25 years ago today, while Ireland were beating Italy, I made the biggest decision of my life
Today is the 25th anniversary of the Ireland v Italy match in Giants Stadium at World Cup USA'94. I'll remember it for a very personal reason.
It's hard to believe that it is 25 years today since Ireland played and beat Italy in their opening match of the World Cup in USA 1994, a day etched on the mind of every football fan who witnessed it.
However, I remember that glorious day for an entirely different, and very special reason, one that I still can't really believe to be honest.
Here's how the game itself actually went. A match winner from Ray Houghton and an imperious performance from Paul McGrath were the stand-out memories from the game. It was the golden age of Irish soccer. We had been to the Euros in 1988, we had been to the World Cup two years later and now we were in USA '94.
We were drawn in Group E alongside Italy, Norway and Mexico which was a tough, but not impossible, group to qualify from. Our opening game was to be against the World Cup aristocrats Italy, who had players such as Roberto Baggio, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.
This was a country used to playing and winning in major tournaments and we were told that Giants Stadium would be awash with Italian supporters; New Jersey being an Italian stronghold.
The whole country was nervously excited for the match. Could we pull off a shock win or would the Italians put us to the sword? Pubs up and down the country were decked out in Irish flags, bunting adorned every house and every office building and every child knew the words of 'Put 'Em Under Pressure' off by heart.
I, like a lot of other people, decided to go to a barbecue in a friend's house. The weather that day in Dublin was glorious and of course the lure of a barbecue, some beers and Ireland v Italy in the World Cup was just too much to resist. Myself and the girlfriend, decked out in our green, arrived at the party about two hours before kick-off.
There were about 30 people in the house and soon the smell of meat cooking on the barbecue wafted through the air and as the clock ticked closer to kick-off time, the excitement levels rose.
The RTE coverage started about an hour before kick-off and as soon as it went on, a hush descended on the house as we eagerly awaited to see who Jack would pick for the Italian job. This was all long before Twitter sent the team right to your pocket.
Bill O'Herlihy, Johnny Giles and Eamonn Dunphy told us that the match would be difficult as the temperatures would favour the sun savvy Italians. Finally, the team was announced and as soon as it was, there were a million and one opinions offered on it by everyone at the party. "I can't believe Tommy Coyne is in ahead of Aldo!" said my Liverpool-following friend.
Half an hour to kick-off and finally, the first images from inside the Giants Stadium appeared on the screen and what a sight it was. How wrong they were about the stadium as it was completely decked out in Irish tricolours and Irish fans seemingly outnumbered their Italian counterparts by about 10 to one. It was just a sea of green and it filled us with pride and excitement. We all roared "Come on Ireland!!" in unison as the images filtered through.
It was almost time for kick-off now and we all surrounded the television, 30 of us packed into a sitting room on the northside of Dublin, struggling for the best vantage point.
We all roared our heads off as the teams ran out, as our national pride was beginning to surge to critical levels. The anthems were next and never had we sung 'Amhran na bhFiann' with such passion. As soon as the last note played, everyone in the house screamed 'Come on Ireland!!!' and proceeded to hug each other. We were only short of having a pre-match huddle, but this was what it was like. The whole country as one with the team.
Then it happened, and I don't mean Ray's wonderstrike either.
We were set and kick-off was moments away. My girlfriend hugged me and we both looked at each other as if to say..."This is it!"
So, as you do, literally 30 seconds before one of the biggest matches Ireland has ever been involved in, I took her hand and uttered the following words... "Listen, regardless of what the result is, I've come to the conclusion that I love you very much."
She looked baffled and said "Eh...ok, I love you too." "No, but.." I replied, " ... I really love you, so, I guess what I'm saying is... Will you marry me?"
She stared into my eyes to try and detect if I was joking or if I was slightly too well oiled. She saw that I was serious, leaned over to me and whispered in my ear..."I would love to."
As soon as she said it, the referee blew his whistle and the match had kicked off to a chorus of cheers and songs from everyone in the room. Little did they know what had just occurred and we both squeezed hands, wiped away a couple of tears and immediately started roaring at the telly.
From there, you know the rest. The ball sailing freakishly up and over the Italian goalkeeper Pagliuca, the torturing of Roberto Baggio by the majestic Paul McGrath, the tension, the nerves, the time standing still as we ticked into injury time.
At the final whistle there was pandemonium. Unconfined joy and bedlam. The whole house had a massive group hug and we danced and sang 'Put 'Em Under Pressure' for the 26th time that day. People were pouring out on to the streets, all smiling, cheering, singing and celebrating like we had actually just won the whole thing.
As for me, well, I'm still married and still in love with both herself and the World Cup.