Outpassed and outclassed by rampant opposition, Ireland became the first of the 16 Euro 2012 finalists to exit the competition. Even allowing for Spain’s awesome ability, it was a humiliating night. Never before had Ireland been so empathically beaten at a major finals. Perspective is needed though. As painful as such a drubbing was though, Ireland have had worse days.
Think back to October 7, 2006, for instance. The Steve Staunton era had a quite few dark days but none quite as bad as the 5-2 defeat by Macedonia in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008. In that game a Stephen Ireland goal – remember him? – put Staunton’s men in front early on before goals from Michalis Konstantinou and Alexis Garpozis turned the game on its head. A Richard Dunne goal hauled Ireland level before half-time and it seemed Ireland couldn’t play any worse in the second half. Sadly, they could. Konstantinou grabbed his second before a brace from Constantinos Charalambidis turned it into a rout.
Staunton admitted he was ‘‘embarrassed’’ by the defeat and his credibility never recovered.
Going further back, Saipan may be remembered as Mick McCarthy’s most difficult period but before that there were many challenging moments. None though was more deflating than the 3-2 defeat by Macedonia in April 1997 in the qualifying campaign for the 1998 World Cup. An early Alan McLoughlin goal gave Ireland the lead but the Boys in Green were trailing by half-time after Mitko Stojkovski scored two penalties awarded following handballs from Jason McAteer and Terry Phelan. Things went from bad to worse on the hour mark as Gjorgji Hristov curled home Macedonia’s third via the underside of the bar. A goal from David Kelly halved the deficit but Ireland couldn’t find an equaliser and the misery was complete when McAteer was sent off for a throat-high kick on Artim Sakiri. The result was not forgotten and for a period afterwards the squad’s worst trainer would be forced to wear a bib emblazoned with the phrase ‘I’m having a Macedonia’.
Going back to the eighties, in November 1985 the Eoin Hand era came to an end after Ireland were thrashed 4-1 at home by a strong Denmark side in the final game of the qualifying campaign for the 1986 World Cup. It was Ireland’s heaviest home defeat in 14 years and things got ugly.
In his autobiography Paul McGrath, who started that day, and would play such a huge part in the glory days that lay ahead, recalled the defeat by the Danes as ‘an appalling experience’’.
Sadly for Hand, he was also the man at the helm for the heaviest defeat in Ireland’s international history, a 7-0 defeat by an awesome Brazil side in a friendly in May 1982. Liam Brady, who figured in that match, recalled it as being similar to the masterclass Ireland were subjected to on Thursday night.
Perhaps the most humiliating result of all was not actually a defeat at all. In June 1995 Jack Charlton’s Ireland somehow failed to beat minnows Liechtenstein in a Euro 96 qualifier. Niall Quinn missed an early chance, one of 40 Ireland created over the course of the 90 minutes but although McAteer hit the post Charlton’s men just couldn’t score. This game would later be viewed as the beginning of the end for Big Jack, who said afterwards: “I’ve never seen a game that was so frustrating.” We had some great opportunities but it seemed like it was written in the stars we weren’t going to score.”
Viewed in that context losing 4-0 to the reigning European and world champions really isn’t all that bad, is it?