Seven of Ireland's greatest sports upsets
It's hard to imagine a time when Irish expectations were so low going into a soccer match, as they are for tonight's World Cup Qualifier against Germany.
For the first time in 15 years, not one of messrs Given, Keane, Duff and Dunne can be found on tonight's team sheet. Our Euro 2012 hangover continues; and the Germans have never lost away from home in a qualifying match for any international tournament.
But in our depression we sometimes forget the wonder, and the attraction of sport – the fact that anything can happen. So with that in mind we've put together a list of seven times when Ireland upset the odds to record great victories.
1. Soccer: Ireland 2 - 0 England (1949)
In 1949, Ireland became the first international team in history to defeat England on their own soil when they beat them 2-0 in a friendly at Goodison Park. The match was played as part of preparations for the World Cup qualifiers, and the Irish side included 1949 Footballer of the Year, Johnny Carey.
Although Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen did not play for England, they still fielded a strong side, and were considered strong favourites.
However the boys in green upset the odds, with goals coming courtesy of a Con Martin penalty, and a Peter Farrell strike five minutes from the end.
2. Olympics: Ronnie Delaney wins gold (1956)
Ronnie Delaney became only the third Irishman to win gold at an Olympics, and the first since 1932, when he won the Men’s 1,500m. As a country rose to breakfast on the morning of December 1st they learned of Delaney’s great feat in Melbourne, with the race being relayed on BBC radio.
All eyes had been on home favourite John Landy, who had set the world record for both the 1,500m and the mile in 1954. Delaney on the other hand had just about warranted an inclusion to the race, despite defeats to English rival Brian Hewson in two separate races in Dublin during the summer.
On the final lap Delaney surged from 10th place to sit just behind his new nemesis Hewson coming out of the final bend. A mesmerising last 200 metres ran, in 25.6 seconds by Delaney ensured our first gold medal since Bob Tisdall and Dr. Pat O’Callaghan in 1932.
3. Soccer: Ireland 3-0 USSR (1974)
In Johnny Giles' first match as player-manager of Ireland, they faced a strong USSR side in the qualifiers for the European Championships, at Dalymount Park. In a huge upset, Ireland ran out 3-0 winners, thanks to a hat-tick from Don Givens. He had also handed an 18-year-old Liam Brady his international debut, and his faith was rewarded, with Brady putting in a great performance.
Speaking on Newstalk's Off the Ball show last night, Giles recalled how big an achievement it was:
They had won the European Championships two or three years beforehand. And this was the Soviet Union, this wasn't Russia. It was the pick of everywhere, the Ukraine and all the other teams that have broken up since then. So the would have been well favourites.
Don Givens was the real hero however, and it had was as much of a surprise to his manager as anyone else. Giles jokingly remembered the tour of South America the team had gone on previous to the USSR match, 'We played in Brazil Uruguay and Chile, and Don couldn't buy a goal.'
4. Soccer: Ireland 1-0 England (1988)
It was our first appearance at a major international tournament, and wouldn't you know we faced our nearest rivals England. Few predicted an Irish victory, but what transpired that day in Stuttgart would go down as one of the greatest days in our soccer history.
The England team were fancied to go far in the tournament, boasting Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley, and John Barnes among their ranks. However six minutes into the match, John Aldridge got his head to a poor England clearance, and Ray Houghton, the little man with the big jump, lobbed a header into the far corner. The stadium erupted, and Ireland were on their way to history.
Watch as some of the stars of that day recall their famous victory:
5. Cricket: Ireland beat Pakistan (2007)
Many of us in Ireland didn't even realise we had a cricket team until 2007. However on St Patrick's Day, at the Cricket World Cup in The West Indies, the Irish team pulled off possibly the biggest upset in the history of cricket.
They faced Pakistan, one of the favourites for the World Cup and a team in need of a victory to reach the Super Eights. No one gave Ireland a hope, but in an amazing turn of events, it was they who reached the last eight, after a fantastic victory.
Relive their tale here:
6. Soccer: Ireland 1-0 Italy (1994)
It's hard to choose between the England victory at Euro '88, or this match at Giants Stadium, New Jersey at the 1994 World Cup as Ireland's greatest soccer victory. The inspiring 1-0 win over Italy just edges however.
Fans travelled in huge numbers from Ireland, and on that June 18 day, New Jersey was a sea of green. Could the performance match the support however? Our chances against the Italians were slim, but where there was belief, there was hope.
After 12 minutes we took the lead, thanks to that man again, Ray Houghton. As he wheeled away with one arm aloft in celebration, little did he know that his thunderous strike would be imitated by kids up and down the country for years to come. The entire team played out of their skins that day; lead by the inspirational Paul McGrath, a true giant at the home of two of the greatest American Football teams.
7. Soccer: Ireland 1-1 Germany (2002)
OK, so we may not have won, but given the day that's in it we couldn't resist putting this on our list. After the Roy Keane debacle, which through our preparation for the 2002 World Cup into disarray, we didn't have much hope left. We had scraped a 1-1 draw with Cameroon in our opening match, whereas the Germans had beaten Saudi Arabia 8-0.
18 minutes in, we fell behind to a Miroslav Klose header, and seemed as though the script of our demise had been written. Queue a fantastic second half performance by the Irish team as they pushed and pushed for an equaliser. Deep in injury time our efforts were rewarded with a Robbie Keane goal that sent a nation into raptures.
It wasn't a victory, but it sure as hell felt like one for Irish fans who had been brought through a tumult of emotions in previous weeks.
Here's hoping tonight's result against Germany is every bit as inspirational!