The man who made the most famous save in the history of Irish soccer talks to Seán Creedon about his life in sport, from the ‘block field’ in his native Burtonport, Donegal, to his present educational role with UEFA.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both lost their World Cup play-off ties last November, so there won’t be any Irish involvement when the 2018 World Cup kicks-off in Moscow on June 14th.
Now we will have to be content to look back and enjoy replays of those glory days at Italia ’90, USA ’94 and Korea/Japan in 2002 when the boys in green did the country proud.
Every Irish person over sixty can probably tell you where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot in November, 1963. Likewise we can all vividly recall exactly we were on June 25th, 1990, when Packie Bonner saved that penalty kick from Romania’s Daniel Timofte and David O’Leary then converted his spot kick to put us through to the World Cup quarter-finals.
Bonner had got a taste of what it meant to play for his country at a major tournament two years earlier when the Republic of Ireland qualified for Euro ’88, thanks in part to that famous goal by Scotland’s Gary Mackay against Bulgaria.
The Donegal man still regards his heroics in keeping a ‘clean sheet’ by denying England an equaliser in the Neckar Stadium, Stuttgart, after Ray Houghton scored that early goal, as one of his best ever performances in the eighty games he played for his country.
In order to get an insight into where Packie learned his football we have to go back to a patch of grass known as the ‘block field’ near the family home in Burtonport, where he practiced daily with his twin brother Denis.