By David Hennessy and Lucia Butler
Former Republic of Ireland striker Tony Cascarino believes Mick McCarthy’s Boys in Green can beat Slovakia and says it will be a ‘fantastic achievement’ to reach next summer’s European Championships.
However Tony, who played for the Irish team in two World Cups and one European Championships, says the Irish team have a far weaker base than in his days as a player with very few Irish players now playing at big clubs.
He went on to say he thinks this current Irish team will give their all just like Jack Charlton’s team did.
Republic of Ireland travel to take on Slovakia in their one leg play-off semi-final on 26 March 2020.
If they come through that Slovakia tie, they will be away to the winners of the play-off between Northern Ireland and Bosnia- Herzegovina on 31 March.
Tony Cascarino told The Irish World: “I like it that we play Slovakia. I think we can win that game. Getting to the Euros would be a fantastic achievement for us, it really would.
“It’s a tricky one because we’re not blessed with players from big clubs. We look around our squad, some are Championship, a couple are in the Premier League but there’s also players who are in League One.
“I think it’s very difficult for Mick McCarthy to get a team so established. I played in an Ireland team that had four players from Liverpool, a couple from Man United, a few from Arsenal, Chelsea. They were top clubs at the time so it’s a lot different from where it was in 1990.”
Tony played for clubs such as Millwall, Aston Villa, Celtic, Chelsea and Marseille. He earned 88 caps for Republic of Ireland and scored 19 goals.
Looking back on his international career, he told us: “I loved it and I was lucky with good players around me, Kevin Sheedy’s and Steve Staunton’s service, Ray Houghton and then I made my debut playing alongside Frank Stapleton who was a top drawer player.”
Tony played in Euro 1988 and World Cup 1990 with current Irish boss Mick McCarthy. Tony would also be there in 1994. Next year it will be thirty years since Republic of Ireland reached the last eight in Italy in their first World Cup ever: “That was the best experience I ever had as a player, being involved in a World Cup. I was lucky to play in the European Championships in 88, we then went to World Cup Italy in 90 and then America 94 so they’re all great memories, great people I played and trained with and managed by Jack. It was a wonderful experience and a lot of great characters within that squad as well.”
“Time goes so quick. We never took football that serious, that squad. We always enjoyed the social side, the camaraderie between the team was incredible but when we played, we gave everything. It was all blood and sweat. I think the present Ireland team will do exactly the same thing.”
Republic of Ireland finished their group campaign last week with a 1-1 home draw with Denmark. The Irish went 0-1 down to Denmark before Matt Doherty’s late header earned them a point when a win was needed to ensure qualification. On the night, the Irish were the more attacking team and had more chances. The Danes were happy to sit back as a draw suited them with Kasper Schmeichel even being booked late on for time wasting. The Aviva was where the match was played, and also where the Irish are trying to get back to.
The Aviva Stadium will host three group matches and a quarter-final in next year’s European tournament. For the first time and to celebrate the 60th birthday of the competition, the Euros will next year be held in 12 different cities instead of one host country. If Mick McCarthy’s team qualify they will home advantage in a major tournament for the first, and probably last, time ever. However, it would be a colossal shame and bittersweet experience to see the Euros coming to Dublin but with the Republic of Ireland team playing no part.
Although McCarthy’s team opened their campaign with two wins and were top of the table, this was always misleading as they had only beaten Gibraltar and Georgia. These would be the only teams they would beat with Gibraltar the only team they managed to beat both home and away. Although tricky Georgia were dealt with in Dublin, just like the last campaign that consigned them to that heavy Danish play-off defeat Republic of Ireland failed to take three points when they travelled to Tbilisi. The Irish drew both games with Denmark and drew at home to Switzerland. Ireland’s 0-2 loss in Geneva was their only defeat of the campaign.
Tony was speaking at The Claddagh Ring on the night of their London to Ballaghaderreen awards night. Tony said the event took him back to 1990: “When I’m hearing, ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ in The Claddagh Ring, memories of 1990 are just extraordinary. Coming back to half a million people in Dublin was special. So is coming here. I’ve been to The Claddagh Ring a few times. Finbar always hosts a wonderful party.”