By David Hennessy
For scored Republic of Ireland’s first ever goal in a World Cup finals when he equalised against England in 1990, Kevin Sheedy is etched into the memory of every Irish football fan. It was the opening game of the Republic’s first ever World Cup and it was in the 8th minute that Gary Lineker put the English in front. Bobby Robson’s team remained in front until the 73rd minute when Sheedy dispossessed Steve McMahon to level things. After all these years, the current Everton Youth Coach is still reminded of it often: “I get loads of stories where people have named their pets after me, cats and dogs. I get stories of where they actually were when I scored the goal. Some were in the toilets when they heard a big roar in the pub. Everyone’s got a different story about where they were and about the goal.”
Republic of Ireland came through the group unbeaten before emerging past Romania on penalties. The dream came to an end in the quarter-finals when Jack Charlton’s team were on the wrong side of a 0-1 score-line to the hosts, Italy. Known for his skill, the Italians rated Sheedy’s threat so highly that legendary defender Giuseppe Bergomi was given the job of man marking him. It was a Toto Schillaci goal that separated the teams at the end. Kevin reveals in his new book So Good I Did it Twice that striker John Aldridge thought he was in for a bollocking for losing the ball as they trudged off the pitch that night in Rome, but it was actually Kevin Charlton was displeased with for playing the pass: “The style of play Jack wanted was the ball played in behind the defenders and I adapted to it as best I could but in that game, instead of giving the ball back to Italy, I played it to John Aldridge and Baresi put his foot between John’s legs and nicked the ball off him and from there, Donadoni broke, hit his shot and then it fell unfortunately to Toto Schillaci who scored so I was the one who got the rocket about the ball, not John for losing possession.”
But asked if he regrets the decision to pass it, Kevin says: “Not at all. It was an incident in the game and I was trying to play football, I was playing it into a good striker John and unfortunately Baresi got the better of him. I don’t look back and say I wish I had put it in behind. 99 times out of 100, I would have done exactly the same thing so I don’t hold myself responsible at all.”
Asked if with hindsight, the Irish team of that era could have employed less direct tactics given the quality of the midfield players (Sheedy, Whelan, Houghton, Townsend) they had, Kevin says: “It was the style of football Jack wanted, it was his way or the highway. I mentioned in my book that Liam Brady was a world class player but he was more of an individual and wasn’t slotting into the team ethic that Jack wanted so I had to give a little bit in that respect but no, looking back I was just so privileged to play in a great team, different style of football, but really successful. If you look at all the qualifying games and the teams we beat, getting to the quarter finals of the world cup, six minutes away from getting to the semi-final of the European Championships: We had a great side.”
Kevin also details seeing Jack Charlton lose his cool over an innocuous game of cards prior to Republic of Ireland’s Euro ’88 clash with England, even threatening to take away Kevin’s status as a sub if he did not pick up a card: “I was sub for the game against England, we had a game of cards so I gave him a card he didn’t like so he was upset and took me off the bench. He was deadly serious, yeah. I think it was the pressure of the game. It was against England. Obviously he won the world cup with England, there was a lot of hype building up to the game, Jack was under a lot of pressure and probably that was a heat of the moment thing but in general he was a real lively character, real fun to be around and a real good manager.”
Born in Wales, Kevin qualified to play for Republic of Ireland through his Ennis father. When called up to represent The Boys in Green at Under 16 level, he called the Welsh FA to see if he had a decision to make. When he did not, he pulled on the green jersey and never looked back: “From the age of 16, I remember travelling over playing in different tournaments and making my international debut, some fantastic memories. In those days (under Eoin Hand), Ireland weren’t one of the top teams in the world. They had their fair share of defeats but having sampled that, when Jack Charlton took over and success came. Sometimes you have to have a little bit of failure to really enjoy the successful times.”
In all, Kevin Sheedy earned 46 caps for his country, netting nine times and playing in every one of Ireland’s games at both Euro ’88 and Italia ’90. His last cap came in 1993: “I’m really proud of my achievements for Ireland and I obviously played in a great side under Jack Charlton. When you finish your career, you like to look back and the European Championships and the World Cup were real highlights of my career.”
What he describes as his “biggest victory” is his recent battle with cancer. In 2012, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer but resolved to fight it and has since been given the all clear: “Everything’s great. I’m really happy. I had a lucky escape. Fortunately I’m getting letters from people now that having read about my situation, they have gone to their doctors, been diagnosed with bowel cancer and they’ve been successfully treated so I feel really proud of that, that I’ve helped effect people in the right way so what happened to me has helped other people.”
For the full interview, see the April 19 Irish World.
Kevin Sheedy’s autobiography So Good I Did it Twice is out now on Trinity Sports Publishing.