Irish football fans will be hoping tonight’s game against Belarus at Turner’s Cross can match the last occasion the Boys in Green senior side played at the famous old stadium — a seven-goal thriller where Jack Charlton threatened a walk-off and penalty king John Aldridge was outfoxed again.
More than 5,000 fans packed into the Cross when Jack Charlton’s Ireland senior international squad rolled into Cork on Friday, May 27, 1988. This was just two weeks before the start of Euro 88 and Ray Houghton’s matchwinner against England.
With Ireland places still up for grabs, Jack Charlton and the Republic of Ireland management opted to complete their countdown to the championships at Turner’s Cross, against a Munster FA representative XI.
The Munster side featured some of the best talent in the League of Ireland from the province, with players coming from Cork CIty, Waterford, Limerick, and Cobh, with then Cork City boss Eamonn O’Keeffe in charge.
Former Cork City defender Philip Long was the captain of the Munster FA XI that night. “It was a great night but it was a strange atmosphere; some of the crowd didn’t know whether to shout for us or for Ireland.”
Long also recalls a dressing room plea from Big Jack to the Munster players before kick-off.
“Before the game, Jack Charlton had come into the dressing room and asked us not to be kicking the Irish lads — he was desperate to avoid an injury before the Euros. We had to be careful and strike a balance; we were avoiding tackles but we didn’t want guys making fools of us either.”
Charlton’s message didn’t stop some of the Munster players getting a bit caught up in the occasion, according to John Caulfield. The Cork City manager played up front for the Munster FA side that day.
“We were playing like our lives depended on it,” Caulfield recalls. “But you have to remember this was a huge honour for us on a huge occasion. You can imagine how big this was to us. It felt like we were playing in the cup final or something — I think a few of us thought we were going to get a last-ditch call-up to Jack Charlton’s Ireland squad!”
An early injury to Ireland’s Everton star Kevin Sheedy did nothing to lighten Charlton’s mood.
“Jack was not too happy. I think he more or less threatened to take the team off at one stage,” says Caulfield.
Charlton marched on to the pitch after half an hour and even held a ‘time-out’ with his players. But the Englishman’s worries were sufficiently overcome, and Ireland went ahead through Mark Kelly to lead 1-0 at half time. Niall Quinn — who played some of the game at centre-half, as Charlton experimented with set pieces — doubled the lead early in the second half and John Aldridge, introduced at the break, added the third on 52 minutes.
“Aldridge had been having a tough time for Ireland (14 games without a goal) and it was his first goal in a green jersey,” recalls Long.
The Munster FA players hit back through a penalty from Long, after Kevin Moran handled Patsy Freyne’s through ball.
Liverpool star Aldridge then had a chance for his second, when Ireland were awarded a penalty. The game was coming just two weeks after Aldridge’s FA Cup final miss in Liverpool’s shock 1-0 defeat to Wimbledon. Aldo didn’t fare any better at Turner’s Cross, outfoxed by veteran Cork City keeper Alex Ludzik. Long recalls: “Alex told him which way he was going to go but Aldridge didn’t know whether he was bluffing or not. Alex went the way he said he would and Aldridge sent the penalty down his side, Alex saved it.” Caulfield pounced from close range to make it 3-2 but further goals from Aldridge and Tony Cascarino saw Ireland run out 5-2 winners.
Ireland have played B internationals — Ireland B’s famous 4-1 win over a star-studded England in 1990 a standout — and underage games in Cork since, but no senior internationals.
Tonight’s game against Belarus is more than overdue, says Caulfield.
“It’s a great occasion for the city to have the Ireland team here. We’re a sports-mad city so it’s wonderful that they can come and play here. I think it’s a credit to Roy Keane too as I think you can be sure he helped to make this happen.”
Caulfield will be at the game tonight and he’ll be back at the Cross on Friday night as Cork City host Dundalk in a crucial top-of-the-table clash. “It would be wonderful if we can get two full houses in Turner’s Cross in one week,” says the Cork manager, who hailed the decision of Martin O’Neill to call Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers into the extended Ireland squad.
“Fair play to Rogers, he’s an excellent keeper. I think it shows we have good players in the League of Ireland.
“I think it would be a great idea if two League of Ireland players were brought into each squad just to train with the players. It would raise the profile of the league and show that they can play a bit too.”
Like the Munster boys before Euro 88 could play a bit.
Harrington (Ludzik ht), O’Regan, N Healy, Long (capt), Lynch, Crowley (Nagle ht), Daly (Reid ht), Walsh (Power 55), Freyne, Bennett, Caulfield.
Peyton (Bonner ht), Morris, Quinn, Moran, Staunton, Houghton, McGrath (O’Brien 22), Whelan (Sheridan ht), Sheedy (M Kelly 6), Stapleton (Aldridge ht), Cascarino.