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4 Unforgettable Moments in Irish Football

4 Unforgettable Moments in Irish Football

With Irish-specific sports like Gaelic football and hurling, traditional football doesn’t dominate the sporting landscape like it does in England, Brazil, and Portugal. But make no mistake – association football, or just football, is still the third most popular sport to watch in the country. It’s considered a mainstay in Irish sports culture, much like how is to the online gaming realm, with the League of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland national football team representing Irish passion and pride.

Since the late 1800s, the Irish have experienced all sorts of eventful matches, heart-wrenching losses, spectacular victories, unbelievable goals, and cherished moments that have defining roles in the history of Irish football. 

Ready to take a trip down memory lane? Let’s dive into four unforgettable moments in Irish football.

Ray Houghton’s Goal in Ireland vs England (1988)

Ray Houghton’s iconic goal in the UEFA Euro in 1988 was one of those once-in-a-lifetime happenings that everyone and their mother reminisced about. This incredible moment has imbued itself into general Irish history and culture, almost like the legend of Fionn mac Cumhaill or the Viking invasions. To this day, people still send Houghton well wishes on the match’s anniversary – that’s how big of a deal it was. It changed Irish football forever.

Ireland were the unsurprising underdogs against England – England were essentially the rulers of Europe at the time, while it was the Republic of Ireland’s debut game in the tournament. The heat was sweltering, and the players were pouring their hearts into the game, but there wasn’t much expectation on the horizon because the Irish were simply happy to be there.

Early into the game, there was a miscued clearance by English defender Kenny Sansom. With the ball soaring high into the air, prolific striker John Aldridge lobbed the ball over to Ray Houghton, and he effortlessly headed the ball into the net. Fans erupted, people were in utter disbelief, and they ended up winning the game 1-0. The victorious team graced the covers of newspapers not only in Ireland but around the world.

Robbie Keane’s Last-Minute Goal in the World Cup (2002)

Arguably, the Republic of Ireland’s greatest goal of all time was scored in the final Group E match against Germany in the 2002 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and Cameroon were already out of the tournament, and the stakes were high for both remaining teams, Ireland and Germany. Germany wanted to come out on top of Group E, while Ireland needed to avoid a loss at all costs to qualify for the knockout round. 

Compared to their odds in the Ireland vs. England UEFA game, they had a much better chance, as their squad featured Premier League stars who brought the skill and experience Ireland so desperately craved. But the feat wouldn’t be without its hitches, as Germany were three-time champions of the World Cup.

After just 18 minutes, the Boys in Green were already down 0-1. By stoppage time at just over 91 minutes on the clock, the Irish were down 2-1. In a desperate and passionate attempt to get the goal they needed, striker Niall Quinn headed a long ball right into the path of Robbie Keane, who elegantly controlled the ball and rushed forward to score past German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. What followed was a legendary celebration of cartwheels and forward rolls by Keane and the team joining him in the festivities on the sidelines.

Thierry Henry’s Handball Controversy in France vs. Ireland (2009)

Not all unforgettable moments are memorable because they’re heroic or triumphant. Sometimes, they’re unforgettable because they embody a moment in time that was controversial or disheartening – and that’s what the missed call against Thierry Henry was to Ireland and, honestly, the world. It wasn’t simply any old missed call; it cost Ireland their chance at winning the World Cup, knocking them out of the competition entirely.

It was a mere 12 minutes into the game with Ireland up 1-0 in the second leg of the 2010 World Cup playoff. It was Robbie Keane who gave the Irish the lead, and then the game was forced into extra time. In the 103rd minute, Florent Malouda performed a free kick that bounced right in the vicinity of Henry. As the ball proved challenging to handle, Henry committed a football sin and touched it with his hand twice to manipulate it. Crossing it over to Gallas, France tied the game (and won on aggregate 2-1) but not without protest from the entire Irish team. With no VAR to review the goal and the ref unable to see any wrongdoing, Ireland’s dreams of winning the World Cup were crushed.

Moral of the story? Thierry Henry better watch his back the next time he steps foot in Ireland – and so should referee Martin Hansson.

Packie Bonner’s Epic Save Against Romania (2002)

A great team isn’t merely made up of strikers, wingers, midfielders, and centre-backs –  it also requires a sharp and brilliant goaltender. Packie Bonner was one of those distinctive goalies, making 483 appearances with the Celtic Football Club and earning 80 caps for the Ireland national football team. And that’s exactly why Bonner is one of the country’s greats. He’s had a storied career in soccer, but it was one specific moment that cemented his name in Irish football history.

His unbelievable save in Italia ‘90 proves that it isn’t always the incredible goals that propel a team to greatness. The game came down to a tense shootout, and players on both the Romania and Ireland teams were converting. It was up to Bonner to stop Daniel Timofte to keep the score at 4-4 – and he did just that, setting up David O’Leary to score the ultimate winning kick.


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