Irish Soccer's Most Memorable Moments, No 1: A Nation holds it breath,1990 10 years ago

Irish Soccer's Most Memorable Moments, No 1: A Nation holds it breath,1990

Your number one moment is David O’Leary’s penalty in Genoa in Italia 1990 against Romania.


1990 - the World Cup, our first World Cup.

Was it that good? That transcendent? That amazing a moment?

Is it a memory even, or have we mythologized the event so much that the reality differs from fact of the event?

Who cares? Journalist Declan Lynch wrote a book recently called Days of Heaven about the tournament and that’s what we’re going to remember it as.


In 1990 Ireland elected its first female, non-Fianna Fail president, Mary Robinson.

The green-shoots of recovery were becoming apparent after the dreary, grim depression of the 80s.

The Celtic Tiger was clearing its throat to roar and Ireland took its international bow at our first World Cup.

Eamon Dunphy threw his pain after the Egypt match, Alf and Home and Away were deferred and three glorious group stage draws later we were facing Romania.


The country was going wild.

Ireland and Romania ended 0-0 after extra-time, despite the best efforts of Romania’s star player Gheorge Hagi, it went to penalties. Each of the team’s six penalties were scored until Daniel Timofte’s was saved.

Ireland just needed to score their next penalty – the man to take it was 32-year old centre-half David O’Leary.

Not a typical penalty-taker and a man who had been in the international wilderness after a fight with Jack Charlton early on his tenure as Ireland boss.


RTE commentator put it perfectly as O’Leary stepped up “A nation holds it breath…”

He scored. People flooded out to the streets in Dublin, buses stopped, grown men cried – Ireland had reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

It ended there, Toto Schillaci putting Ireland out in the next stage.

That doesn’t matter though, following sport can be a futile, agonising pursuit at times, but we all do it hoping for that one moment. That one moment may happen once every sixteen years (ask Dublin) every forty years (ask England) or perhaps never, but when it does it is remembered for the rest of your life.

O’Leary’s penalty was that moment.


Hopefully the Boys in Green can inspire another moment like this over the next few weeks.

We hope you have enjoyed our Top 50 Irish Soccer moments and ‘Come on you Boys in Green’

We’ll leave you with some scenes from World Cup 1990:

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