The late Fine Gael TD Oliver J Flanagan once said that there was no sex in Ireland until 'The Late Late Show'. I was reminded of that assertion when John Giles, speaking on radio about his recently published autobiography, talked about the perception that a Republic of Ireland soccer team only came into being when a certain Geordie was appointed manager in 1986.
We all know that wasn’t the case, but a lack of success at
International level limits the appeal. In saying that many outstanding players wore the green jersey with distinction long before the nation celebrated the achievements in Stuttgart and the Giants Stadium. Johnny Carey, Noel Cantwell and Charlie Hurley are names that easily come to mind, not to mention the peerless John Giles. All of them subsequently went on to manage their country.
Author Trevor Keane chronicles their role along with the other gentlemen who have been entrusted with managing the Republic of Ireland since it was formally recognised by FIFA in 1923.
Keane’s book is a well written, thorough account of how the role of the Irish ‘gaffer’ evolved over the decades. It is not short on stats either, as it gives a complete breakdown of the win/loss ratio for each manager.
On a human level we get an interesting insight into the personality traits, foibles and idiosyncrasies of those at the helm from many of the players who played under them. Whether it is the somewhat ‘laid-back’ attitude of Johnny Carey, to the tactical nous of Liam Tuohy or Jack Chartlon’s inability to remember names, Keane paints an engaging account of each regime.
The book also highlights the role of the ‘suits’, particularly in the early decades when the Irish XI was picked by a committee. The manager was reduced to giving his pep talk in the dressing room before the game. It wasn’t until the 1969 that an Irish boss, in the shape of Mick Meagan, was able to pick his own side. This move came about after intensive lobbying by senior players, including John Giles. While a proper managerial structure was now in the place, and teams were better prepared ahead of games, qualification for major championships remained elusive.
Nevertheless, the 1970s saw the emergence of Brady, O’Leary and Stapleton and the prospect of an upturn came into focus. The chapter on Eoin Hand’s tenure in charge of the Republic is interesting with Gerry Peyton and Kevin Sheedy stating that Hand might have been intimidated with all the ‘big name players in the squad, while also questioning his lack of firm decision-making.
That aside, only goal difference stopped the Republic from qualifying for the 1982 World Cup and Hand’s record in competitive games was impressive. Next in line to assume the Republic hot seat was Jack Charlton – the first manager the FAI appointed on a full-time basis. His appointment began a new era for Irish soccer that saw success, and sadly a few controversies.
It is easy to reminisce on the joyous moments of playing in big tournaments, but Keane’s book highlights a period when players would take the boat from England on a Saturday night for an international in Dalymount the following afternoon. And there were team selections not exactly based on who were the form players at the time.
As a history of Irish international soccer, 'Gaffers' provides a valuable source of reference and is written in a style that is pacy and engaging.