Big Jack Charlton and Barry Kehoe at Oriel Park in 1989 for the latter's testimonial in which Big Jack took an Ireland international selection to play Barry's Dundalk XI.
I was just sitting down to write this column when word came through on the 10am Radio Ulster news last Saturday that the former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton had died.
Jack’s death brought beaming back into my mind all of the happiness he had given to the people of Ireland. Jack transformed international soccer in Ireland and put the FAI on the map as well.
He was the first Republic of Ireland manager to get the country to the European Championship finals in 1988. I remember driving home from Navan when I heard Bulgaria had failed to beat Scotland in our qualifying group. All the radio shows threw their formats out the windows. Ireland had qualified for its first international finals.
That great win over England in Stuttgart, our first qualifying game in the finals, gave Big Jack’s men a great start. Ray Houghton, a Scot, had won the game for Ireland. You could not write it even if you wanted to. We have not beaten England since.
We went on to draw with Russia in that competition, but eventually bowed out to Holland.
Dundalk FC President Des Casey had been on an interview board that brought Jack to Ireland. Late club President Jim Malone was the club’s rep on the FAI that gave the final sanction in 1986. I remember him telling me he had no hesitation in giving Charlton the nod.
Jack led Ireland to the World Cup finals in 1990 and brought them to the quarter-finals. Dundalk was a great town to live in those days as every Irish game in Italy was celebrated long into the night in the area. They finally bowed out in the last eight with hosts Italy winning 1-0. But it was the greatest achievement Ireland had - and have - ever performed in international soccer.
Jack paid many visits to Dundalk. He had no problem being involved in fundraising activities for worthy causes and in the early ’90s he brought an Irish international XI to play a Dundalk selection as a fundraiser to one of the town’s greatest-ever soccer players, Barry Kehoe. Barry had won everything with Dundalk.
He had been struggling against cancer from the early 1980s but still won medals with Jim McLaughlin’s team in that period. When the cancer hit again, he fought a brave battle and returned to win a league and Cup double under Turlough O’Connor in 1987/’88. Barry was a great example of willpower and bravery to all.
The testimonial for him brought 6,000 people to Oriel; it was a huge success. A gala dinner after the game and an after dinner speech by Big Jack brought in even more important funds. A beautiful book on Barry’s struggle and battle against cancer sold many copies.
I was on the organising committee for the testimonial and my main job was to sell advertising for Barry’s book. I’m delighted to say that the Dundalk business community supported the book so well, and ensured the launch of the book in magazine form was a huge success at the game. It was already in good profit even before it arrived at the game.
Big Jack was blown away by the whole night. I think when he got the chance to read Barry’s story his fondness for Dundalk FC grew even stronger.
Barry was hit by cancer for a third time. Yet again he battled back to play for Drogheda United. But, sadly, the battle finally took its toll and Barry died suddenly out playing golf at Killin Golf Club.
I’m sure Jack, like the rest of us, was shattered when he heard the news.
I got the word only an hour after he had passed. I was heartbroken for Barry, his wife Adrienne, his brothers and his mother- and father-in-law, Enda and Noreen McGuill.
We had all been out to dinner with Barry after Jack’s visit a decade earlier and it was clear Jack thought so much of Barry, as did he of Jack.
Big Jack led Ireland to more glory in 1994 by getting us to the World Cup finals in the United States. We beat Italy in the Giants Stadium in New York, winning 1-0. It was sensational, it was magnificent. The big man got us to the last 16 where we met Mexico on June 24.
In those days we were all young and took life for granted. Early on the day of the big game my phone rang at 7:30am and I got news that shook me to the corps. My best friend had died overnight in his sleep at the age of 32. No reason was ever found; it was sudden adult death syndrome. Now thoughts of the big game against Mexico went out the window for me.
I was numb walking around Dundalk that day. Ireland bowed out of the World Cup that night also. It was the glaring heat that beat Ireland as much as anything else. But it was another great achievement by Big Jack to have got us there.
I remember when I interviewed the big man while he was on one of his many visits. I’m six foot in height but Big Jack towered over me at a height of six foot five. We spoke about how he had first become interested in the job up to the time of his departure and I remember saying to him how he felt about criticism that some people had about his long ball football.
The towering Yorkshire man was unhappy with the question. He was smoking a massive cigar and just blew the smoke into my face. To be fair, Jack answered by saying it was successful and drew the crowds.
Big Jack was a leader. He showed people respect and instilled belief in the team. He brought hope and happiness to Ireland at a time when there were many dark clouds. Steve Staunton was one of his best players and as a result Jack will forever be held in great respect in these parts.
Jack was a great fisherman and performed it as a hobby. He won a World Cup medal with England in 1966 but he was an honorary Irishman, living life to the fullest. And I’m glad I got to talk to the great man.
Incidentally, Big Jack applied for the England job on one occasion. Amazingly, they never even responded to the great man’s application letter.
On the home front, it was great to see soccer back at Oriel on Friday. Dundalk took on Derry City in a friendly and while City took the lead in the first half, Dundalk levelled in the second period with a great finish from Jordan Flores. Walter Figueira had put the visitors in front.
It was a great workout for two of our European sides, and Vinny Perth and Declan Devine would have just been happy to get a game under their belts.
Dundalk used nine subs in the second half which did affect the flow of the game but it was a great chance for the Dundalk boss to run the rule over everybody.
The game was played behind closed doors, sadly, because of the virus. But the club did make the game available online to club patrons and season ticket holders.
The game was also made available to members of the media. Personally, I did feel the media should have been allowed to attend the game as they will be at all the remaining competitive games for the rest of the season.
However, the club’s online coverage of the clash was excellent. The quality of the signal, which allowed the game to flow into our homes, is what I refer to. And I have to say it was a job well done by all.
I respect the club’s decision to not allow the media attend, but I do disagree.
The remaining league games will be streamed by the FAI and I just hope the quality is as good as Friday’s.
Vinny Perth did say in the Independent that playing the game behind closed doors was a completely different match experience. He added that they will have to get used to it but he was adamant the sooner the club can get the crowds back the better.
The manager spoke of the silence that greeted Flores’ goal, suggesting that the atmosphere lacked energy. Although, the Dundalk boss was happy with the performance of Stefan Colovic. The Serbian moved to Ireland just before the shutdown.
With the draw for the FAI Cup having been made yesterday and the league fixtures coming out also last night, it’s full steam ahead. Can Dundalk make it to the Cup final for the sixth year running? They most certainly can, but it will depend on the draw and whether the team’s name is written in the stars.
Three ties in the Cup were drawn out in the first round with the remaining 13 teams being involved in round two. This season, only 19 clubs are entered with the intermediate and junior clubs left out because of the virus.
The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will take place after all league fixtures finish.
There are still talks circulating that the final may be played in Tallaght Stadium instead of the Aviva. This is for cash reasons with the rugby schedule being given as another reason.
Fans will be kept out of forthcoming European games next month. UEFA voted on the move on Thursday. The executive committee decided that, irrespective of whether public health considerations would allow it, supporters won’t be allowed in to any of the 2020-21 Champions League or Europa League fixtures either.
It’s an attempt to negate home advantage because the ties have been switched to one-off matches instead of the home and away legs.
It means Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City will play behind closed doors irrespective of whether their ties are staged in Ireland or abroad.
The All-Island League has been given a massive boost with news that at least 10 of the Irish League clubs now say they are in favour of it. They have stated it in writing and want moves to continue despite objections from the IFA. Cliftonville and Dungannon Swifts are the only clubs that have come out vocally against the proposal.
Despite the positivity shown to the league from the clubs in the North, the project cannot take off without agreement from the IFA. Let’s hope they will see sense and we might take on another move to unite our island.
I was really delighted to see that moves have started to ensure that a Limerick club will take part in the League of Ireland next season.
It’s terrible that the third biggest city in the Republic does not have a senior club. Shannonside, up until now, had a team each year in the League of Ireland since 1937.
Talks have begun between the FAI and interested parties with a view to having a Limerick club in Division One next season.
Former club owner Pat O’Sullivan is no longer having day-to-day involvement with the club. As more intense negotiations continue to get Limerick back into the league, it’s seen that O’Sullivan’s lack of interest in getting involved again will facilitate a successful return of Limerick to the League.
UNTIL NEXT WEEK
So, Big Jack has passed on at the age of 85. I have known he has not been well for the past few years.
Meanwhile, as I sit in my house in Blackrock, County Louth, I can see where the new Irish manager, Stephen Kenny, lives.
Kenny is already a legend in Dundalk for all that he has done for the club. The FAI raided The Lilywhites two years ago to get Stephen and they have a winner. He, in turn, has taken Dundalk’s head physio, Danny Miller, and former athletic therapist, Sam Rice, with him.
Also joining the Irish U21 team as assistant manager is Alan Reynolds. Alan just linked up with Dundalk two weeks ago as Perth’s No2. It’s hoped he will manage to do the two jobs until the end of the season.
Of course, Kenny previously raided Dundalk and brought Ruaidhrí Higgins on board to his backroom team. Ruaidhrí was Dundalk’s assistant manager up until six weeks ago. One supporter joked on Twitter this week that all that is left for the new Irish manager to take from Oriel is Lily the Panda. Maybe he will join Stephen too? The Irish manager, as I was saying, has been a legend at League of Ireland level.
As I look towards the house of the big man I see two magpies in his garden. I have my answer. Thanks for everything, Big Jack. I’m sure that as you look down from above on us in this crazy world you will, in your own way, be with Stephen Kenny all the way and ensure the two magpies that graze in his garden will give the adopted Blackrock man at least some of the international success you had.
And, again, as I say to you all every week, enjoy your next seven days. Life is so short. Please, be careful out there.