International Career with Ireland
My international career started within a cloud of controversy.
I was asked to play for England – Jimmy Armfield came to Burnden Park and offered me a cap for England – but I really wanted to play for Ireland. I was a big fan of Ireland; I followed them through the World Cup in Italy in 1990 until that quarter-final when they exited. It was so glamorous.
There were a lot of Liverpool players playing for Ireland at that time, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, Ronnie Whelan and Stephen Staunton, and that’s where my love for the Irish came from. Having an Irish grandfather meant that I wanted to turn Jimmy Armfield and England down and represent my country Ireland.
I was lucky enough to jump on the plane for the 1994 World Cup, but one of my career highlights was making my debut at Lansdowne Road against Russia. It was a wet, cold night, but just to put on that green jersey and sample the atmosphere and just to see what football meant to the Irish fans was amazing. As soon as I got off the plane and landed in Dublin, I knew I had made the right decision in choosing my allegiance to play for Ireland.
Playing at Lansdowne Road
It was a great place to play.
The Irish fans used to come in their thousands. We had full houses every game. It was the hottest ticket in town – to come and watch Ireland play.
We had some big results there – big qualifying games. I can only imagine that it was very intimidating for away teams. It was an old ground, a proper football ground – nothing like these posh new stadiums. The dressing rooms were a bit damp, they were cold, they weren’t great, there was a lot of concrete around – there was nothing posh about Lansdowne Road – but it was steeped in history.
We shared the ground with the rugby boys, so sometimes the pitch wasn’t great – which wasn’t a problem for Jack Charlton’s tactic because we used to just hoof it up the pitch to the big guy, which was usually Niall Quinn.
1994 World Cup 1994
To join the squad and be part of the 1994 Irish squad was a great honour for me. It was massive.
It was huge for my education in football. I was still in Bolton and had only turned pro for three years. To then all of a sudden star in a World Cup and be with this calibre of players and manager, to travel to America – where they know how to put a tournament on – was absolutely fantastic.
I was number 21, and I never thought I’d be playing any part of the tournament – I thought I was back up. But, it has become quite apparent quite quickly that Jack Charlton was looking at me to bring a bit of energy to the performances.
In America, in New York and Florida, where we played our group games were both extremely hot, the squad needs to be utilised, but youth was going to play a big role. There was me, Gary Kelly and Phil Babb, who provided that, so all three of us played a number of games and features largely.
The first game was against Italy. It was amazing to play against the Italians, who were a very glamorous team. They had Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio, and of course, we upset their party by winning 1-0. What a game that was for us.
The second game for us was against Mexico down in Florida. The heat got to us a little bit down there. We kind of ran out of energy, and we lost the game 2-1. I remember Jack Charlton telling John Aldridge and me to go on and just cause havoc in that game.
Tactically, Jack Charlton probably wasn’t the most astute but what he had was a tremendous team spirit – that’s what he created. He created this fight and this bond between the players, which was what was needed in America in these extreme conditions. John Aldridge and I go on against Mexico, and I put the ball in for John to score a header down in the bottom corner. We lost the game 2-1, but the goal would be massive in our qualification.
0-0 against the Norwegians in the next game in which I played 90-minutes. It all came down to goal difference, and it was that goal against the Mexicans which took us through.
Unfortunately, we got knockout against Holland in the first knockout game, but what a tournament it was for the Irish and what an experience it was for me!
Qualification 2002 World Cup
The qualification for the 2002 World Cup in Japan was always going to be a tall order.
We started the group off very well. Amsterdam, first game, nobody expected the Irish to win but went 2-0 up in the Amsterdam Arena – I was lucky enough to score one and set one up. The Dutch showed their fighting spirit and got back to 2-2. It was a great result for us, and it gave up plenty of confidence which we took on through the group.
We drew against the Portuguese a couple of times, but it all came down to a one-off game, a bit of a final at Lansdowne Road Stadium against the Dutch, to see who would play in a play-off against Iran. It was our day, it was my day, and I went and scored the winner against the Dutch. We knocked them out. Louis van Gaal was relieved of his duties just after the game, but it was a tremendous achievement by the Irish. It was great to get the winner.
We went on and played Iran in the play-off and qualified for the 2002 World Cup. It was thanks to that 1-0 victory at Lansdowne Road that set us on our way. Great memories for me and great memories for the Irish.
Favourite moment playing for Ireland
My favourite memory for Ireland was that goal against the Dutch.
It was a massive game – a massive qualification match. To pop up and score the winner in the manner I did, it leaves me with a great memory. It’s also looked upon as a very special moment in Irish sporting history.
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*Odds subject to change. Odds correct at time of publishing.