One of the most memorable moments in Irish sporting history holds its twenty-fifth anniversary today. It was a sweltering day in Genoa and a man they named O’Leary was given the responsibility of taking a penalty. The rest is history.
If you’re Irish and are not over the age of thirty, chances are you won’t have a good first-hand recollection of the happenings during Italia ’90. What every Irish citizen does have, regardless of being present, is an innate respect and sense of pride for a sporting achievement which we probably won’t see for a very long time. We here at MediaHQ wonder what made David O’Leary’s penalty so special in Irish media, and take a brief look at how media plays a special part in how we remember sporting events.
It’s a well known fact that Ireland didn’t actually win a game during the 1990 World Cup in Italy, however, it was their courageous spirit, determination and the voice of George Hamilton which everyone remembers. The Irish media rallied behind the troops before the tournament with the famous song, ‘Give It a Lash, Jack’ (which Bono claimed was the best Irish song ever written, by the way).
The whole country was behind the Irish team, and the atmosphere at home and abroad was ecstatic during the tournament. After a string of draws, those at home were beginning to feel like it was only a matter of time before we were knocked out. This feeling was aptly expressed by Eamon Dunphy’s audible moan after the 0-0 draw with Egypt. The media has a profound way of bringing people on emotional roller coasters, and at this time it didn’t look like Ireland were going to prevail.
After the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, faith had well and truly been restored, with the Irish team battling to the death to progress to the next round. Because England had registered the only win in the group, England, Ireland and the Netherlands progressed into the next round.
The day that goes down in sporting, and media history is the match which saw Ireland progress into the quarter-final of the World Cup. Ireland faced Romania on a blistering day in Genoa. Who could forget Packie Bonner’s stretching save against Timofte, or even George Hamilton’s slightly inaudible, “Yeah!”? A wonderful moment of hope and expectation, suspended in cheers from a jostling crowd.
One of the most famous quotes in Irish sports broadcasting came just before David O’Leary stuck his penalty away to send Ireland through to the quarters. “This kick, can decide it all,” brought Irish people to the edge of their seats, while, “The nation holds it’s breath,” was the quiet before the explosion of ecstasy to be felt by Irish people worldwide. It was this feeling that kept parties at home going strong for over a month after the penalty had been taken.
The power that sport and media have in our day-to-day lives is inexpressible. And when the two are mixed? Then maybe we’ll be celebrating getting into a semi-final!
Robert Flynn – @PureFlynn