelling me slowly towards the turnstiles, I literally couldn’t bend down to pick it up.

It would be many years later that headline-grabber Givens would tell me that he’d had a few problems himself getting home after the game.

Don, along with Eoin Hand, was due to catch an evening flight to London and, all too well aware of the unreliable nature of the dressing room facilities in Dalymount Park in those days, they opted to postpone their post-match shower until they’d reached the team hotel in Booterstown, where they planned to freshen up and pack their bags before heading off to the airport.

Unfortunately, when they made to leave the ground with the rest of the squad, they found traffic chaos had paralysed Phibsborough – the gridlocked team bus, it was clear, wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. So there was nothing for it, the pair decided, but to start walking towards town and try to hitch a lift along the way, the pair of them conspicuously clad in their Irish tracksuits and Givens with the match ball jammed in his kitbag.

Understandably then, they were both relieved and highly amused when a car finally pulled up, the window was rolled down, and a voice asked: “Were yez at the match, lads?”

Dublin being Dublin, formal introductions were quickly followed by the realisation that the driver’s da had been to school with Don’s da, whereupon he insisted on taking them all the way the Tara Towers.

But by now running desperately late, at the hotel the lads had to once again forego the pleasures of that much-needed shower and instead quickly gather up their belongings and high-tail it by taxi to the airport, where they made their flight with only minutes to spare.

By the time they landed in London, word had spread of Don’s demolition of the Soviets, with the result that newspaper photographers were waiting in Arrivals at Heathrow to snap the QPR and Ireland goal-hero.

The pictures duly appeared in the following morning’s English papers, with no-one any the wiser, as Don delighted in remembering, that beneath his track suit, the star of the show was covered from neck to toe in a coating of authentic Dalyer muck.

So then, Thursday, RTÉ 2, 9.30 pm: Ireland putting Germany and the Soviet Union in their place. Now that’s what I call a classic double bill.

Not to be missed, never to be forgotten. Please do not disturb.

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