The late Con Houlihan often wrote about how he watched the 1966 World Cup Final between West Germany and England in The Market Bar or Monnie McGillicuddy’s in Castleisland’s Market Cross.
He was due to be in the bog that day to draw out the turf of a neighbour who was sick for a few days.
It was part of the meitheal arrangement on which the affairs of the countryside ran so smoothly at the time.
The going wasn’t good that morning on ‘the mountain’ and the day was ‘given down’ to get worse. For Con it got better as the man whose pony and rails he was to use that day declared the going too heavy.
Back Down to the Valley
Con left the bog and made it back down the valley before the kick-off in one of the most anticipated games of that era.
It was an amazing tournament and the first to be televised – at least in this corner of the world.
What it meant to the sports fans of this country at the time was summed up in a mere cúpla focal in Monnie Mac’s kitchen that day.
Con Houlihan, not alone didn’t miss it but he immortalised it.
He and his fellow viewers saw the game in the kitchen and when it was all over, the late Bertie O’Brien – who knelt on one knee close to the TV in the packed kitchen for the whole game, got up and, genuinely, asked ‘what will we do for the rest of the year.’
Levels Of Adulation Generated
They’re all gone now. They were the first generation of locals to have heard of Jack Charlton as he was part of that great English team – for which I roared my head off all through that summer.
Jack Charlton has joined the boys from Monny’s kitchen as announced on Saturday.
Big Jack resurfaced in Irish sporting life in the late 1980s and early 1990s and only Pope John Paul 11 could match him for the sheer levels of adulation he generated around the Irish team he brought to such unprecedented heights on the world stage.
Lived and Nearly Died
The generation of people who lived, and nearly died a couple of times, through Italia 90 will never forget the atmosphere on the streets and in the pubs of the country at the time while, as Fr. Mossie Brick would say, we all pulled on the geansai for the one common cause.
And we were getting glowing reports back from Italy on how the Irish supporters or ‘Jack’s Army’ were such models of good behaviour and examples to the world of sports supporters on how to go about your business in such circumstances.
A Mesmerising Journey
Jack and his team brought us all on such a mesmerising journey that year from qualifying and getting to the finals and the stories of how some supporters were funding their trips there with only vague notions of how they’d get home. Them were the days.
I remember watching the game against Romania in The Poet’s Inn with Breda Joy and the nail biting tension as the game time came and went and the bar gripping penalty shoot-out and the joy of Packie Bonner’s save and the volcano of emotion as David O’Leary hit that penalty and the net danced.
Men became boys and danced and hugged each other as if that’s all there was.
All Gone ‘Clane Mad’
Someone said to Breda that we’re all gone ‘clane mad’ and she had it woven into a headline in the following week’s issue of The Kerryman.
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of tomorrows. Many of the people who danced together or alone on the carpeted, tiled or washed concrete floors of public houses on that forever memorable day in1990 have since left the pitch.
And now, Big Jack has joined them. The people for whom sport is an important part of daily life will thank him for the unforgettable contribution he made to the life of sport in Ireland during his decade long tenure as manager of the Republic of Ireland soccer team.
And, as he said himself on seeing the welcome home reception he and his team got on one occasion, ‘I’d be afraid to see what would happen if we had won something.”
Then Andy Townsend Landed On
Then, less that a month after Italia ’90 we had the visit of one of Ireland’s world cup heroes, Andy Townsend to Castleisland to catch up with his local cousins and relations.
Though born in Maidstone in Kent, Andy Townsend qualified to play with the Irish team because of his connections to Castleisland’s Barrack Street.
There, his grandmother, Beatrice Browne was born and with it his ticket to the highest platform his sport can offer.
On that day in July 1990 he traced her steps from the Con Houlihan christened Latin Quarter to Joe McCarthy’s / Hide Out Bar on Main Street – where he met his relatives and lots of locals who filled him in on his Castleisland links.
No Hiding Out
There was no hiding out though as the news was well and truly out by then and a crowd of autograph hunters followed him and his new found cousins wherever they went for the rest of that Sunday afternoon.
For that month or so in 1990 everything revolved around Italia ’90 and there was talk of shops and factories closing early to let staff off to invest in the economy of the area through the local public houses.
In the afterglow of that famous game against Romania, the late Georgie O’Callaghan dropped into The Poet’s Inn and sat down under a portrait of W.B. Yeats.
So Well Connected
Georgie was fielding questions about the two weeks in Italy he had just returned from and they were coming thick and fast – as in: ‘what was it like over there ? ‘did you like the food ? how’s the pope ? – and that kind of stuff.
And Georgie was so well connected at the time it wouldn’t have surprised any of us there if he told us he had an audience at St. Peter’s.
As it happened he got a call that same evening from his friend Fr. David Lupton to get his bags packed again, get hold of a ticket and a flight pointed towards Italy – if he could – and all the rest would be taken care of.
Mick Ahern and Jack Charlton
Opel was up to its oxters in the Irish team affairs as main sponsors at the time and photographs of Mick Ahern and Jack Charlton began to appear in the local papers at launches and receptions.
So, Georgie headed up town and into the office to Tim Horgan at Ahern’s – Kerry’s main Opel dealers and gatekeepers with Hartnett’s Bar to the industrious Limerick Road of the day.
The quick thinking Tim got onto Arnold O’Byrne and he got onto his marketing manager, John Young.
To shorten the story, Georgie got going thanks to Tim and Arnold and John and he met Fr. Lupton in London on the eve of the Ireland V Italy game and they both had pitch-side seats in Rome.
Scillachi Flattened our Porter
That was the night Toto Scillachi flattened our porter, turned our stomachs and took the wind from our sails with a sneaky goal – and that was that for Italia ’90.
It is good to hear all the genuine tributes to Jack Charlton since his death was announced on Saturday as it was his influence that brought the country through a patch that was anything but stable. His era with Ireland began almost a decade before the Good Friday agreement was signed.
We may not have won anything in terms of medals or trophies on sideboards. We won a hell of a lot more by way of the admiration and respect the supporters in ‘Jack’s Army’ attracted by their attitude and conduct where ever they went.
May God be good to him.