Derg man recalls the magic of Italia ‘90

IT seemed entirely fitting that Jack Charlton should depart for the angels in the sky in the summer of 2020 – given that it marked the 30th anniversary of Ireland’s first ever appearance at the World Cup finals and his most successful period as their manager.

Big Jack’s passing the week before last transported many Irish fans back to a memorable and magical time when Ireland, against all the odds, reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup at Italia 90.

During his time in charge of the national team Ireland also qualified for the European Championship in1988 and the World Cup in United States in 1994.


Charlton’s brand of football, which attracted much criticism in particular from a certain Mr Dunphy, wasn’t particularly sophisticated or indeed easy on the eye but it was incredibly effective and for that glorious period it seemed that Irish eyes were forever smiling.

Under the big Geordie, Ireland fans were on a roller-coaster to the biggest ever party and no one wanted to jump off.

Party time in Germany 88 and USA 94 created unforgettable memories for so many however the mother of them all was 30 years ago when Ireland reached the last eight for the one and only time before being knocked out by 
their Italian hosts.

Charlton’s recent passing brought memories of a wonderful time flooding back for so many, among them Denis McGrath, who, along with five other Castlederg men, joined ‘Jackie’s Army’ for a never-to-be-forgotten odyssey to Italia 90.

What started out as a conversation over a few drinks the previous Christmas turned into the most thrilling and magical journey imaginable for the Derg’s own dirty half dozen.

“It started out as pub talk and before we knew it we were heading for Belfast International Airport in John Harper’s work van on June 6th,” recalled Denis.

In the van along with Denis was Peter and Damien Campbell, Dan Coyle, Marty Gormley and Bo Lennon. The magnificent six flew to London,. took the train to Dover before getting on a hovercraft bound for Northern 

That was only a starter for 10. The Derg crew boarded a train which stopped at Paris, Rome and Naples en route to Levanzo on the south coast which had a ferry crossing to Trapani in Sicily.

On the face of it it seemed Denis and his mates had gone the long way round although there were obvious reasons for that.

“Direct flights to anywhere near Sicily were near impossible to get and extortinately priced,” he said.

“The journey, while long, was relatively straightforward although it was briefly interrupted in Naples when we had a slight misunderstanding with the law! When we pointed out that we were in fact Irish, as opposed to English, the Naples constabulary fed us, gave the best of local wine and duly sent us on our way with the best wishes for the tournament,”


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