JOE'S Favourite Foursomes: Ireland's back-four against Italy in USA '94 7 years ago

JOE'S Favourite Foursomes: Ireland's back-four against Italy in USA '94

Happy birthday to us…

It’s a big day here at JOE HQ as we celebrate our fourth birthday and, to mark the occasion, we’ve decided to pick out some of our favourite foursomes. Because “foursomes” and “fourth” are connected in some deep and meaningful way.

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Don’t ask too many questions. You can tweet us at #JOEbirthday if you like. As for a present, you’re getting us the DVD of Ireland v Italy at USA '94, right?

Ray Houghton 18/6/1994

It's been over 20 years since that famous afternoon in Giants Stadium when Ray Houghton's chip over Pagliuca sent the country wild. You can read JOE's memories of that famous day here but because it's our fourth birthday, we have decided to take a closer look at the Irish back-four that started against the Italians. Olé, Olé, Olé!

Denis Irwin

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You can't say the name of Denis Irwin without hearing any of the following terms; reliable, steady, consistent, unsung hero and 8/10. JOE seldom agrees with clichés but they're 100% true when talking about the the classy Cork defender.

Sir Alex Ferguson has given the full-back the highest praise possible by repeatedly saying that, pound for pound, he was his best signing ever at Man United. As a schoolboy, Irwin played Gaelic Football and hurling but football proved to be his true calling. He arrived at Old Trafford in 1990, after spells at Leeds and Oldham, where he went on to be a cornerstone of the team in the most successful era in Manchester United's history.

Irwin-Utd
In 12 years at Old Trafford, he made 296 Premier League appearances and won seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the Champions League, Cup Winners' Cup and the League Cup. Irwin was capped 56 times for Ireland between 1990 and 1999 but USA '94 was the only tournament that he got to play in wearing the green jersey. His final international appearance, at the age of 34, was Ireland's loss to Turkey in the Euro 2000 qualifying play-off. Irwin will always be remembered fondly by fans of 'The Boys in Green', for reasons like this.

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Phil Babb

Something that often gets forgotten about in the frequent nostalgic eulogising over this famous win was that Phil Babb was making his competitive debut for Ireland that afternoon when he was up against Giuseppe Signori and the world's greatest striker at the time, Roberto Baggio.

Yes, Paul McGrath expertly marshalled the Irish back-four but Babb also made an important contribution. Who can forget his vital sliding tackle on Dino Baggio that almost certainly prevented a goal or the numerous headers that he won?

Babb
After the tournament, Babb became Britain's most expensive defender when he was bought by Liverpool to solve their defensive problems.

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Babb's strengths were his speed, tackling and man-marking skills but his distribution of the ball, positional sense and concentration frequently let him down. The Liverpool manager Roy Evans also favoured a 5-3-2 formation which didn't seem to suit the central defender. Babb left Liverpool in 2002 for Sporting Lisbon, where he won the league and cup double. He earned 35 caps for Ireland but ended his career in the green jersey on something of a downer, scoring an own-goal with his first touch against Russia.

Paul McGrath

Iconic, legendary, heroic, brave, inspirational and gifted; all of these words can be used to describe one of the greatest players that Ireland has ever produced. We all know that his life away from the football pitch was tumultuous but Paul McGrath will always be a national treasure.

'The Black Pearl' started his professional career at St Patrick's Athletic (where he won PFAI player of the year in his one and only year) before Ron Atkinson signed him for Manchester United. A strained relationship with Alex Ferguson led to McGrath joining Aston Villa, where he played the best football of his career, winning the PFA Player of the Year in 1993. There is no bigger tribute to Paul McGrath than the fact his name is still sung at Villa Park years after his departure from the club.

mcgrath
It was in the green jersey where McGrath cemented his legendary status amongst Irish supporters, however. During the early part of Jack Charlton's era, he played as a defensive midfielder, due to the enormous wealth of talent that Ireland had in defence.

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McGrath excelled in this role during Euro '88, playing in the famous 1-0 win against England and hitting the post in the narrow defeat to Holland. McGrath was ever present during the Italia '90 campaign (five matches, 480 minutes played) as Ireland progressed to the quarter finals in their first ever World Cup.

His finest moment in the green jersey will always be 'that' game against Italy and his epic duel with Roberto Baggio. Take a look at this video from 2:40 on and remember that he wasn't even fully fit.

Terry Phelan

The unsung hero of the game against Italy, Phelan is best remembered as the man who first caught up with Ray Houghton after his tumble-roll celebration.

He was capped 42 times for Ireland and played for 11 different clubs, including the brilliantly-named Charleston Battery in South Carolina. Very few people know much about Phelan so here is a bit about the man, in his own words.

On his Irish roots: "God forbid, if there was a world war, and we had to go to war, I'd be first in line going to defend Ireland." G'wan Terry!

On playing for Ireland: "I played 42 games over a 10-year span and loved every minute. I played against some of the best players in the world in some of the best stadiums in the world - and I played with some of the best players in the world in Irish teams."

JOE fully agrees with that statement because for one day in 1994 , Ireland humbled one of the greatest football countries in the world. The contributions of Irwin, Babb, McGrath and Phelan will never be forgotten.