Sam Casey takes us back to the Irish summer of 1994 when ‘teenage kicks’ depended on what happened on the playing fields of far away America.


June 18th, 1994. The instructions were clear and simple. Meet in the town square, Saturday night, at 8 p.m.. The minibus would be parked up, engine purring, primed to cart a load of relieved, de-stressed Leaving Cert students to a nightclub that was just 29.8 miles away. The journey should take forty minutes, at most … at least, thirty-five. Our exam brains may have shut down the previous Wednesday, but we could still do some maths. If everyone was on time we would be sitting at the bar in front of a big screen in The Orphan Girl by 8.45 p.m.. Fifteen minutes before kick-off.
Boy, were we naïve.

The majority of the girls had no interest in football, or that the Republic of Ireland were playing Italy in the World Cup, and took their times getting dollied up for what was to be the biggest sociable occasion of their young lives.

Us sports bores would have to grin and bear it.

They arrived in ones and twos, sweet perfumes wafting on the summer breeze. On a different night us youngsters would have been throwing keen eyes over their attire, our hearts thumping hard and fast as we dared dream of a midsummer night’s kiss. Tonight, however, the only legs we wanted to look at were those that belonged to Paul McGrath.
Or at a push, Steve Staunton’s.

The driver had us rounded up by 8.40 p.m.. If he put his foot to the metal, he’d have us in the nightclub well before half-time. With no telly to hand, we told him to turn to Plan B – the minibus radio.

The rust bucket scooted along through the Wexford countryside. The girls were dissecting their completed Leaving Cert exams, the boys were dissecting Big Jack’s gameplan. Then, at eleven minutes past nine, mayhem broke out. Ray Houghton pounced on Francis Baresi’s careless header, intercepting it on his chest, before his left-footed smack sailed up and over Italian keeper Gianluca Pagliuca’s head, then dipping, and landing in the back of the net.

There may have been 75,338 people in the Giants Stadium in New York that night (rumour had it 60,000 of them were Irish) but even they would have found it difficult to create a more ear-shattering racket than we did in the confines of that small tinny minibus. We jumped. We screamed. We hugged. One of the lads did an Irish jig. The minibus wobbled from side to side on the road until the bus driver screamed at us to sit down, or we’d all end up in the Slaney.

We made it to the Orphan Girl for half-time. Sipping on a pint of Coca-Cola and nibbling on a packet of Tayto cheese and onion, and my nails, I watched the Boys in Green hold on to beat the eventual finalists by a goal to nil. Mama Mia.

The Republic of Ireland’s USA 1994 adventure was up and running.

Qualification for that summer’s World Cup had been secured on what Charlton described as a ‘doomsday’ November night in Belfast, where Northern Ireland had taken the lead through Reading striker, Jimmy Quinn. Step forward midfielder Alan McLoughlin, on as a second-half replacement for Ray Houghton, and the Swindon Town man equalised. McLoughlin sadly passed away from cancer in May, 2021. There is a good story about him choosing to represent Ireland. One day, the postman handed him two letters. The first letter invited him to play in an England ‘B’ international against the Republic of Ireland, in Cork; the second letter was from the FAI inviting him to join the Republic of Ireland squad for the same game.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Summer Special