Friday, June 3, 2016

Update 3rd June

Boyle Celtic’s Original Tour – The 1988 European Championships

(Inspired by the television advertisement where a young French boy exclaims ,’The Irish are coming’.)

For two glorious weeks in June 1988 a group of twenty two members loosely aligned to Boyle Celtic Soccer Club formed part of Jack Charlton’s original soccer army as they followed the fortunes of Ireland’s soccer team through Germany in a campaign that became legendary, especially for one particular win. Even for those at home during those balmy days (much as we are experiencing now) a holiday atmosphere developed as the country collectively celebrated its original sporting high. It was a time when the ‘Green Army’ would win the hearts of the German public and Boyle was well represented in that.

Ireland had finalised qualification for their first major international soccer championships courtesy of a Scot Gary Makay scoring against Bulgaria on a dour November night in Sofia, Bulgaria. The attraction was enhanced by the draw in January which pitted Ireland against neighbours England (one of the favourites) in the first game of the finals. This was at a time when inter-country relations were at a low ebb in those Thatcher years.

Central to the planning was Frank Feighan a much travelled man even then. Commitments were made with a few imports making up the requisite number of 22. Probably the most interesting member, in age terms was former army veteran QMS (Quarter Master Sergeant) Georgie Tiernan who could have won another medal for his valour and contribution throughout this campaign. It was at the height of one of Ireland’s regular depressions.  Most of them were young and had not been out of the country before. This was some start to their life’s travel.   

Frank Feighan managed to link in with a tour group called Top Deck which operated their tours with old London transport buses which facilitated mostly Australian and New Zealand groups then. The Boyle contingent headed for the south-east with people generally hardly aware of the competition. The group set out for the town to Rosslare on Wednesday June 8th  on their sporting odyssey having passed a fitness test in The Craoibhin the previous night. On the football special ferry-crossing the ship ran out of beer which set a standard for things to come. Derek Caldbeck had his first public outing with his guitar and he was to become an entertainer-in-residence for the trip. Their ‘Top Deck’ coach with Australian driver Dave and New Zealand ‘tour guide’ Sean met them at Le Havre and the boys got their first experience of what was to be their quarters for the coming two weeks. The top deck was bunked out to facilitate ‘sleeping’ quarters with a cooking area in which Georgie Tiernan was head chef assisted by Jim Feighan. This trip was in the pre-euro era, so, since they were to travel through four different jurisdictions there was the regular puzzle of the ‘punt’ valuation to the prevailing currency. Eventually most just ‘googled’ Chris Callan who was the currency exchange and general information guru.

The first assignment in Le Havre was a visit -a la Del Boy- to a hyper-market, purchasing three bins for iced water to act as cooler for Coca Cola, beer and sangria. Obviously someone had been to Spain. The first city was Paris with the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame et al so boxes ticked it was on to Boyle’s twin town then St. Witz  for Boyle Celtic to play their first game in Europe against their twin. This they won 2 to 1 scoring all three goals per Noel Kielty, Michael O’Donohoe with Ronan Hever scoring a spectacular o.g. on a surprised Boyle keeper, Frank Feighan.

Saturday saw the group in the lovely city of Heidelberg used as a base by Irish supporters for their the first game to avoid the English hooligan element who were rampant at that time. Perhaps they were influenced by the city’s connection with the musical ‘The Student Prince’ and its famous song ‘Drink, Drink…’ which the Irish supporters did with commendable adaptability to the German 2 and a half litre glasses and 3 litre boot and the German Schnapps’

D Day. Stuttgart v England.
Georgie Tiernan, true to his army tradition, rose early and organised breakfast. The group break camp with the army of Irish supporters and move on Stuttgart and many are in the stadium long before the game. The police presence dominates but the sound system welcomes all with Irish music. A good start and a great atmosphere prevails. In Boyle the locals head for their own beer cellar with the big screen. Jack (Charlton, Irish Manager) declared that they feared no one. Indeed it was one of Ireland’s best soccer teams. They have gone ten games without defeat. Brian Clough sees only an English win though Johan Cruyff gives Ireland a chance. Game on. Early, very early, the ball is crossed in front of the England goal and headed on where Ray Houghton loops a header over long-serving Peter Shilton in the English goal. GOOOOAALL…..Ecstasy. Charlton’s hands go to his head in disbelief. Houghton leads the celebration.

The Boyle crew are in a seventh heaven. In the second half the English team put the pressure on but Burtonport’s Packie Bonner performs miracles. Ireland win 1 nil. The trip could have ended there and be worthwhile. The post-match atmosphere is incredible as the cavalcade winds its way back to Heidelberg and a carnival style celebrations which the German natives join with gusto. They too were pleased that the Irish had beaten England! Irish songs like a new one ‘The Boys in Green’ get its introduction amid the usual repertoire.

As part of the ‘Top Deck Tour ’ it takes the Boyle section along the Rhine to a ‘wine tasting’ of all things. Now this is an occasion where the wine is just tasted and not drank as such but most of the Top Deck crew were not familiar with this etiquette which was regarded by them as a waste of good alcohol. There is a cost in headache terms later. Cuckoo clocks and stein mugs with sun covers elicits the  comment. ‘The Germans think of everything’. Ray Queenan proves to be a connoisseur while Derek Caldbeck and John (Speedy) Doyle are emerging as the life and soul of the party. On Tuesday the tour continues with a visit to Cologne and its famous cathedral. ‘Seen that, tick the box’ tomorrow its Russia…….second game! 

Hanover and Russia.
Prior to the game most of the Irish including our unit watch the Dutch masters, including Van Basten, destroy England 3 to 1. There is a kinda crisis in the minds of Irish supporters while watching this as it would be a better result if England won but it does not cause much upset that they lost either. Not right really. Mrs. Thatcher had a good deal to answer for. Ireland put on their best performance against Russia with an early spectacular goal by Ronnie Whelan setting the tone. The Celtic group kinda miss this gem of a goal being at ‘the other end’ and also engaged at the time in an Irish version of ‘the Mexican wave’. Aldridge misses, Whelan hits the crossbar, Galvin should have had a penalty but somethingov equalises. A draw, Ireland top their group, England are nearly gone. Another good night to celebrate. The party continues. The Irish are adopted by the Germans like a long lost tribe that have returned from Neverland.

Thursday/Friday R. & R.   
Like any good army unit the batteries need to be recharged so a diversion into the heart of the last group opponents territory was decided on. Amsterdam, more currency translations. The atmosphere is electric there ahead of their Saturday game in which the Dutch need a win while a draw will suffice for Ireland. The rapport between the opposing fans is exemplary. On Saturday morning the London Bus and its Boyle Celtic unit turn south along the autobahn but the old bus has the character of a tortoise. Still bedecked in green it attracts the attention of the Dutch massed support as they pass it by on the way to Gelsenkirchen for the game just over their border with Germany.

The Gods Change Sides
McGrath is back and nearly scores early ‘at the other end’. Heroic defence. Bonner is injured. The Irish support erupt in song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Tricolours scarves, hats, banners -including Boyle’s impressive effort-, all the Irish green competes with the massed orange. Morris is injured. Time ticks by. Are we going to qualify? That would mean what? We could hardly abandon the team? Will we be able to finance staying on for a semi-final? Nine minutes to go and all is solved as the ball bounces and spins in front of the Irish goal and hits the head of a Dutch player, Kieft, thus re-directing it into the Irish net. The impossible dream dissolves. The goal being off side arises too late. Both sets of fans stay long after the match is over. The manager and team salute the supporters. The three game campaign is summarised in the following way; 
Ireland had won the game they should have lost (v England).
They had drawn the game they should have won ( v Russia).
They  lost the game they should have drawn (v Holland).   

Ruud Gullit leads the Dutch to victory over West-Germany in the semi-final and Russia in the final. Ireland were just nine minutes from being in that melting pot. 

Home and Welcome.
The odyssey is nearing conclusion and the bus trundles towards Le Havre. The tour guide has long abandoned the listed itinerary.
Heads are held high leaving many acquaintances and a legacy of great goodwill. The group did not realise how the atmosphere which was majestic in Germany had also engaged much of the populace back home in Ireland. (Two years later in the aftermath of the Italia 90 World Cup and the Irish teams even better showing there someone suggested that  ‘I missed Italia 90, I was in Italy’ as opposed to being in an Ireland on the high created there.)Jack and the team came back from Germany on a plane named St. Jack for the trip! On the ferry to Rosslare Frank Feighan got a call from Barry Feely suggesting that their group would be welcomed back to Boyle in a kind of official way ! Absurd but true. Now as they travel up through the country everyone is aware of where they were.

The fans too had become celebrities! The tour group took ‘a break’ in Roscommon town and despite the disbelief of some about the Boyle ‘welcome’ another call seemed to suggest that it was a reality. One has to remember too that this was a time when the mobile brick was in the future. Anyway the small cavalcade of German campaign veterans arrived at The Four Provinces and were met by lead scout Larry Conn. So into Boyle and the official ‘welcome home’ on the Crescent as has been traditionally conferred on many achievers before. The final analysis took place in Boyle Celtic’s HQ of the time, Mick Gilmartin’s tavern ‘The Three Counties’. Indeed the memories are still very strong and cherished by that ‘Top Deck’crew from the 1988 Euros along the Rhine.     

(I’d like to thank Ronan and Adrian  Hever; Michael O’Donohoe; Frank Feighan and Johnny Greenan for their memories and pictures of the trip. Interestingly when one began talking to each of them the smiles emerged as they reflected on a special and memorable adventure twenty eight years ago.)

Picture of Group
Back: Jim Feighan/Georgie Tiernan/Ray Queenan/Sligo/ ?/ Michael O’Donohoe/ Kieran Hughes/Ronan Hever/ Noel Kielty/ Christy Grehan/Adrian Hever/ Johnny Greenan/ Stephen ?
Front: Frank Feighan/ John O’Callaghan/ Sean O’Rourke, Fenagh/ Chris Callan/ Derek Caldbeck/ Austin Tarpey/ Kevin O’Connor/ ‘Speedy’ Doyle, Dysart/ Gerry Gilmore, Manchester.     

Sports Review:

Westmeath defeat Kikenny
One of the top sporting wins of the last week was that of the Westmeath U 21 hurlers over Kilkenny by 1.11 to 0.12 in Mullingar.  

Connacht win over Leinster
Another was the historic win of Connacht over Leinster to win the Guinness Pro 12 competition. Connacht had not won anything like that since the late sixties when it is said they won the inter-provincial series.

Real Madrid Make it 11 European Cups
Real (Royal) Madrid just got home after a penalty shoot-out with the other Madrid city club Atletico Madrid in Milan on Saturday night. In an ironic way if fell to Ronaldo to score the final winning penalty after Atletico had failed with the Juanfran (Torres)fourth penalty striking the post. The penalty shoot-out went 5 to 3 for Real with Atletico’s miss meaning that their fifth penalty was redundant and so not taken when Ronaldo scored Real’s fifth. All 5 of the Real penalties went the Atletico’s goalie’s right side with the opposite for Atletico and the annoying Real keeper. Antoine Griezmann the French international had missed a penalty during the game. The Athletico keeper seemed to me to be too mild with the penalty takers while the Real keeper was much more off-putting. 

Boyle Feile Countdown
The Cooney Motors/Centra sponsored Boyle U 14 team are gearing up for their trip to Kilshannig, County Cork for the Feile competition on the week-end of June 24th -26th.  Kilshannig is south of Fermoy near a small town called Rathcormac about 3 and half hours from Boyle. They play Coralstown/Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath and Wolfe Tones (Kanturk), Co. Cork on the Friday evening and their host club (I presume)  Kilshannig on Saturday morning. Two teams qualify from the group for further games on Saturday afternoon. 
The team have a real challenge when they contest the Roscommon county league final on June 10th.

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