Almost 20 years to the day most of Ireland was glued to the television for Ireland's first World Cup Finals group game against Italy. I recall watching the game with my in-laws in Mayo and like everybody else found it almost unbearable that Ireland scored so early and had to wait so long for the final whistle. Many things are memorable from this game - Ray Houghton's goal in the 12th minute, the Irish dominating the crowd in Boston, and Paul McGrath's display at the heart of the Irish defence.
Soccer-Ireland.com recalls McGrath's performance against Italy: "there was no hiding the fact that Paul McGrath was outstanding as he stayed as cool of mind as the air was hot, and was always vigilant in snuffing out sources of danger; altogether a more impressive figure than his fellow 34-year-olds, the creaking Baresi and Tassotti, at the other end of the pitch". That was as good as it got for Ireland before the heat of Florida derailed our World Cup hopes.
Paul McGrath is just two months younger than me and I met him in Gorey yesterday while he was collecting for Irish Dogs for the Disabled. I think he is certainly ageing better than me and still looks like he could tog out for Ireland. I asked him if he would and he said "I wish I could!". No doubt we could do with Big Paul at the heart of the Irish defence right now.
Just in case you forgot - Ireland won 1-0 against Italy on 18th June 1994. Below is Ray Houghton's goal on a day that Irish football fans will never forget: