‘It’s one of the nicest feelings you’ll ever get’

It might be close to 30 years ago, but Mickey Walsh remembers the goal like it was yesterday.

‘It’s one of the nicest feelings you’ll ever get’

“Michael Robinson picked it up on the right. He out-paced a couple of their players and got a cross in. My first touch was good, I got the shot away and it went across the keeper, into the far corner.

“You’re not quite sure what to do. You get a brain-freeze. To score the winning goal for your country is what kids dream of, isn’t it?”

It was September 1984 and Walsh’s strike was enough for the Republic of Ireland to tame their Eastern European opponents at Lansdowne Road that day.

The USSR had only missed out on a World Cup semi-final place on goal difference two years previously. Their side featured legendary names like Dasayev, Demyanenko and Blokhin. But they were frustrated by a resolute and determined Ireland.

“We were all very keen to do well after failing to qualify for the 1982 World Cup. We weren’t overly concerned about their players. We always felt we could beat anybody at home because of the atmosphere, the tradition and the passion. We were confident.”

The win was rightly lauded. A European giant had been slain. The sense of optimism swelled. But within a few months, the campaign was derailed and Walsh’s international career was over. A 1-0 defeat to Norway was followed by a humbling loss in Denmark. In an instant, the World Cup dreams were in pieces. Déjà vu.

“We were beaten 3-0 by the Danes. They were one of the best sides in Europe. So many teams play from the back nowadays — Denmark were doing that 30 years ago. Morten Olsen was such a cool customer. He played so deep. [Michael] Laudrup, [Preben] Elkjaer — they were fantastic.”

Walsh started that game. It proved to be his final appearance in an Irish shirt. He would watch from afar as his country limped through the remaining qualifiers.

Another away-day lesson in Moscow, another painful tutoring by the delightful Danes back in Dublin. Elkjaer with another brace. Laudrup, just 21, mercurial, magnificent.

For Walsh, it was paradoxical. His international career was finished. His club career was flourishing. He’d been adored at Blackpool before a big-money move to Everton in 1978. The £300,000 price-tag proved too much for him to handle and he was shipped off to QPR. Tommy Docherty arrived as manager soon after. The pair clashed. Then, with his career going nowhere fast, the Doc inadvertently threw Walsh a lifeline.

“Tommy had been the manager of FC Porto in the early ’70s. The agent who had taken him there contacted him at QPR and said, ‘I want a striker, have you got anybody?’

“And he offered me. It was guaranteed European football every year. The contract was fantastic. I was determined to get my career back on track.”

Walsh did, instantaneously.

In his first four seasons, he racked up four domestic trophies. Porto grew into one of the best sides in Europe and faced Giovanni Trapattoni’s Juventus in the 1984 Cup Winners’ Cup final.

Mickey Walsh, QPR reserve four years before, was now taking on Gentile, Tardelli, Platini, Boniek and Rossi. That proved enough of a miracle. Porto lost 2-1.

It was but a minor blip, however. Successive domestic championships followed in 1985 and ’86. In ’87, without Walsh, Porto were crowned European champions.

Walsh hadn’t followed the script. British-based players went to mainland Europe and failed. Homesick, disillusioned, misunderstood by a different culture. But the move gave him a second chance. He was reborn at Porto. He was a champion at Porto. The same year Walsh left for Portugal, Liam Brady moved to Juventus. The pair bonded over their similar experiences. A foreign land, a new language, a different way of being. Both men embraced it all. Both countries embraced them in response.

“On one occasion, the Irish team were playing in France. All the squad returned to Britain to their various clubs. Liam had to return to Italy and I had to go to Porto so we both stayed on in Paris. We went for a stroll and had some breakfast on the Champs-Élysées. It was Liam’s idea — that’s the class the fella had. And it was just a fantastic moment — one you remember.”

Walsh is an adopted son of Portugal. Porto is his home now. He’s still around the game, working as a football agent and has a keen interest in tomorrow’s friendly at the Aviva Stadium. An old friend is involved.

“The first time I played against Martin O’Neill was for Blackpool reserves against Nottingham Forest in the early ’70s.

“Then, when I went back to England, I was involved with non-league football at Slough Town, who were big rivals of Wycombe Wanderers, where Martin was managing at the time. We reconnected there and have remained friends since those days.”

The visit of an Eastern European team to Dublin allows Walsh reminisce about 1984 and what proved to be his last international goal.

“After I scored, I dropped to my knees in front of the crowd. It’s one of the nicest feelings you’ll ever get.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox