Born in Barnsley, but a proud son of Ireland, Mick McCarthy’s playing career in green lasted a wonderful eight years and he even went on to captain his national side to it’s best ever finish at the World Cup in 1990. The former Celtic and Man City defender subsequently went on to manager his country twice and even led them to a World Cup himself in 2002.
Mick, like most Irish people, remembers that run to the quarter-finals at Italia 90 fondly, as Ireland enjoyed a whirlwind time at the tournament. The Boys in Green – led by the great Jack Charlton – emerged from a stellar group including England, Netherlands and Egypt, and that was followed by a victory on penalties over a much-fancied Romania side that has since gone down in Irish folklore.
Unfortunately, a meeting with hosts Italy in the last eight proved to be the end of the road for Ireland, and Toto Schillaci ended their dreams with the only goal of the game at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome. That’s something that still ticks off McCarthy to this day, as he explained when he caught up with Ruby Walsh and Paddy Power on our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast.
The conversation flowed so easily with the Irish football icon that it forced us to release it in two parts and Part 2 is out this week. It really is a must listen, as Mick spoke on the hurt of losing out to Italy in that game and even revealed how it was his duty to keep Jack Charlton awake during Ireland’s famous meeting with Pope John Paul II prior to the 1990 World Cup quarter-final.
“I was seriously, seriously brassed off at the time. I was broken hearted”, said McCarthy speaking of Ireland’s exit from Italia 90. “We were all aware of how well we’d done. Despite the disappointment. You know I guess the manager helps you with that.”
To this day I regret walking straight up the tunnel. But, I was so annoyed.
“I guess you soak up your disappointment. I was in the dressing room and all the lad were all clapping the fans and having a great time with them. There’s me up there like a grumpy old man balling my eyes out with Mick Byrne and Charlie O’Leary trying to console me.”
“I was annoyed with the referee, I don’t think he’d given us a chance. He blew for so many fouls. I was annoyed that we’d lost one-nil.
“I was annoyed with the little b*llock Schillaci that he’d scored. Everything was annoying me!”
Despite the bitter disappointment of being knocked out, McCarthy told Paddy and Ruby that it didn’t take the Irish time long to realise what they’d achieved and to celebrate it.
“The squad was so together it was brilliant. I mean I think we were all broken hearted – I certainly was after the game. But, there’s nothing you can do about it. Jack was just so pragmatic about though,” said the former Irish captain.
‘You’ve done brilliantly lads, let’s enjoy it, let’s have a couple of pints’ he said.
“That’s how it started and despite losing, it was a great evening. We went to bed in daylight two days later.”
Jack and The Pope
A few days before that clash with Italy, Ireland had a rare audience with Pope John Paul II and while the pontiff was giving a long homily in Latin, Jack Charlton started to drift towards the land of nod. The Irish boss then turned to McCarthy to ask for a poke should he fall asleep and when the inevitable happened, it ended up in hilarious circumstances.
“Jack’s story is that he was dropping off when he leaned over to me and said, ‘I’m starting to feel tired, if I start dropping off just give me a nudge’,” McCarthy chuckled.
As the Pope stood up to bless everybody, I gave him a nudge. Jack stood up and waved at him because he thought he was waving to Jack.
“I’ve no idea what he said to him, but Jack got mileage out of it let me tell you.”
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